Newsday's Al Iannazzone takes you inside the Knicks.
Sikma, King still waiting for hoops Hall call
Two summers ago at the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas, I entered an elevator at UNLV's Cox Pavillion and met the eyes of Jack Sikma, the man who helped me get a scholarship to play college basketball.
He didn't recognize me, not that I would expect he would since we have never met. Still, I thanked him for the impact he had on my career.
As basketball moves go, the "Sikma" wasn't one for the effervescent crowds at Rucker. It wasn't a balletic move, like Kareem's trademark skyhook. It wasn't explosive like Tim Hardaway's UTEP two-step. It was simply precise, quick and, if you had the right touch, generally unstoppable. It was a move the great Dick Motta once called the most innovative move he'd ever seen in the game.
It is relatively simple (which, naturally, explains why I picked it up so well): Post up on the elbow, inside pivot to face the basket and square up. The move inside (rather than turning outside and thus not being square to the rim) instantly creates space between yourself and the defender. The key to getting off the shot quickly and effectively is to never drop the ball below your shoulder so you can bury the shot before your opponent gets his hand up. And after a few attempts, if your defender adjusts by jumping out, you can easily step by him for a dunk.
An admittedly unathletic big man, the 6-10 Sikma developed the shot at Illinois Wesleyan University (NAIA at the time, now a Division III school). From humble beginnings, Sikma was selected eighth overall in the 1977 NBA Draft by the Seattle Supersonics (kids, yes, Seattle used to have an NBA team...sigh). He was an All-Rookie team selection and helped the Sonics reach the NBA Finals in '78 and helped lead them to winning it all the following season.
The inside pivot didn't quite catch on, but unlike the skyhook, it did, at least, endure into today's game (though not nearly enough). Bernard King utilized the move on occasion, as did Larry Bird.
"It's a unique shot, and it sets me apart," Sikma told Newsday in Nov. 1989. "But that shot and 25 cents will buy you a newspaper, and that's about it."
Should it also earn him consideration for the Basketball Hall of Fame?
Sikma went on to be a seven-time all-star who averaged over 15 points and almost 10 rebounds per game during his 14-year career. (And toward the end, on some very good Milwaukee Bucks teams, Sikma transitioned from one of the best shooting big men on the post to one of the first bigs to become an effective three-point shooter).
And when it comes to free throw shooting, in today's game he'd be an anomaly with an 84.9 percent career clip from the line. That ranks him No. 1 all-time among centers. No one ever employed a Hack-A-Jack strategy late in games.
Is this resume enough? Perhaps not if you only consider statistical accomplishments. But you have to account for contributions to the game, as well. The inside-pivot move may be one of the most underrated, undervalued and under-utilized moves in the game.
It was taught to me by two very influential coaches in my life. First, by former St. Anthony's High School coach Gus Alfieri, a Joe Lapchick protege who promoted the move during his dynamic instructional lectures at his camp, and secondly, by Anthony Miller, a standout at the University of Buffalo in the 1980s who reintroduced me to the move while working out at Suffolk Community College.
Any big man with a soft shooting touch -- Marc Gasol, for example -- could use this move to great effectiveness in today's NBA. David Lee, in fact, used it to develop his ever-improving mid-range jumper. And, as defenders would react to the shot, Lee used his quickness to ball fake and drive. Amar'e Stoudemire could make this a deadly weapon on the rare occasion he gets a post-up opportunity.
Sikma, who spent the last four seasons as an assistant coach with the Houston Rockets, worked with Yao Ming, who also used the move to great success. For the 7-6 Yao, it was virtually unblockable.
Sikma's credentials should put him on the bubble for Hall of Fame consideration. And he is not alone among names of past greats who have yet to get the Hall Call. In this year's class, which will be inducted Friday night, is Artis Gilmore, who for years was considered an inexcusable snub despite being one of the greatest centers in ABA history.
Bernard King, whom we have argued in favor of over the past few years, remains one of the most confounding exclusions from the Basketball Hall of Fame. King's NBA career was truncated because of a knee injury, but his presence among the greatest scorers in the game's history is undisputed. And if Alex English and Adrian Dantley are worthy, King belongs there, too. As Newsday's Neil Best pointed out in April, of the NBA's 50 scoring leaders from 1949-98, only two are not already in the Hall of Fame. One is Shaquille O'Neal, who only retired this season.
The other is King, who is long overdue.