Finalists for 2017 Hall of Fame Class share dazzling careers — but have no rings

NEW ORLEANS — The ring’s not necessarily the thing, but there is no denying that it is a thing for the four NBA players to emerge Saturday as Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame finalists for the Class of 2017.

Among the candidates who advanced from the North American committee (the group that handles most NBA and NCAA nominees), Tim Hardaway, Tracy McGrady, Sidney Moncrief and Chris Webber all enjoyed memorable, occasionally dazzling careers. By most measures — from statistics or impact, from longevity to highlight-reels or some combination thereof — all can mount persuasive cases for enshrinement in the Springfield, Mass., museum.

But if there were a ring or three within that group, Hardaway, Moncrief and Webber might already be in and McGrady would be considered a favorite in his first year of eligibility.

Instead, they’ll wait along with the rest — seven coaches from both men’s and women’s basketball, one referee and two more women’s finalists — who will be considered for election this year. The Class of 2017 will be announced April 3 at the Final Four in Glendale, Ariz., and the Hall’s enshrinement ceremony is set for Sept. 8.

Moncrief, a coltish wing player for 12 NBA seasons (mostly with the Milwaukee Bucks), knew coming into the news conference Saturday at the Smoothie King Center how much value is placed on championships. More so in this league, perhaps, than any other among the major pro sports. So he did his research.

“I looked it up this morning: I came in the league with Magic and Bird,” said Moncrief, who joined Magic Johnson and Larry Bird as NBA rookies in 1979-80, was a five-time All-Star and won back-to-back Defensive Player of the Year awards in 1983 and 1984. “Between us, we have eight rings. Magic has his five, Bird has three, I have zero.

“When I played we had the great Lakers teams of the ‘80s, Boston and their great teams in the ‘80s — and Philadelphia! So we had some pretty stiff competition.”

Whether their careers butted up against Johnson, Bird and Isiah Thomas or they were unlucky enough to have been born in the same era of Michael Jordan, Shaquille O’Neal or Kobe Bryant, whether they never had the right mix of teammates or missed out on the serendipity of good health, the four terrific players all have one or more fingers that are barren of the special jewelry.

McGrady, for example, was a seven-time All-Star and two-time scoring champ, but his career was hobbled by injuries – either to him and to teammates such as Grant Hill and Yao Ming. As a result, none of McGrady’s teams ever advanced beyond the first round, a pattern that stuck to his reputation.

So count him among those who feel the ring/no ring divide in the NBA is an unfair one.

“I think it’s you guys, the media, who are messing these [younger] guys up about competing or — how can I put this? — it’s like these guys feel they have to win a championship or they don’t feel they’re completed as a player,” McGrady said.

After calling his selection as a finalist “not even a dream come true” because he didn’t know what the Hall of Fame was as a young player, McGrady spoke of the burden some of the league’s best players shoulder, like it or not.

“For me, I just don’t think winning a championship solidifies you as a player,” McGrady said. “Because everybody is not lucky to be in those situations. I look at some of the great players I competed against. I look at Kevin…