If you’re the type to make hoop head pilgrimages to major basketball events, it might be time to start circling the summer of 2016 as a time to make your way to Springfield, Mass. A rule change by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, effective immediately, has paved the way for a possible superstar class including Allen Iverson, Shaquille O’Neal and Yao Ming.
Previously, in order for a player to be eligible, he had to wait until five full seasons had passed after his last NBA game. Now, a player only has to wait five calendar years, meaning that for the class of 2016, players who last played in 2011 will be eligible. That accelerates O’Neal and Yao into this year’s potential class, joining Iverson, whose last NBA game was in 2010.
Iverson and Shaq are complete shoo-ins — they were singular players capable of superhuman feats and they sustained greatness over multi-year periods. Yao is a trickier case, however. Though he averaged 19 points and nine rebounds for his career, he really only played four full seasons, from 2002-2005 (his first three years) and in 2008-09. His career was torpedoed by foot injuries, but his impact on the game in growing its popularity in China and abroad has been huge. That being said, accomplishments like that lend themselves to the “Contributor” category, and Ming has, according to NBA.com, “previously rejected that approach.”
Ming’s HoF candidacy should prove a decisive one, and now it will be decided on a shortened timeline, which could have unpredictable results. We’ll have to wait and see if the nation of China descends on Springfield in 2016.