I was thrilled to hear of the selection of one of the premier Guards of the Golden Age of Basketball, Philadelphia 76er floor General Maurice Cheeks for induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame this September. About 5 minutes into posting my photo memories of Cheeks onto my Golden Age of Basketball’s FaceBook Page, I was equally saddened at the exclusion, yet again, of the great Sidney Moncrief, for reasons that completely escape myself, a significant legion of fans of the All-NBA Guard for the Milwaukee Bucks who retired in 1991, Media that covered his career, and current Hall of Famers that battled Sidney’s Bucks for 10 of his 11 NBA seasons.
Now I wasn’t born last night, I know there are thinly veiled political machinations to all Sports Shrines, or as Sports Illustrated writer Charles S. Pierce described them last year in a scathing indictment of Moncrief’s exclusion, ” open invitations to pretentious moralism and preening self-regard”.
Hall-worthy players are held behind the barricades for a myriad of strange reasons, but surprisingly, most players who have earned induction into their respective Sport’s Hall of Fame somehow find themselves blessed by enshrinement, if not on the First Ballot, or Second or Tenth Ballot, then by the respective Sport’s Veteran’s Committees who offer the fresh perspective awarded by the passage of time, and take action to right the Sins of years past (and for far too many deserving veterans, those fences are mended long after they are six feet under, where they may finally rest in peace).
Twenty Seven long seasons after Moncrief’s retirement in 1991, I’m simply mystified, flummoxed, stumped, perplexed, bewildered as to how one of the best players of the Golden Age is still sitting out on the curb across from the Hall, needing to buy a ticket to get in. Was Sid a mirage?. Was I high all those years I watched him play? (no comment). Did he somehow publicly defile or embarrass the Hall or the Game of Basketball during his career or retirement?. Wasn’t he voted one of the 10 best players on the Planet for 5 consecutive seasons in his Prime?.
To obtain clarity I wanted to dig a little deeper to try to understand this egregious omission, then use what I found to hopefully spark a groundswell of support for Sidney in anticipation of the 2019 Hall nominations.
In this era of AAU stat-mongering, One (dimensional) and Done athletes who call themselves Basketball players, Moncrief deserves recognition as not only one of the best players of his era but as a template of the complete basketball player that your eight year old can emulate. Sidney was a living monument to Playing the Game the Right Way, a self-depreciating team-first Leader on and off the Court, a devout practitioner of the Mystical Art of Defense, and most importantly a perennial Winner, whose accomplishments in his College and Pro Basketball careers should have spoken volumes but apparently the volume was not been turned up nearly loud enough. I have no Idea who votes in this North American Committee of the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, but anyone who reads this Blog or listens to its accompanying Podcast, play it forward and share them with 5 other people, eventually it may find the way to the Computer Monitor, Tablet or Smartphone of someone who actually has a say in this matter.
Then maybe we can finally expose what I believe is one of the biggest Black Marks on the Hall in its storied History.
So, exactly how does one get into the Hall of Fame?.
What are the criteria for selection into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame?. A player who excelled in his or her Era, typically marked by the decade in which they played, a neat, minimum 10-year slice of history, although the Hall does not necessarily discriminate against a shorter period of sustained excellence. Our Historical mind’s eye has been trained to compartmentalize Eras by Decade; Cousy and Russell, Chamberlain, Oscar, West and Baylor in the Sixties; Clyde and Willis, Havlicek and Cowens, Barry and Walton, The Pearl and The Pistol in the Seventies; Sidney’s Era, the Eighties, dominated by Magic and Bird, Worthy and McHale, Isiah and Dominique. You have players who transited Decades, Kareem, The Doctor, Gervin, Jordan, Hakeem, Kobe, Duncan, but are most closely identified with a particular period of time.
My Book, The Golden Age of Basketball, Volumes I and II chronicled the period from October 1979 (Magic and Bird’s debut), to June, 1989, (the Pistons defeat the Lakers for the NBA Title, the last game of the Magnificent Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).
This is the era where Sidney Moncrief made his mark on the Game of Basketball.
So back to my original question, what does one have to do to get into the Hall of Fame?. What exactly determines a Hall of Fame Career?.
(The official enshrinement process can be found here on the NBHOF Website)
The voting is heavily weighted toward championships won, MVP awards (regular season or Finals), Finals appearances, All-NBA selections, All Star selections, or your recognition as a perennial Scoring or Assist leader. The College accolades include All- American Teams, NCAA Player of the Year and Final Four MVP. International fame from Olympic and World Championships. Basketball is first or foremost a team game, so your contribution to a perennial winning team, as its Coach or best player warrants consideration for enshrinement. Finally, your contribution to the Growth, Promotion and Health of the Game as an Owner, Executive, Broadcaster, or Media member can secure your permanent residence in Springfield.
The evidence leads us to a Hall heavily populated by Singular Offensive Talents. Great Scorers are gifted, they are born with the scoring Gene, then hone their skills through incessant hard work against the greatest competition in the World.
Defense, however is a craft; it is a thankless job, accumulated sweat equity meticulously developed through unforgiving hours of grunt work: film review, studying opponent tendencies, forging a communication network with your Coaching staff and teammates to plan, anticipate, react, then adjust on a dime while remaining laser- focused for every 24 second possession. Only a select few in the History of the Game are lauded for a career dedicated to excellence on both sides of the Ball, and we best remember the Big Men that controlled the paint like Russell, Kareem, Walton, Hakeem, Duncan as Defensive Game-Changers. There was a much shorter list of elite Guards that impacted the game on the defensive end that included Hall of Famers Jerry West, Walt Frazier, Dennis Johnson, Joe Dumars and Gary Payton.
I decided to research precisely where Sidney Moncrief fit in the pecking order of his peers, both in his Era and in the History of the League.
College Career: Sidney Moncrief at the University of Arkansas (SI COVER)
16.9 points, 8.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists, 60% FG, 78% FT
A UPI All-American as Junior, Moncrief’s Arkansas team lost to Kentucky in the 1978 Final Four; in his Senior season Sidney was selected to the 1979 All-American First Team with Magic and Bird; he led them back to the Elite 8 in 1979 despite losing 3 players on the 1978 team to Graduation. The Razorbacks would face off against Larry Bird’s Indiana State Sycamores for a chance to return to the Final Four; it was a closely contested game where Sidney put the defensive clamps on Bird in the second half (watch You Tube film of Sid shadowing Bird in that game to get a glimpse of what he would become), but Arkansas would lose a heartbreaker 73-71 when some guy named Bob Heaton hit an 8 foot left-handed floater as time expired…Bird went on to meet Magic and Michigan State in the Game of the Century, the highest rated basketball game since the beginning of Time.
Moncrief, at 6 foot 4 remains the Second Leading Scorer and All Time Leading Rebounder in Arkansas History, and was selected to The College Basketball HALL OF FAME in 2018.
Sidney in the NBA
Despite some dissenters in the Los Angeles Laker organization (including Assistant GM Jerry West) who thought Sidney, a 4- Year Senior may be more NBA-ready then Sophomore Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Laker Owner Jack Kent Cooke, who would sell the team to Jerry Buss that summer looked into his Crystal Ball and for his last official move selected Magic number 1 overall. Sidney was selected 5th by Milwaukee after Magic to the Lakers, David Greenwood to Chicago, Bill Cartwright to New York and Magic’s Michigan State teammate Greg Kelser to Detroit.
Sidney would enter into the League with some Degenerative Knee problems that would trouble him for his entire career.
Career Stats: 10 Seasons: 16.7 Pts, 50% FG, 83% FT, 4.7 Reb, 3.6 Ast, 1.2 Stl. Sidney averaged 20 or more PPG in 1983, 1984, 1985, and 1986.
His 10-Year Playoff Average with the Bucks-was remarkably consistent with his regular season numbers:
16 pts, 45%FG, 81%FT, 5 Reb. 3.4 Ast, 1.1 Stl.
I wrote a section in Volume I of The Golden Age of Basketball on The Milwaukee Bucks of the Eighties titled “Close, but no Champagne”.
Milwaukee won 7 straight Central Division titles from Sidney’s Rookie season of 1979-80 to 1985-86, and averaged 52 wins per season in his 10 years. The 522 wins in that span were the 4th highest victory total in the Eighties after the Lakers, the Celtics, and the 76ers.
Sidney’s Coach, Don Nelson was a disciple of the tried and true Celtic principles of balanced scoring and stingy team defense; the Bucks featured Small Forward Marques Johnson, former UCLA star and All-NBA Forward in 1979, 1980 and 1981, and in 1979 traded for HOF Center Bob Lanier, a Detroit Piston Icon in his 10th NBA Season.
Lanier would retire at the end of the 1984 season while Johnson and Guard Junior Bridgeman were traded to the Clippers for Power Forward Terry Cummings at the start of the 1984-85 Season. Twelve months later Milwaukee would add Center Jack Sikma for the 1985-86 season; Sikma, the 9 year veteran and Center on the 1979 World Champion Seattle Supersonics would fill the hole in the middle left by Lanier’s retirement. Sidney and Don Nelson would provide the stability that kept Milwaukee in contention through all the roster changes.
Awards and Recognition
Sidney would make Second Team All-NBA in 1982, First Team All- NBA in 1983, and Second Team All-NBA again in 1984, 1985, and 1986
He was the Inaugural winner OF the NBA’s first Defensive Player of the Year Award in 1983, then followed it up with a second DPOY Award in 1984.
The Written Word on Sidney Moncrief
Let’s look at some Published Testimonials to Moncrief’s stature during the Decade from Media, Coaches, teammates and opponents, as well as some advanced stats.
Moncrief wasn’t just a defensive demon.. I pulled this from a Website called Statitudes; the 2013 Story was titled ” Is Sidney Moncrief a Hall of Famer?.”
The Author quotes: “Moncrief was also an extremely efficient scorer. For his career he produced an estimated 119.4 points per 100 possessions, the sixth-best figure in NBA history since 1977-78 for a minimum 10,000 points produced”.,
Here is an NBA.com Web post dated Sept 4, 2011, after Sidney returned to Bucks as a Bench Coach.
Moncrief, most Aristocratic Buck, back on Milwaukee bench
by Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
“He guarded like Michael Cooper but, with 11,931 points and a .502 shooting percentage, scored like James Worthy. His outside game grew dangerous but he stayed springy enough to attack, recreating numerous times for Milwaukee his famous 1978 Sports Illustrated college cover shot. Five times each, Moncrief was an all-NBA pick, an all-defense selection and an All-Star.
The Bucks’ record in his 10 seasons there: 522-298 (.637), with 10 postseason appearances and those seven division titles. In terms of “win shares per 48 minutes,” Moncrief ranks 30th in NBA/ABA history, which means little until you frame it this way: The 19 players ahead of him on that list who are eligible for the Hall of Fame are in the Hall of Fame. And so are the next nine”.
But Moncrief never won a ring. Neither did Lanier, Johnson or, for that matter, Nelson as a coach.
“It wasn’t that we didn’t have a good team,” said Moncrief, now 53. “It wasn’t that we couldn’t compete. It wasn’t that Don Nelson wasn’t a good coach in big games. It’s just that they were just a little better than what we were. Their talent level was a little better, they competed, they were smart players and timing was not perfect for us.”
The “they” were Boston and Philadelphia primarily and “they” always stood between Milwaukee and a Finals trip. Even when the Bucks could handle one — they swept the Celtics in the 1983 Eastern Conference semifinals — they couldn’t handle the other, managing only to stick the 76ers with their lone defeat in Moses Malone’s near-“fo’, fo’, fo'” championship run.
“The purists know [how good those Bucks teams were],” Moncrief said. “Certainly we were overshadowed and, had we broken through to win a championship, more people would remember. But when you look at those teams in the ’80s — the Lakers, the Celtics, the 76ers — it was very easy to get overshadowed.
“What I don’t think people realize is how great those teams were. You start looking at the old games on NBA TV and you see, ‘Gol, they had this player and this player and this player? You start looking at the personnel, it was scary.”
Scary indeed, yet how did the Bucks stay competitive with Philly and Boston all of those seasons?….Hmmm.
This is from Bill Simmons, the Author of The Book Of Basketball responding to a mailbag question regarding Hall of Fame credibility for Moncrief when compared to some other inducted players who I won’t mention here as this Podcast/Blog is not intended to disparage any Player currently in the Hall or in consideration :
Simmons’ description of Moncrief in his Book: “Best player on a perennial contender (Nellie’s Bucks); one first-team All-NBA, four second-team All-NBAs, five All-Star Teams ; two Defensive Player of the Year Awards; NEVER TRADED; iconic SI cover in college; if he never blew out his knee, he’s the best all-around guard of the 1980s (and that might have been true, anyway); a more polished, less combustible version of Dennis Johnson; the league’s best 2-guard from ’82 through ’86 (21.0 PPG, 5.8 RPG, 4.7 APG, 50% FG, 20.5 PER, six playoff series wins); ranked 72nd in my book”
Next, I found this snippet from the old Web Column titled “PAGE TWO” on the ESPN Website all the way back in 2002; The Editors chose the “Top Ten former NBA players since 1946 not yet in the Hall of Fame….in the order of “deservedness”.
The List was as follows...
1. Spencer Haywood, 2. Artis Gilmore, 3. Sidney, 4. Bernard King, 5. George McGinnis, 6. Mel Daniels (ABA’s Indiana Pacers), 7. Dennis Johnson, 8. Maurice Stokes (All Star Forward in the 50’s who died of a rare Neurological disease), 9. Marques Johnson, Sidney’s teammate on those Buck teams and UCLA National Champion, 10. Max Zaslofsky, 40’s/50’s NBA Star.
Honorable Mentions …11. Paul Westphal, 12. Roger Brown (ABA’s Pacers), 13. RIchie Guerin, NY Knick Guard in the late 50’s and 60’s and 14. Forward Gus “Honeycomb”Johnson of the Baltimore Bullets.
Here are the players from that list that have since been inducted into the Hall : 1, Haywood, 2, Gilmore, 4, King, 5., George McGinnis, 6. Mel Daniels, 7. Dennis Johnson, 8. Maurice Stokes, and Three Honorable Mentions: 9. Roger Brown, 10. Richie Guerin and 11. Gus Johnson.
So two starters on those Milwaukee teams of the Eighties have not been selected….curious, which shows how little the evolving NBA Marketing Machine got behind the Bucks. Once Jordan got to Chicago, and the Bad Boys rose in Detroit, the League just lost interest in their Midwestern neighbors.
This is an excerpt from an October 28th, 1985 Sports Illustrated NBA Preview Story on Moncrief by Writer Jaime Diaz:
“It has become a maxim among the Bucks that “Sidney is the guy who won’t let us lose” . Without a dominating center, Milwaukee has won its division in each of Moncrief’s six seasons, with an overall record of 324-168. The classic lines of his game may clash with the pop art design of the Mecca floor, but Moncrief is the soul of the Buck machine. Last season, on a team that was supposed to be rebuilding after Marques Johnson and Junior Bridgeman were traded and Bob Lanier retired, Moncrief was again a dynamo—scoring 21.7 points a game, with 5.4 rebounds and a career high of 5.2 assists—and the Bucks won 59 games”. Diaz then goes on to compare Sidney to an Olympic Athlete…
(But press pause for a minute…”without a dominating Center”….Kids, in the Eighties, Bigger equaled better. Quality Centers dominated the game, dictated the style of play and were essential to winning a Title. Mikan, Russell, Chamberlain, Kareem, Reed, Cowens, Unseld, Walton, Sikma, Moses, Parish, McHale. Between 1956 and 1987, Thirty One Seasons, only three Guards won League MVP Awards: Bob Cousy, Oscar Robertson and Magic Johnson).
Back to Diaz’ SI article…”At 28 Moncrief is the best Pentathlete of the NBA—no one does so many things so well. Moncrief is a relentless rebounder and inside scorer, a reliable outside shooter, a creative passer and a master of the man-to-man, switching and rotation defenses in coach Don Nelson’s hefty defensive playbook. This has made him a member of four NBA All-Star teams and three All-Defensive teams, and Defensive Player of the Year twice. Remarkably, however, he has never been in the top 10 in any category. In a sport where coaches strive to find the best blend of specialists, Moncrief has become its most accomplished generalist”.
Here’s Sidney on Sidney from the SI Article
“Moncrief’s mental ability has always been on full power when it comes to defense. “In college, you can get up in somebody’s jersey and everyone says you’re playing great defense,” he says. “Do that in the NBA, the man’s by you. There is so much more strategy in professional basketball. Each time you take something away from the offensive player, you give him something else. So, to be effective, your teammates have to know what that is, just as you have to know what they’re giving the players they’re guarding. That’s why good man-to-man defense is really team defense.”
How many NBA players in the Eighties, or in any Era do you think went to sleep at night thinking…Ok, how am I going to defend this Guy tomorrow night, what shots am I going to allow him, and what am I taking away vs… Ok, how many shots can I get up tonight?. “…and where’s the After-Party?.
The SI article continues, quote….”Moncrief then delivers tidbits on the scorers he guards as though reading from some inner computer readout. On George Gervin: “Force him right. He has many more moves going to his left.” Magic Johnson: “Take away his right. Don’t let him shoot a set shot. Make him move when he shoots.” Philadelphia sharpshooter Andrew Toney: “Keep him out of the middle, where he can go all the way or hit in-between shots.” Michael Jordan: “Finishes his drives on opposite side of basket. Don’t foul him in the air.” “Actually,” says Moncrief, discarding the readout, “you don’t play Michael Jordan. You play at him.”
A close examination of the ALL NBA and All Star Rosters during the Decade of the Eighties, still leads me to wonder, If this Guy was voted one of the 10 Best Players in the World for 5 Consecutive Seasons,
WHY WASN’T HE A HOUSEHOLD NAME?. WHY WASN’T SIDNEY MONCRIEF A PART OF THE EIGHTIES NBA ZEITGEIST?.
Here’s One Theory… Sidney’s game lacked the “WOW!” factor in a League that needed “WOW!” to survive.
In the Early Eighties the NBA’s Marketing Machine, in its partnership with flagship Networks CBS and Turner Broadcasting quickly realized the Basketball Gods had dropped manna from Heaven with the arrival of Magic and Bird at the doorsteps of their two most storied Franchises in Boston and Los Angeles; for a League desperate to keep the lights on in the Arenas and make Payroll, they needed to maximize the entertainment value of their Stars on every platform possible. Remember Kids, the NBA was on the brink of insolvency in 1979; in the sporting world pecking order they were the financial and popular equivalent of today’s WNBA( and I love the Women’s Game, just making a point).
In the MAGIC vs BIRD Era, the League would brilliantly showcase the skills of their two protagonists and their teams every week on Network Television, giving the viewing public what they wanted: running, gunning, high flying no look passing, sky hooking, finger rolling, dream shaking, sharpshooting, ThunderDunking action at every turn.
Led by newly minted Commissioner David Stern in 1984, the NBA would push that Marketing Machine into hyperdrive, and after the Iconic first meeting of Magic and Bird in the 1984 NBA Finals, an Epic Armageddon won by Boston in 7 Games, the NBA would become the new Cool Kids on the Sports Block, basking in unprecedented Popularity.
Stern and the NBA took that momentum to promote Flash, Brash and Talking Trash , on and off the Court, while Sidney maintained his quiet, unassuming, plain-vanilla personality. He remained a fierce competitor on the hardwood, but he lacked that funky, Rucker-Park Streetball repertoire worthy of endless Sportcenter highlight loops every night (or at the least a catchy Nickname), and his Bucks were a fundamentally sound reflection of their leader. The only flash Moncrief possessed was the one on top of his Camera. He wasn’t a trash talker on the court or supplier of colorful sound bites in the Locker Room. Moncrief had zero interest in Showtime, or shameless self-promotion; his only concern was winning, so he let his game do the talking. Sidney wasn’t a stat-chaser, he only cared about an NBA Championship and shutting down the other team’s stat-chaser.
The NBA’s Marketing and Broadcasting partners did not just promote the Bird /Magic Show to its rapidly-growing fanbase in the first half of the Eighties; even as Bird was flying high in the East and the Magic Show played to sellout crowds in the West, the Networks produced a number of television pregame, halftime or post-game features on the crossover stars from the Seventies, Dr. J, Kareem, George Gervin and Moses Malone; Bird’s future HOF teammates Kevin McHale, Robert Parish and Dennis Johnson, and later the iconoclastic Bill Walton; Magic’s “Two Amigos” Isiah Thomas and Mark Aguirre; the Towering Ralph Sampson in Houston, and High Fliers James Worthy of the Lakers and Dominique Wilkins of the Atlanta Hawks.
The Basketball Gods would make another Golden Deposit in the 1984 Draft that featured Akeem Olajuwon, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley and John Stockton. In New York City, the NBA’s largest TV market would tout the Knicks’ Bernard King, who led the league in Scoring in 1985, then welcome the Inaugural Lottery Pick Patrick Ewing that summer, while John Stockton’s new running Mate in Utah, Forward Karl Malone would quickly raise eyebrows throughout the League. The NBA had their own monthly Magazine, entitled Hoop, to tout their Stars, while the National NBA Beat continued to carve out more space in Newspapers and Basketball Themed Magazines around the World with expansive feature Articles on the Superstars of the Game.
By the Mid-Eighties, NBA stories found their way into the Newsmagazines such as Time and Newsweek, and the Network News reports would tout the NBA’s complete 180 degree reversal of fortune from the death knell they all predicted in 1979.
The League would unveil an All Star Weekend in the mid-Eighties to merge the NBA’s past and present, featuring a Saturday Night Slam Dunk and 3 point competition, gathering retired players to celebrate the “NBA Family”, and leaning on perennial All Stars Isiah Thomas and Magic to go head to head as opposing East-West point guards in the All-Star Games, revving up the pace and taking the game back to their Midwest Playground Days for 2 1/2 hours. All Star Weekend was a smashing success, but you won’t find many highlights of Sidney, a five-time All Star and one time Starter who never participated in either the Slam Dunk or Three Point Competitions, and never took enough shots for All Star MVP Consideration, certainly lost opportunities for Historical self-promotion. Another excerpt from Sidney’s Book: ” Making the All Star Team was especially exciting the first time, but you can’t establish the teamwork and rapport that is important to me in a game like that”.
In a loosely played Game designed for the sole purpose of individual highlights, Sidney still can’t stop thinking about his core values, teamwork and rapport. Hear that, Springfield?. The “I” in Sidney was silent.
Moncrief’s Milwaukee Bucks were not appointment Television and people were not selling out Arenas around the country to watch them play. Guy’s weren’t sitting around Barber shops in Harlem, Chicago, Dallas or Watts waxing poetic about who they saw Moncrief dunk on last night. Milwaukee did not have a National Fan following like the Celtics, Lakers and Knicks when they played on the Road. Sidney wasn’t featured in crossover National TV ads, or peddling Converse Sneakers; his poster didn’t adorn every adolescent’s bedroom (except for his Sports Illustrated Cover Shot at Arkansas by Photographer Manny Millan). I don’t have today’s sales numbers on top Throwback Jerseys from the NBA Eighties, but I am confident Sidney’s was not in the top 25. Sidney explains in his Biography, “I would not, for example be a part of a beer commercial…it bothers me that alcohol is so glamorized and connected with Sports through Television”. A moral compass that probably cost him a ton of notoriety (and money) in Milwaukee of all places, known as the Beer Capitol of the World.
He didn’t fare much better on the Networks. I searched the Web and found few In-Depth regular season or Playoff features on Moncrief. Kids, remember this was a different media landscape, today’s glut of Basketball-themed Web Pages, Blogs, Podcasts, Basketball Twitter, Instant You Tube highlights, NBA TV or Satellite NBA Radio were still the musings of Tech Nerds in 1985, operating DOS systems on 8 inch floppy Discs, excited for the Launch of Windows 1.0 coming that November.
It was left up to the Flagship CBS/TBS networks, Newspapers or National Mags like Sports Illustrated to turn you and your game into a household name. Sometime around 1986-87 the League started a series of Videos called NBA Superstars; they were MTV-style Highlight reels of the NBA’s Stars put to ’80’s Popular Music; I have an old VHS tape buried somewhere, as Magic shows off his dazzling no-look passes backed by Janet Jackson’s “Control”, Bird hits game winners to Springsteen’s “Small Town”, Isiah’s dribbling wizardry backed by Vanessa Williams’ “The Right Stuff”, Jordan takes flight to the “Top Gun” Soundtrack, and my personal favorite, Akeem the Dream, shakin’, fakin’, drop-steppin’ and bakin’ to Kool Moe Dee’s “How ya like me Now??”. You can probably find it on EBAY, there were a number of them. I doubt you will dig up an NBA Superstars video of Sidney playing tenacious one-on-one defense, or sitting in some musty film room, breaking down his opponent’s offensive tendencies.
MONCRIEF LACKED THOSE INDELIBLE “SIDNEY MOMENTS” THAT WOULD CAPTURE THE IMAGINATION OF FANS AND MEDIA FOR ALL TIME.
I had to dig up a passage that I read years ago in Oscar Robertson’s Biography “The Big O”, that stuck in my mind back then and popped to the forefront when researching Sidney’s career. Oscar, now in his Golden years may seem a bit surly, even bitter when comparisons are made between players of his generation and modern ballplayers, but he forgot more about Basketball than most of us collectively will ever know, so this is what he said, and I quote…
“The fact is, you do need one on-on-one skills, you do need to be able to isolate your man and break him down. You need to be able to create enough space for yourself to take a tough jump shot, to hit shots with a high degree of difficulty, to drive and dish to the open man. When you watch Kobe Bryant play Basketball, you see a great offensive player. But you also get the sense that he grew up and learned to play as if there was a television camera on him at all times. His style is something of an extension of Michael Jordan’s game, and Michael’s game not only had flair, it was the embodiment of flair. Both play a spectacular, highlight-oriented game, cherished by the cereal-box crowd and the marketing executives of corporate America. There’s nothing wrong with that”.
He continues, “I had a different style, someone once suggested it might have been because I grew up in a time before television controlled everything. It wasn’t flashy. At the same time, if you watch Jordan’s fadeaway jumper, or his back to the basket fallaway, now that’s Oscar Robertson’s shot. If you pop in a Videotape of Magic Johnson protecting the ball with his body as he runs the halfcourt offense, then isolating his man on one side of the basket, bulling and backing him down, then spinning off his man that’s Oscar Robertson. My play influenced them. And I did these things before they were around to watch them”.
Moncreif had many virtues as a player, but he was certainly not the embodiment of flair; if anything, he was the Anti-Flair. He played a style in the Eighties tailor made for the Sixties. My theory is that it’s been costing him a phone call from the Hall of Fame.
The Velvet Rope Theory
Sidney’s painfully long wait for induction reminds me of going to a Trendy Nightclub. Now this never happened to me, because well, I’m an A-Lister!., but some of you less fortunate have been in this situation: standing at the end of an interminably long “VIP” line outside an exclusive Nightclub with 50 people in front of you, all of your friends inside and the Behemoth bouncer at the front holding the clipboard with “The List”. Now imagine Godzilla with an earpiece finally opening the velvet rope and everyone gets in until he gets to you…”it will be just a little while longer”. An hour later the line behind you has stretched around the corner when he asks you to step aside so he can admit the next 50 people behind you (“wont be long, now”), then another 50 ( as he asks me “how many in your party, sir?…ONE, DAMMIT!!), then so on, then so forth.
Finally he announces to me (uh, I mean you), now the only one in line, “Sorry, folks, Club is at Capacity!..bring this voucher with you to stand in line all night tomorrow!”.
Popularity Still Matters.
Now fast-forward to the 2018 Milwaukee Bucks as an example of the NBA Marketing Machine at work in today’s game.
The current star of the Bucks, Giannis Antetokounmpo (pronounced YAHN-iss ah-deh-toh-KOON-boh), at the tender age of 23 has now played 5 years in the NBA and is designated as one of the League’s brightest stars; known as “The Greek Freak” because of his incredible athleticism and 8 foot wingspan, Giannis was a starter for the Eastern Conference All Stars this season, A Two-Time All star who was voted second team All NBA and Second team All Defense in 2017, and was recently featured in a profile on CBS’ 60 Minutes, still to this day one of the top rated TV shows in the Country. In 2017-2018 he averaged 27 points, 10 rebounds and 5 assists, including at least one rim-rattling SportsCenter highlight per game. He is an absolute beast who will be an ALL-NBA level Talent for as long as he stays healthy, and especially if he stays in the Eastern Conference. A League MVP or two before his career is over is well within his reach if the Planets align for him, and he will unquestionably make his second All NBA team this season, deservedly so.
So lets look at a 5 year sampling of his Giannis’ career to this point.
His 5-year Career averages are 17 points, 7 rebounds and 3.8 assists, and in that 5-year span the Bucks won 15, 41, 33, 42, and 44 games, with no division titles. They made the playoffs twice in his first 4 seasons, in 2015 and 2017, both first round losses. He has won 4 playoff Games in his first 4 seasons. The Bucks finished with a 44-38 record this season, good for the Seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. They faced the Boston Celtics (yep, Bucks fans, the Celtics again) in the first round where they lost in seven spirited games as Giannis averaged 25.7 points on 57% shooting, 9.6 Rebounds, 6.3 assists and 1.4 steals. Milwaukee finished in the Bottom 5 in attendance 4 of his first 5 seasons in the League, and are currently 21st of 30 teams in attendance. Back in the Day we used to call certain stats empty calories if you put up lofty numbers for a average team. My point is that Giannis’ rising game in his first 5 seasons has not translated to team success anywhere near the level of Sidney Moncrief’s Bucks over the same period, but there is no argument that Giannis has enormous name recognition in the Global Game of Basketball, and if he maintains 2018’s numbers for at least the next 5-7 seasons without ever sniffing an NBA Title he will remain a strong first ballot HOF candidate, will be a staple in the MVP conversation every year and no one will ever use a lack of playoff success as a detriment to his getting into the Hall…just keep posting those SportsCenter Highlights.
The Bucks’ methodical but extremely effective style of play in the Eighties did little to excite the national fan base, or their own fan base for that matter. In a 23 team League, Milwaukee averaged between 11th and 14th in attendance in the Decade while the Lakers, Celtics and Sixers were among the League leaders in Home and Road attendance every season. Milwaukee was then and always will be a Green Bay Packer Town, with ironically one of the great national fan bases.
So what have we learned so far about Sidney Moncrief’s Career?.
Let’s review Kids, remember this test is 50% of your Grade…
Moncrief played in a consecutive NCAA Final 4 and Elite 8 where he’s one of the 4 best players on the Floor, A First-Team All-American with Magic and Bird in 1979, was drafted by an NBA team that won an average of 38 games the previous 5 seasons then led the team to an average of 52 wins for the 10 seasons that he played; in a Division that featured Isiah Thomas, Dominique Wilkins, then Michael Jordan in 1984-85, Moncrief’s Bucks won 7 Division Titles in his first 7 seasons. He was selected to 5 All NBA teams, 5 All Defensive Teams and won the first 2 Defensive Player of the Year Honors in 1983 and 1984.
From 1982-83 to 1885-86 Moncrief averaged better than 20 points and tallied at least 330 rebounds and 300 assists each year. In 1982-83, perhaps his finest all-around campaign, he averaged 22.5 ppg 5.8 rpg, and 3.9 apg, shooting .524 from the field. That was also the year he earned the NBA’s first-ever Defensive Player of the Year Award and named to the All-NBA First Team, joining Larry Bird, Julius Erving, Moses Malone and Magic Johnson. Advanced stats showed he was the sixth most efficient scorer in NBA History since the 1977-78 season.
If Shaquille O’Neal Nicknamed Tim Duncan the Big Fundamental, then 6’4″ Sidney Moncrief was the Little Fundamental. Sid was the Leader of one of the best Defensive teams of the Era, as the Bucks averaged the 3rd best Defensive Rating ( or points allowed per 100 possessions) in the League from 1981-1987.
The Clarion Call of the NBA was then and is still “Defense wins Championships”. Sidney’s personal and team defensive stats made Milwaukee serious title contenders every year. This without a dominant Center.
So does Defense not matter to the Hall when you did not win Championships?.
Simply by the Numbers he was without peer the best two-way Guard in the NBA for half a Decade, who lead his team to the 4th Highest win total of the Eighties behind the Lakers, Boston and Philadelphia, the 3 Title-winning teams of the Decade that were led by 4 of my Top 10 players of All Time, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Julius Erving; The Lakers, Boston and Philadelphia featured 15 future Hall of Fame Players between their Rosters from 1979-1989.
Sidney Moncrief, my friends, faced STIFF competition in his attempts to win an NBA Championship.
I can say with 100% confidence Moncrief would be in the Hall if the Bucks could have gotten by Philly or Boston to get to at least one NBA Final. The Bucks’ failures to advance was a direct result of the Two-Headed Monster in the Eastern Conference, Julius Erving and Larry Bird. The Bucks were the only NBA team to have played both Philadelphia and Boston in the same postseason during the Decade, and were eliminated twice in the Eastern Conference Finals by two of the 3 Great Teams of All Time, the 1983 Sixers, who went 12-1 in the Playoffs (with the Bucks giving them their only loss) and the 1986 Celtics, who won 67 regular season games, including 40 of 41 at home. Bird is still one of the top 5 players in History (MVP in 1984, 1985 and 1986, A World Champion in 1981, 1984, 1986), and The Doctor remains in my top 10 (because yes, It’s the Basketball Hall of Fame and I count his ABA days); Doc won NBA MVP in ’81, Played in the Finals in 1980 and 1982, then added the League and Finals MVP Moses Malone to a stacked Philadelphia team on his way to his first NBA Title in 1983. Bird and Erving didn’t do it alone; Bird played with HOF teammates Tiny Archibald, McHale, Parish, DJ, and Bill Walton in Boston, while Hall of Famers Malone, Maurice Cheeks and Charles Barkley flanked Doc in Philadelphia, as well as All Star Andrew Toney at Shooting Guard and 7 time all Defensive team staple Bobby Jones at Forward).
It’s difficult to judge players and teams on their own historical merits when they are repeatedly thrown up against Iconic Players or Teams in a Playoff situation. The Lakers won the Western Conference eight out of ten seasons but the Hall still welcomed the best of their Playoff opponents. Moncrief and the Bucks had some victories against Doc’s Sixers and Bird’s Celtics in the postseason but never in a Conference Final.
A LOOK AT Sidney Moncrief in the NBA Playoffs
Sidney came off the bench in his rookie season to backup Brian Winters (in his Biography, Sidney says he wasn’t happy coming off the Bench but remembered what Coach Sutton taught him at Arkasnas; “Wait for your opportunity and when it comes, take advantage of it”). The Bucks were still members of the Western Conference as they lost in the Conference Semifinals to the Defending World Champion Seattle Supersonics in 7 Games, the first of 3 Classic 7-Game Playoff Series Sidney would participate in. Sidney would get thrown in the fire early; he made the most of his opportunity when he subbed for Brian Winters who had fouled out in the second overtime of Game Two in Seattle; he responded with 6 points in the 2nd OT and 16 points overall as the Bucks outlasted the Sonics 114-112.
Seattle would lose in WCF to Rookie Magic, League MVP Kareem and the World Champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Moncrief moved into starting Lineup, Bucks would lose in Conference Semis to League MVP Julius Erving and Philadelphia in 7 Games (Philly would cough up a 3-1 Eastern Conference Finals lead to Boston, losing in 7 Games as Boston would move on to win Bird’s first of three NBA Titles).
Bucks once again defeated by Dr. J and Philadelphia in the Conference Semifinals in Six Games (Philly defeated Boston in ECF in 7 games then Lose to Lakers in Finals)
Milwaukee breaks through to Sweep Bird and Celtics in Conference Semifinal, then meet a 65 win Philadelphia team with League MVP Moses Malone in the Conference Final, where the Bucks manage to salvage one Game with a 4th quarter run at home against a team that steamrolled to a 12-1 NBA Playoff record, sweeping the Lakers on their way to Doc’s precious NBA Title.
Bucks return to the Conference Finals only to lose to League MVP Bird and the Celtics 4 games to 1; In what may be the best Finals ever, Boston would defeat Los Angeles in 7 games to win the Championship.
Bucks trade Marques Johnson to the Clippers for Forward Terry Cummings, Bob Lanier retires and is replaced at Center by Alton Lister. Moncrief, in arguably his best season leads Milwaukee to 59 wins but their chemistry gets exposed in the Conference Semifinal as they get swept in 4 by Doc, Moses, and Rookie Charles Barkley, who averaged 19 points and 9 rebounds in Philadelphia’s surprisingly easy victory. Philly would lose 4 games to 1 to Boston and MVP Larry Bird in the Conference Finals. (Boston would lose to the Lakers in ’85 Finals).
Milwaukee beat the Sixers in another 7 Game Semifinal slugfest as Sidney only played in 3 of the 7 games due to injury but averaged 17 points, including 23 in the deciding game 7, a 113-112 nail-biter. That led them to right back to Bird, winner of his 3rd consecutive MVP Award and the 67-win Celtics, who amassed the third best regular season record in NBA History. Boston again made short work of the Bucks, sweeping them in the Conference Finals 4-0 on their way to their Sixteenth World Championship.
The Bucks would add veteran Center Jack Sikma to their roster, but a hobbled Sidney would play in only 39 Regular season contests. He would return for the Playoffs, and the 50- win Bucks would defeat Philadelphia in the First Round (Dr. J’s last Game), only to cross paths again with Bird and the Celtics in the second round, another Seven Game Classic featuring 2 Overtime Games, two 40 point games by Bird (including 42 in a 138-137 Game 4 double overtime win in Milwaukee) , followed by back to back 30 point games by Moncrief in Games 5 and 6 as Milwaukee battled back from a 3-1 Deficit to force a Game Seven at Boston Garden. The Big Three of Bird, McHale and Parish would combine for 80 points as Boston would eliminate the Bucks 119-113, then defeat the Pistons in 7 to advance to their 4th Consecutive NBA Finals, losing to League MVP Magic and the Lakers in Six.
So from 1981-87 the Bucks had Six Playoff Matchups with Philadelphia, finishing 2-4, and 4 Matchups with Bird’s Celtics, finishing 1-3. In 4 of those seasons they were eliminated in the Playoffs by the team with the MVP of the League, and 3 times they were eliminated by the eventual World Champions. In 3 of those six seasons they played both Philadelphia and Boston. They reached the Conference Finals 3 times, losing once to Philadelphia and twice to Boston.
Keep Digging…..Let’s look at Sidney’s Hall of Fame Comps
I looked at the rosters of the Five ALL-NBA teams from 1981-82 and 1985-86; the following thirteen players went to the Hall:
Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Moses Malone, Robert Parish, Julius Erving, Isiah Thomas, Ralph Sampson, Adrian Dantley, Akeem Olajuwon, Dominique Wilkens, Alex English and George Gervin.
The Five players below made one All-NBA First or Second team in those 5 seasons and are not in the Hall:
1982: Gus Williams, Seattle Sonics; 1983: Buck Williams, New Jersey Nets; 1984: Jim Paxson, Portland Trailblazers; 1985: Terry Cummings, Milwaukee Bucks; 1986: Alvan Robertson, San Antonio Spurs.
(I hate repeating myself, but Sidney made the All NBA Team 5 times!!).
Finally, I took a look back from the early Seventies to the present to see which Guards were the best two-way players in the History of the League.. my Criteria were to meet Sidney’s 5 time First or Second Team All NBA selections and 5 time First or Second team All Defensive team selections. Defensive Player of the year Awards started with Sidney winning the First in 1983, so otherwise deserving players like Jerry West and Walt Frazier didn’t get an opportunity to win a DPOY.
The League added 5 Third Team All NBA selections starting in the 1988-89 season, but I did not count a Third Team selection, as I only wanted the Top 10 players in each season. I looked at 22 Hall of Fame Guards and Sidney.
|Titles||Finals||Finals MVP||MVP||Scoring||All NBA||All Star||All Defense||DPOY|
|Jo Jo White||2||2||0||0||0||2||7||0||0|
Best two way players By the Numbers (ALL NBA/ALL DEFENSIVE TEAMS/DPOY)
*(MJ Missed entire 1994 and 80% of 1995 season)
**( DJ made only two All-NBA teams, but Nine All Defensive teams?. Damn.)
On these numbers alone, Sidney was one of the Top Eight two-way Guards in the History of the NBA..the other 7 are in the Hall. Those 7 All won NBA Titles. MJ, Kobe, DJ and Clyde won multiple titles. Only Jordan, Payton and Sidney had at least 5 All-NBA, 5 All Defensive Team selections and 1 DPOY Award. Four of these 22 Guards in the Hall do not have Championships; Pete Maravich, Dave Bing, George Gervin and Reggie Miller. Maravich, Bing and Gervin never played in the NBA Finals.
A Final Appeal to the Court of Public Opinon
(Or, Did NBA Historians fail Sidney Moncrief?).
I’m relatively new to the NBA History Game; but I’ve been watching Basketball over 40 years and my eyeball tests remain 20-20 when it comes to my assessment of NBA teams and players through the years. In the Decade of the Eighties I tried to inhale as many Magazines, Newspapers and Basketball-related television shows as I could, moving to Los Angeles and trying to break in as a Sports Photographer in 1980. There were Writers that I considered the Creme de la Creme;
The Sports Reporters: Print Journalists Bob Ryan, Boston Globe, Mike Lupica, NY Daily News, Mitch Albom, Detroit Free Press, and William C. Rhoden of the New York Times, who all rose to household fame on the classic and sadly now-defunct ESPN Series; there was Sam Smith, Chicago Tribune, George Vescey, Dave Anderson and Harvey Araton of the New York Times, Dan Shaughnessy, Jackie McMullan of the Boston Globe, Jan Hubbard, Dallas Morning News, the late Brian Burwell for USA Today, and the Man who was Basketball Twitter before Twitter, the irrepressible Peter Vescey of the New York Post, whose NBA Insider column was required reading around my dinner table growing up in Connecticut.
Sports Ilustrated, the Bible that I looked to for both words and pictures, featured writers Jack McCallum, Curry Kirpatrick, Bruce Newman, Anthony Cotton and John Papanek covering the NBA.
When I moved to Los Angeles the Lakers were covered by Melvin Durslag, Alan Malamud and Doug Krikorian of the Los Angeles Herald Examiner, Thomas Bonk, Scott Ostler , Lyle Spencer and Mike Downey of the Los Angeles Times.
Then there were the Icons, Dick Schapp, host of Sports Reporters, Frank Deford of SI, Jim Murray of the Los Angeles Times , who could keep all the hype in perspective while offering a unique view of any Sport and its participants.
The Number of Sports Talk Radio hosts around the Country in the Eighties were too numerous to mention here, but Mike and the Mad Dog in New York were at the top of the Mountain.
The Voices of the NBA on CBS: Brent Musburger, Bill Russell, Rick Barry, Dick Stockton, Tom Heinsohn, Billy Cunningham;TBS Network’s Skip Caray, Barry, Bob Neal, Doug Collins, the late Steve “Snapper” Jones.
Hall of Famer Eddie Douchette, Jim Paschke and his television partner, Jon McGlocklin, the Voices of the Milwaukee Bucks from the Sixties to the Present. All of the Beat Writers for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that covered the Bucks in the Eighties.
These Journalists and Broadcasters were the Griots of the History of the NBA; they were close enough to the action to take a charge or shoot free throws, they were in the winning and losing locker rooms, at practices during an 82 Game Regular Season, Playoffs, Finals, All Star Weekends, at every press conference, conducting thousands of one-on-one interviews while analyzing every team, every Coach, every player that mattered. They put a Microscope to the NBA and dissected every corner of the Hardwood so even the most casual fan could better understand the Game and develop a greater appreciation of the magnificent talents in the Eighties who carried the League on their backs from the Outhouse to the Penthouse.
New Age Platforms include TNT’s Inside the NBA with Ernie Johnson, Charles Barkley (who played against Sidney in the Playoffs), Kenny Smith and Shaq; Isiah Thomas, NBA TV Analyst; The Mouth that Soared, Steven A. Smith of ESPN’s First Take, Michael Wilbon and Tony Kornheiser’s Pardon the Interruption, ESPN’s The Undefeated Website, featuring Mr. Rhoden, Mark J. Spears and Jemele Hill, and Bill Simmons’ Bully Pulpit on his Ringer Network.
We also need, any living, breathing former Coach, teammate, Beat Writer, Basketball Website, Podcaster or Television Personality in Milwaukee that played with, Coached or covered Sidney over his 10 seasons to redouble their efforts in the next 11 months.
Former and Current NBA Commissioners David Stern and Adam Silver, you were there in the Eighties, I know you can’t directly influence Hall of Fame Voting (wink, wink, nod, nod), but maybe the subject of Sidney’s exclusion subtly (wink, wink, nod, nod) comes up over cocktails during power lunches with some of those North American Committee members over the next few months. Former NBA Coaches, General Managers and Scouts from the Eighties who had to Game Plan against Sidney’s Bucks may know someone who knows someone.
To Michael Jordan, Owner, Charlotte Hornets, Magic Johnson, President of Basketball Operations, Los Angeles Lakers, Julius Erving, Retired Basketball God, Advisor to the Sixers and Philanthropist, Pat Riley, President of the Miami Heat and Larry Bird, former NBA Executive, Indiana Pacers: See my message to the Commissioners above, I know you all run in the same circles.
Some members of the NBA family and Media that saw Moncrief in his prime are no longer with us, some are retired, but many are still active, with their hand on the pulse of today’s NBA. Their stories are immortalized in digitized archives to be uncovered like buried treasure (thank you Sports Illustrated Vault), taking you back to the moment when they were written, unfiltered through the Revisionist History of these new Bloggers, You-Tube Hosts and Podcasters who think the NBA was founded by the 2015 Warriors and players in the Eighties shot 2-handed set shots in dusty YMCA Gyms with no Air Conditioning.
They bore up close and personal witness to Sidney Moncrief’s relevance in the most relevant Decade in the History of the Sport. So it’s up to them (you) to become the “Sidney Whisperers” to this clandestine “North American Committee” of the Basketball Hall of Fame, whoever they are, before Sidney disappears from memory like Marty McFly’s family photo in the 1985 movie Back to the Future (another timeless gift from the Eighties).
Hey, you all have plenty of time to do something about it before 2019…there is still time to campaign, to cajole, persuade, bully, reason, but most importantly to use the medium that you master to shame the North American committee into fixing this oversight which has turned an exemplary candidate who checked all the boxes into the Susan Lucci of Hall of Fame Induction (Kids, Susan Lucci was a daytime Soap Opera Star on a successful series your Grandparents watched who was nominated 18 consecutive years for a Daytime Emmy Award and lost 18 consecutive times).
I’ve done all the background work for you here, I could care less who gets the credit, as long as Sidney Moncrief gets a Bust in the Hall.
He is literally being penalized for:
- Not having better players on his teams,
- Losing to teams with better players,
- Playing in a small Market
- Not being popular enough,
- Not having a flashy game
- Lacking the minimum daily requirement of Swag for an NBA All Star..
- Worst of all, a Dearth of Advocates; Hell, even Susan Lucci finally won on the 19th try.
Sidney speaks of his legacy in his Book:
“I hope when they remember me, they’ll say that I was dedicated, that when I put my foot on that Court I gave everything I had to give”.
Does Induction into the Hall of Fame Matter to him?….of course it does, but this passage in his Book may make one think otherwise..
“The Decision (to retire) was not traumatic because I had never considered Pro Basketball my life, I considered it part of my life. Yes, I worked hard at it and I enjoyed it, but it wasn’t as much fun as it had been when I was in Junior High School, High School or even in College. After all, we were a bunch of grown men out there throwing a ball around. What we were doing was not really serious. Being a Heart Surgeon is serious, being an Engineer is serious, designing Hospitals is serious, teaching Kids is serious, having the skill to repair an automobile is serious. Playing Basketball is entertainment-pure and simple”.
Wow. No pretentious moralism or preening self-regard in those words.
So it should be no surprise that induction into the Hall of Fame is not a life or death prospect for Sidney Moncrief, It didn’t define him. God, Family and Service to others still come first, and he will be fine, thank you if he never hears the phone ring. Which is exactly why his should be selected, because I assure you that Springfield has no one gracing its Hallowed Hall who is more deserving based on Achievements and strength of Character than Mr. Moncrief, a pristine role model for every young boy or girl that dreams of not only Basketball glory, but to be the very best version of themselves.
To further inspire you, I Hijacked and re-worded a quote from the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King on a subject much more important than Basketball, but for some reason it fits here…
“The Arc of Inclusion into the Hall of Fame is long, but it bends toward Justice”
And one last quote from another High-Ranking Official, Da Mayor in Spike Lee’s Do The Right Thing…
Da Mayor: “Doctor…
- Mookie: C’mon, what. What?
- Da Mayor: Always do the right thing.
- Mookie: That’s it?
- Da Mayor: That’s it.
- Mookie: I got it, I’m gone”.
Steven A. Roseboro is a former Photojournalist and Author of The Golden Age of Basketball, Volumes I and II: The NBA in the Decade of The Eighties.