Lakshman: Legends beyond the court

April 5, 2016, 12:11 a.m.

Sitting alongside Interstate 91 in Springfield, Massachusetts, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is a can’t-miss attraction in the most literal sense of the term. It’s a giant orb-like structure that dominates the standard highway landscape and transfixes eyeballs, a modern-day Death Star that looks equally well-equipped to house Darth Vader as it does a century’s worth of hardwood luminaries.

I’m not much of an architect by any possible interpretation of the word, but I’ve long admired the Basketball Hall of Fame as easily the coolest building of its kind. It’s long been a fresh deviation from the stuffy, earthen-brick walls of Cooperstown and free of the “who thought this was a good idea?” vibe plaguing the Pro Football Hall of Fame, which features half of a football jutting out of the top. Only the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte stands out as superior in design in my mind, but they lose automatically on account of being NASCAR.

Today, however, we should applaud the Basketball Hall of Fame not for its impressive outer appearance, but for the new wave of inductees chosen for immortalization within the walls of that Death Star, a ten-person class critical in advancing the game of basketball as a cultural institution in addition to their accomplishments on court.

Standing squarely at the center of the class are three titans of the game who each transcended the game of basketball while enjoying moments of dominance on the floor: Yao Ming, Shaquille O’Neal and Allen Iverson.

If we purely focus on the numbers, Yao’s case as a basketball icon holds little weight when sized up against the hefty on-court resumes of Shaq and The Answer. After all, he only lasted eight seasons in the NBA before recurring lower-body injuries forced him to hang up his massive sneakers at the age of 30. We can’t forget, though, that in his prime Yao was an absolute delight to watch; a giant with a soft shooting touch (converting on 83% of free throws in his career) and crafty post moves who played the game like no 7-foot-6 man ever had. More significant, though, were his contributions in expanding basketball as a global sport, bringing an influx of ardent basketball followers from China and other parts of the world to the NBA while also legitimizing international basketball by battling through injury to lead his country in the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

In being inducted into the Hall in his first year of eligibility, Yao stands as arguably the foremost example of the theme permeating throughout this 2016 class: individuals who did more for the game beyond their on-court achievements. It’s also worth noting that Yao could have been enshrined immediately after his retirement as a contributor to the game, but he rejected that path from the outset and instead waited the requisite five years to earn a spot on the ballot as a player, a move further indicative of just how close the identities of player and ambassador have together in this year’s class.

If Yao represents one end of the spectrum in the tradeoff between player and contributor, then Iverson likely occupies the other. A sensational scorer in his prime despite playing through countless injuries and standing six-feet tall on only the most generous of measurements, Iverson played the game (if not practiced) with a contagious fervor that made him borderline unstoppable at his peak and a model for a new generation of score-first ball-handlers. There’s no telling how we would view players like Russell Westbrook, Kyrie Irving or Isaiah Thomas if Iverson wasn’t there first to storm the castle, draw the foul and finish at the rim.

And then there’s Shaq, who lies on an entirely different curve altogether. If there was ever an attempt at defining a distinction between athlete and entertainer, The Big Aristotle shattered it like an innocent backboard. 4-time champion. Rap artist. Near-unanimous MVP. Reality show star. Shaq has become a cultural icon unto his own in the past two decades and basketball has enjoyed the O’Neal bump as much as anyone. His induction ceremony should be a treat to watch both as a chance to reminisce on his time as the most unguardable force on the court and enjoy the antics that will inevitably ensue that have made him such an influential figure beyond basketball.

As baseball continues to heal from the wounds of the steroid era and football faces potentially existential question in the near future regarding head injuries and game-safety, the opportunity looks ripe for basketball — and the NBA, in particular — to seize momentum. Changing the Hall of Fame eligibility rules last December, which allowed Shaq and Yao to join Iverson this year and complete this formidable mega-class influential beyond their playing days, has done just that.

As these ten inductees get ready to see their faces join the pantheon of greats circling the outer rim of that giant orb of a building, the reminder echoes loud and clear: times are good in Basketball-land.


Contact Vihan Lakshman if you agree he missed his calling as a “giant orb” architect at vihan ‘at’ 

Vihan Lakshman's journey at The Stanford Daily came full-circle as he began his career as a football beat writer and now closes his time on The Farm in the same role. In between, he has served as an Opinions columnist and desk editor, a beat writer for Stanford baseball, and as a member of The Daily's Editorial Board. Vihan completed his undergraduate degree in Mathematical and Computational Science in 2016, and is currently pursuing a master's in Computational Mathematics. He also worked as a color commentator on KZSU football broadcasts during the 2015 season. To contact him, please send an email to vihan 'at'

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