Ralph Sampson is being inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield this week. Some of you are probably saying “wait…Ralph Sampson? Hall of Fame? I don’t know about that”. After all, Hakeem Olajuwon was the start of the Houston Rockets in those days. When he and Sampson made up the “Twin Towers” they made it to the NBA Finals, but lost to the Boston Celtics. It was after Sampson left that Hakeem led Houston to two NBA World Championships. So Ralph sometimes gets a bad rap.
But, let us consider two things in his defense. First, the Basketball Hall of Fame is not the “Pro Basketball Hall of Fame” nor is it the “NBA Basketball Hall of Fame”. Unlike the Pro Football Hall of Fame or the Baseball Hall of Fame, the Basketball Hall of Fame includes college basketball, women’s basketball, sometimes even foreign basketball. So taking into account that Sampson had a pretty good NBA career, but was the dominant player in college basketball for three straight years, then you can see why he is getting in. Let’s look at Sampson’s career:
In college at the University of Virginia, Sampson averaged a double double all four years. He led the Cavaliers to the NIT Championship as a sophomore, the Final Four as a junior and the Elite Eight as a senior. He was the Naismith Award winner three times and twice won the Wooden Award. In his senior year he shot over 60% from the floor. Those are Hall of Fame worthy credentials right there. Unfortunately Ralph’s college career was marred by UVA’s loss to tiny Chaminade in the Maui Classic when the Cavs were ranked #1 in the nation. People forget they went to the Final Four. Nobody forgets the Chaminade loss.
His NBA career lasted ten years. The last four were very forgettable. He was in Houston for his first five seasons and he and Hakeem made up a very formidable front court. But the only way to play them together was to make Sampson a 7′ 4″ forward. So Ralph had to guard power forwards with his slender body. But he did a good job playing out of position for five years. “Hakeem could not have played forward” Hall of Famer Julius Erving said. “The only way to get both of them on the court together was for Ralph to play the forward spot”.
His first two seasons in Houston, Ralph averaged over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game. In his third year he averaged 19 and 11 while the Rockets made it all the way to the Finals. This was no small feat in the Western Conference during the Los Angeles Lakers “Showtime” era. 1986 was right in the middle of it.
So all things considered, does Sampson belong? Yes he does.