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O'Neal Hurts His Rankings


Shaquille O'Neal remains the only player in the league ranked in the top five in four categories, but that's a temporary condition. By the end of the season, he'll be eligible in only two of the departments.

The problem, of course, is the knee injury that will keep O'Neal out until at least sometime near the end of the regular season, if not the very end, denying him the chance to meet the minimum qualifying standards. He's already made it in shooting at 56.3% (with 495 baskets, far beyond the 300 needed) and blocks at 3.04 per outing (with 140, 40 more than necessary), but he will eventually disappear in the two other marquee categories.

--Scoring. A player needs 70 appearances or 1,400 points. O'Neal has 46 and 1,189.

--Rebounding. A player needs 70 appearances or 800 rebounds. He has 46 and 591.

It's the second season in a row O'Neal will miss at least one top-10 ranking because of injury. His 1995-96 was limited to 54 games, mostly because of the broken thumb that cost him 22 contests, but that was still enough time to qualify to finish third in scoring and shooting and ninth in blocks. He would have also been sixth in rebounding, but he grabbed only 596.


The Hall of Fame has decided to remain firm with its process for induction, a ruling that went against the hopes of Magic Johnson and affirmed that players have to be retired for five years before becoming eligible.

The 13-member executive committee did not specifically rule on Johnson's case, but did use his appeal for a waiver as means to bring the five-year rule up for discussion. No serious consideration was given to a change, meaning Johnson will be enshrined in 2002 and not 1998, his original timeline before the comeback of 1995-96.

The former Laker superstar, now a vice president and part owner, had sent a letter to the Hall saying he wanted to remain in the same induction class as friend Larry Bird because the two had been linked so closely in basketball history, a feeling some at the Hall shared. They had been together, on schedule for '98 with the 1992 Olympics credited as their last official competition and Johnson's appearance in the 1993 all-star game ignored, but the second-half return last season meant the clock would start anew on Johnson's five years.

So, Bird will be officially nominated in November, be voted upon in the months that follow before the outcome is announced in February of 1998 and then be enshrined that September. And Johnson will have to wait, though Bird will be allowed to invite him to participate.

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