In a decade filled with muscle-bound brutes and skilled big men, one name gets lost in translation: Shawn Kemp. Kemp was a problem for many teams because of his ferociousness in attacking the ring, and he had an underrated jumper from 20 feet in. But years after his retirement, is Shawn Kemp in the Hall of Fame?
Unfortunately, he is not. In this article, you will learn how good prime Shawn Kemp was and explore possible reasons why the multi-time All-Star has yet to make it in Springfield.
Who is Shawn Kemp?
Shawn Kemp was primarily known as the running mate of Gary Payton in the mid-90s Seattle Supersonics teams. While Payton was the point guard and pesky perimeter defender, Kemp was the unstoppable force inside who could also consistently knock down jumpers.
Before making his presence felt in the NBA, Kemp famously failed to keep the minimum rating on his SAT test, so he was not eligible to play for Kentucky, his initial college choice. He transferred to Trinity Valley Community College, stayed there for a semester, did not play a lick of basketball, and still declared for the 1989 NBA Draft.
The 19-year-old Kemp started his career slowly but picked up steam in his second season. By then, he became a starter and a regular part of the rotation. Kemp averaged a double-double in his third season, the year where he cemented himself as one of the game’s most ferocious in-game dunkers. He came up with the “Lister Blister,” a poster dunk on Warriors forward Alton Lister.
Kemp kept building momentum in his fourth season, averaging a double-double for the second straight year, and was named an All-Star in 1993. By 1994, he wasn’t just an All-Star; he also made his first All-NBA team alongside Charles Barkley and David Robinson in the second five. He then represented the United States in the 1994 FIBA World Cup in Canada and ended up bringing home the bacon.
At this point in his career, Kemp was a feared dominant force that could affect the game in many ways. The most significant highlight of his career was the 1995-96 season when the Sonics made a run to the Finals to face the Bulls. Although Seattle lost 2-4, he averaged 23.3 points, 10.0 rebounds, and 2.2 assists in the series while shooting 55% from the floor and 85.7% from the foul line.
Kemp was eventually shipped to the Cavaliers in 1997. He played alright in Ohio but showed up out of shape before the lockout-shortened 1998-99 season. Kemp never shed the weight, which was said to be over 400 pounds max. He was traded to Portland in 2000, played there for two seasons as a backup center, and concluded his NBA career with Orlando. Kemp tried to make several NBA comebacks but was never successful.
How Good Was Shawn Kemp?
For a good three or four years, Kemp was only behind Karl Malone and Charles Barkley among the best power forwards. That should give anyone who hasn’t watched the Reign Man in his prime an idea of how good he truly was. While he was known as a dunker and post operator, he could also do everything else: He averaged 2.6 dimes, 1.8 steals, and 2.1 blocks in the 1993-94 season, on top of 18.1 points and 10.8 rebounds.
The 1996 NBA Finals was a testament to how special he could be. Even with the loss, Kemp came awfully close behind Michael Jordan in the Finals MVP voting. The only Finals MVP recipient from the losing team was Jerry West in 1969, and he almost replicated the feat!
It’s also important to note that in the 1996 Finals series, Kemp did not have any trouble percentage-wise against Dennis Rodman. What did him in was the turnovers and fouls he committed, averaging six turnovers in the series while fouling out in Games 1 and 6.
Even when he experienced weight issues, Kemp was still an absolute force to be reckoned with, averaging a career-high 20.5 points and 9.2 rebounds in 1998-99. He fell off a cliff in Portland because of his off-the-court troubles and addictions, but there is no doubt how special of a talent Shawn Kemp was.
Why Isn’t Shawn Kemp in the Hall of Fame?
Why is Shawn Kemp not in the Hall of Fame? Well, Kemp may be asking that question himself, but the truth is, he was very good, but never truly great. If there was a Hall of the Very Good, he would have been a shoo-in, but not in Springfield.
The most apparent reason why Kemp is not in the Hall is longevity. He had short prime years with no MVPs or rings to show and was caught up with personal and legal issues. If he had kept himself in shape and held his off-court troubles at bay, he probably would have continued to be a 20-10 type of guy, helping his Hall of Fame case after retirement.
Now, will Shawn Kemp make the Hall of Fame in the near future? Consider this: If someone like Chris Webber wasn’t a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Kemp probably doesn’t deserve to be in it. He is one of those “What could have been” guys, but ultimately, his career has fallen short.
Wrapping Things Up: Is Shawn Kemp in the Hall of Fame?
Any long-time NBA fan knows who Shawn Kemp is, but his career arc resembles a skydiving session. After a few years as an elite player, he fell off a cliff and never recovered, primarily because of his own fault.
Shawn Kemps’ game stats prove this: He averaged 18.8 points, 11 rebounds, 2.2 assists, 1.4 steals, and 1.7 blocks a game on 55% shooting across three seasons where he was selected to the All-NBA Second Team. His lone Finals appearance was even better as he was good for 23.3 points, 10 rebounds, and two blocks in a six-game series with the Bulls. In fact, his impact was so overwhelming he almost came close to beating Michael Jordan for the Finals MVP plum!
But is Shawn Kemp in the Hall of Fame? No, he’s not, and he probably never will. Kemp’s prime years were short-lived, and he allowed himself to be pummeled by off-court troubles. He indeed was very good and played exciting basketball, but that’s about it for the Reign Man.
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