Now that Adrian Dantley – as unstoppable an undersized low-post player as may have ever balled – has finally been invited to the Basketball Hall of Fame, someone else has moved to the top of my list of The Best Player NOT in the HOF: Sidney Moncrief.
There are plenty of reasons not to enshrine the former heights-defying Arkansas Razorback and below-the radar member of the Milwaukee Bucks. You won’t find his name high in any statistical categories since the 6-4 guard never finished in the top 5 in scoring, rebounds or assists. He never even finished in the top ten in scoring.
Not one of his teams ever reached the NBA Finals, either.
But forget all of that: In an era in the NBA dominated by the transcendental likes of Jordan, Bird, Magic, Kareem, Malone, Erving and many other stars, Moncrief was an unquestioned peer who commanded the respect of each of his more-illustrious counterparts. He epitomized the “all-around” performer He was a player without a single spectacular weapon but he also owned no exploitable weakness – except maybe a creaky knee.
Moncrief was neither point guard nor pure shooter, but he could handle both positions and was the unchallenged leader whenever he was on the floor. He was not a great rebounder nor shot-blocker, but grabbed more big boards and blocked more big shots than anyone could count.
He was a tenacious defender – an often underappreciated “stat” when it comes to HOF consideration. He was a five-time All-Defensive team member, twice the Defensive Player of the Year. In fact even before Joe Dumars coined The Jordan Rules and before Gary Payton was known as The Glove for the way he stuck to opponents, Moncrief was the defensive standard.
Over 11 seasons, he was an All-Star five times.
Understandably, Moncrief’s NBA tenure alone may not be no-brainer enough to persuade voters, but when blended with his Razorback years, the oversight becomes clear.
In short, Sidney Moncrief may be the most important player in the history of Arkansas basketball. Recruited from the housing projects of Little Rock’s East End, he became the face of a program rescued from obscurity.
Leading a trio of himself, Ron Brewer and Marvin Delph, Moncrief inspired Arkansas to a 16-0 conference record (the first time that ever happened) and into the Final Four. That is the season, Moncrief appeared on the iconic cover of SI seemingly eight feet off the floor – he was said to have a 36-inch vertical – and about to throw down a true all-in power jam. Hoops fans everywhere still remember that image.
The following season, with Delph and Brewer gone, he was equally dazzling. Two performances are still legend.
On the night Arkansas opened its conference season against Houston, the Razorbacks were down 21 points at the half, 23 when the Cougars scored to star the second half. Houston scored five points the rest of the way; Moncrief scored a lot more. The Hogs won.
The other iconic effort came during March Madness when Arkansas faced an upstart squad from Indiana State, led by the guy named Bird. Moncrief guarded the 6’9″ legend. In the end, another I State player beat the Hogs.
Now hear this: Some folks say few people in Arkansas history have done more for race relations in that state than Moncrief. His star emerged at a time when our nation’s wounds, incurred during the struggle for racial equality, were still fresh and raw.
It was less than a decade after the assassination of Dr. King when the quiet hometown kid arrived at a campus that had only recently begun recruiting black athletes. He gifts – on and off the court – were a binding force throughout the state, and it laid the foundation for a school that would later be guided by only the second AFrican-merican coach to reach the Final Four (Nolan Richardson).
Sadly, part of what made Moncrief great – his quiet grace – may be standing in the way of gaining the recognition he deserves. He was first nominated in 2000.