Robert Horry last appeared in an officially sanctioned basketball game on May 27, 2008, when his San Antonio Spurs sought to tie a playoff series against his former team, the Los Angeles Lakers. Horry finished that game with 2 points, 4 rebounds and a steal in 15 minutes of game action. The Spurs lost and found themselves down 3 games to 1 to the Lakers. The series ended in 5 games, with Horry receiving a DNP-CD in the closing game. It was the 244th and final playoff game of Horry's career.
Five years later, Horry is now eligible for the Basketball Hall of Fame.
To avoid burying the lede, Robert Horry is a Hall of Famer and should be recognized accordingly.
The Houston Rockets chose Alabama forward Robert Horry with the 11th pick in the loaded 1992 Draft. Many questioned the selection and contended that the Rockets made a mistake by not selecting USC's Harold "Baby Jordan" Miner. Horry was a relatively unknown commodity within a draft class that also included Alonzo Mourning, Christian Laettner and Latrell Sprewell, Horry's college teammate. The first overall selection in that draft was, of course, Shaquille O'Neal - who immediately became the biggest name in basketball next to Michael Jordan.
O'Neal and his heralded Magic team came to Houston for one game that season. March 16, 1993. O'Neal was in the midst of his Rookie of the Year campaign, while the Rockets were struggling and still adjusting to their new coach, Rudy Tomjanovich - hired at mid-season to replace Don Chaney, the prior year's Coach of the Year.
I had tickets to this game. My brother and I drove to the Summit with tickets in hand. Seats right behind the basket. The Magic raced out to a big early lead and the Rockets appeared lost. The score was 55-42 at halftime. It was not looking good for the home team. But the Rockets quickly started to chip at the Magic lead and made a game of it in the 4th quarter.
With time running out, the Rockets trailed 93-91 and only had one shot left. As the clock approached 00:00, Robert Horry received the ball just outside the 3-point line. With no hesitation at all ... Horry took the shot. Time expired as the ball calmly splashed through the net right in front of me. The Rockets won.
Horry's last-second 3-pointer was the difference in a 94-93 victory. Big Shot Rob was born.
At that very moment, Robert Horry became my favorite basketball player ever.
I recognize that Horry lacks the traditional metrics associated with what we commonly understand to be a "Hall of Fame"-level basketball player. He did not average 30 points a game. He did not average 10 rebounds or assists per game. In fact, he only started 480 of the 1107 regular season games he appeared in. (He also only started 116 of the aforementioned 244 playoff games.) To the casual observer, there is only one statistical basis for even having the conversation about Robert Horry and the Hall of Fame:
He has seven NBA Championship rings.
This fact is the paradox that seemingly defines Robert Horry. On one hand, he has seven freaking rings. He is the only non-Celtic with that distinction. That is awesome! On the other hand, he had the fortune of playing alongside Hakeem Olajuwon, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O'Neal and Tim Duncan. He had Rudy Tomjanovich, Phil Jackson and Gregg Popovich as coaches.
This latter fact is often the one cited to denigrate Horry's value as a basketball player. But for "serendipity" and being surrounded by other HOFers, Horry would have been a basketball afterthought. Or that is what I am apparently led to believe. This is an incomplete evaluation, however. For the follow-up question should be: how would we view those players and coaches today if they did not have Robert Horry on their team? Quite differently, I believe.
Prior to playing with Robert Horry, Hakeem Olajuwon was a great, but frustrated player who nearly demanded a trade from the Rockets because they could not surround him with competent players. Prior to Horry's arrival, Shaq and Kobe were ringless and often were swept out of the playoffs year after year. Granted, Duncan already had a ring when Horry arrived in 2004, but Horry's contributions got him two more.
Over the course of a 16-year NBA career, Horry played on the following seven championship teams:
1993-94 Houston Rockets
1994-95 Houston Rockets
1999-2000 L.A. Lakers
2000-01 L.A. Lakers
2001-02 L.A. Lakers
2004-05 San Antonio Spurs
2006-07 San Antonio Spurs
Every single one of those teams needed Robert Horry to win. Without Robert Horry, Hakeem Olajuwon is viewed more like Charles Barkley or Patrick Ewing. To further emphasize the point, Ewing may have a ring himself but for Horry helping out Hakeem there. (I do not want to live in a world where Patrick Ewing beats Hakeem at anything.) Barkley was twice denied by Horry and Hakeem. Likewise, Kobe and Shaq would never have made it through Portland in 2000 without Horry's defense on Rasheed Wallace. This likely could have advanced the rift between Kobe and Shaq and led to an earlier breakup. Without Horry, Duncan simply does not beat Detroit in 2005. Duncan himself admitted that he owed Horry for saving him in that series (for Duncan missed several key free throws before Horry did his thing in Game 5).
To dismiss Horry just because he had good players around him is nothing but circular logic without any substantive analysis. Lots of Hall of Fame players had their games elevated due to being fortunate enough to play with other Hall of Fame players. It is practically the modern model for how to construct a winning basketball team: get multiple Hall of Fame-caliber players together and fill in the rest of the roster thereafter. For example, LeBron James might still be toiling in Cleveland with the likes of Mo Williams but without a ring if he did not choose to join up with Dwyane Wade. The only difference in assessing Robert Horry is that no one ever takes the time to figure out what constitutes a "star" versus what constitutes a truly valuable player.
Thus -- what makes a Hall of Famer?
There are no set standards for what constitutes a "Hall of Famer." There are no particular guidelines for enshrinement. You do not need to play a certain number of games. You do not need to score a certain amount of points. You do not need to average a certain number of rebounds or assists or some other arbitrary statistic. Considering these nebulous factors, what are the traits that make a "Hall of Famer" in our eyes? Is it individual greatness? Is it fame? Is it winning? Is it all of the above? Is there some intangible factor? Let us explore a few:
From its outset, the NBA has been blessed with many players talented enough to put the ball in the basket at great volume. Many, many players have used these talents to average 20 points per game or more. That is the name of the game, right? Score more points than the other team. Everything else is just white noise. Right?
Robert Horry averaged 7.0 points per game in his career. His "best" scoring season was 12.0 points per game in 1995-96. Even in the playoffs, he never averaged more than 13.1 points per game.
If "scoring" is all that mattered, I guess that eliminates Horry as a "Hall of Famer." Fortunately, we have moved beyond simplistic analysis of statistics. If Shane Battier can be defined as a "no-stats all-star," it is not much of a leap to view Robert Horry as a "no-stats Hall of Famer."
Michael Jordan is often glorified for winning multiple scoring titles. The truth, however, is that prior to Jordan only Kareem Abdul-Jabbar won a scoring title and a championship in the same year (1971). Furthermore, until Jordan won his first ring in 1991, he was generally considered to be selfish and a ball-hog and the opposite of a winner. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird were universally considered the best players in the game, even with Jordan filling box scores every single night. Once Jordan beat the Lakers, the criticism disappeared seemingly overnight.
Even Wilt Chamberlain received constant criticism for being able to score at will yet being unable to beat Bill Russell and the Celtics in important games. The ability to score 100 points in a game is secondary to winning championships.
There are many players that have put on an NBA jersey than have or could score 20+ points a game. This fact alone does not dictate who is or who is not a Hall of Famer. Yes, it is important to be able to put the ball in the basket - it is how we keep score, after all - but the game is more complex than that. It takes more than just gunning your way to scoring titles to be a Hall of Famer. Many, many players have had to learn this fact the hard way: including LeBron James, Kobe, Jordan, Chamberlain, Kareem, Allen Iverson, Jerry Stackhouse, Vince Carter, Tracy McGrady, Carmelo Anthony... the list goes on.
No one doubts that Michael Jordan is great and is the epitome of a Hall of Famer. He has 6 NBA Championship rings. He is quite likely the best basketball player of all time. If everyone is compared to Jordan, of course they will fall short. Yet Jordan never won anything of substance until Scottie Pippen and Phil Jackson arrived. Does this somehow take away from Jordan's individual worth? That is a ridiculous proposition. Jordan's candidacy was secure the moment he hoisted his first Larry O'Brien trophy.
What about Magic Johnson? Magic never developed a great jump shot. He was fortunate to be surrounded by such luminaries as Kareem and James Worthy, both Hall of Famers themselves. Magic's greatness is embodied by his assist totals. At the time of his (first) retirement, Magic was the all-time leader in assists. So, okay, if you are singularly great at passing the ball to teammates in prime position to score, this is certainly a Hall of Fame worthy skill. Magic also has 5 NBA Championship rings.
What about Dennis Rodman? Dennis Rodman was a disaster on offense. Teams would often ignore him and double team someone like Isiah Thomas or Joe Dumars, both of them Hall of Famers. Dennis Rodman, however, was a rebounding virtuoso and he often changed the game with this particular skill. Dennis Rodman used that talent on his way to 5 NBA Championship rings. It is also worth considering that no one has ever considered Rodman to be the best or second-best player on his team at any time. Yet Dennis Rodman is a Hall of Fame basketball player and was inducted in 2011. Also, no one ever accused Rodman of simply being fortunate to play with Isiah, Dumars, Jordan and Pippen.
What about individual defense? Bill Russell was not particularly known for his offensive game. In a high-scoring NBA era, Bill Russell never once approached the scoring leaders of the league. Bill Russell is known primarily for his defensive presence - unfortunately for him, the "blocked shot" was not a recorded statistic until well after he retired. Russell, however, was seen as the ultimate team player and sacrificed personal glory on offense for what truly mattered to him: winning. Bill Russell has 11 NBA Championship rings. No one ever accused him of being merely a byproduct of Bob Cousy's greatness or Red Auerbach's genius.
It therefore appears that individual greatness can manifest itself in multiple different ways for a Hall of Fame basketball player. Though all of these players have one thing in common: winning.
What about the intangibles? We often hear coaches and scouts praise players for having "it" - whatever it may be. Certain players are described as "winners" as if this is an inherent trait. On the flip side, many talented players are chastised for not winning, even in spite of their apparent greatness. Somewhere Tracy McGrady and Vince Carter are nodding their heads.
This is what makes Robert Horry a Hall of Famer.
Was he singularly great at scoring? No - but he did once score 40 points in a single game, so he was capable of scoring if the team needed it. (Of course, unlike Al Bundy and his 4 TDs at Polk High - Horry does not recite this game as the high point of his life/career.)
Was Horry a particularly great passer? No - but he was a very willing and adept passer. Horry was not tasked with initiating the offense, so he often played without the ball in his hands on offense. He was never considered a "black hole" on offense. (Looking at you, ‘Melo.)
Was Horry a lock-down rebounder? No - but he did record 20 rebounds in a game once with the Lakers in the playoffs (against, of course, San Antonio). Horry played with Hakeem, Shaq and Duncan, so grabbing all the rebounds was never part of his job title.
Horry was simply a jack-of-all trades for every team he played for. Need scoring? Okay, he can put up 20+ if you really need it. Need defense and rebounding? No problem. Horry played in the era of elite forwards in the Western Conference - with Barkley, Duncan, Malone, Dirk, Rasheed, Shawn Kemp and Chris Webber all being superb offensive post players. Horry guarded all of them routinely. If Horry was inadequate on defense, he would never have played big minutes in these series. He never would have been on the court to hit clutch shots.
Did you know that Robert Horry was the first player to record 100 steals, 100 blocks and 100 made 3-pointers in the same season? It is true. He did that. He paved the way for taller players like Dirk to come in and play the forward position but also have the 3-point green light. Meanwhile, Horry still holds the NBA Finals record for most steals in a game (7). Most 3-pointers made without a miss in the playoffs? Yeah, Horry went 7-for-7 against Utah. Horry is still the all-time leader with 53 made 3-pointers in the NBA Finals. Horry could shoot, block shots and defend the passing lanes with expertise. You can never say that Robert Horry was one-dimensional. And no one doubts his playoff ability.
If anything, Robert Horry's game was before his time. If you needed statistics, he could (and did) provide that for his team. It just is not what defined him as a player.
Horry came into the NBA as a small forward. Out of necessity, in 1995 the Rockets moved him to power forward (so they could elevate Mario Elie to the starting lineup). The Rockets never looked back. Horry bulked up when he joined the Lakers so that he could withstand the grind of 82 games and the playoffs as a power forward. He even accepted a role as a bench player for the Lakers and Spurs without complaint. Whatever the team needed - he did. Successfully.
Obviously, this is meant to be rhetorical. Robert Horry is among the handful of "most clutch" NBA playoff performers of all time. He is in the discussion with Jordan, Jerry West, Larry Bird and Reggie Miller. You simply did not want to leave Robert Horry open in big moments.
The man is nicknamed "Big Shot Rob" for a reason.
Game-winning shots? Yeah, Horry has a few of those in his arsenal.
(versus Kings in 2002)
(versus Pistons in 2005)
You have to be rather clutch to have a personal "Top 10 clutch moments" collection:
Horry played in 7 NBA Finals series. His team won all of them.
Only Bill Russell exceeds that rate of success (11-for-11), while Jordan can almost match it, going 6-for-6.
Karl Malone played in 3 NBA Finals. He went 0-3.
Charles Barkley lost the only time he played.
Hakeem Olajuwon was 0-1 in the NBA Finals before he met Horry.
Shaquille O'Neal was 0-1 before he played with Horry.
(Horry of course is the reason Barkley, Malone and Shaq were ringless).
Even Kobe Bryant and LeBron James have lost twice in the NBA Finals.
"Winning isn't everything... [it's the only thing]" -- Vince Lombardi
"You play... to win... the game" -- Herm Edwards
"I think it's the mark of a great player to be confident in tough situations." -- John McEnroe
"The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don't play together, the club won't be worth a dime." -- Babe Ruth
A Hall of Famer cannot simply be defined by his prowess at scoring points, collecting rebounds or handing out assists. There has to be something more than pure statistics. In my opinion, doing what it takes to help the team win should trump any statistical considerations that can be accumulated by an individual in a team sports.
Mitch Richmond scored a lot of points - over 20,000 -- but he never won anything.
Charles Oakley is 21st on the all-time rebounds list, but he never won anything other than the right to be Michael Jordan's personal bodyguard.
Mark Jackson is third on the all-time career assist list, but he never won anything (and in his one NBA Finals appearance, he lost to Robert Horry. Go figure.)
These men are not Hall of Famers for a reason. They never elevated their teams to the height of greatness, even if they did amass substantial personal statistics.
In contrast, Robert Horry's teams won. A lot. Robert Horry's team made the playoffs in every single year he played in the NBA. More than that, the scariest sight in the NBA playoffs for an opponent was to see Robert Horry open, with the ball in his hands and the chance to win the game with a last-second shot. The man was a winner.
There are currently 158 players enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. Many of these players are relatively unknown. Many more are beneficiaries of being on the Celtics in the 1950s and 1960s. The Hall essentially exists as a history book for the game played at its highest level. How can you competently describe NBA basketball in the 1990s and 2000s without Robert Horry making an appearance? Or seven.
You can claim that Horry is the beneficiary of being on the roster with better players, and this would be true. But you cannot deny that Horry was a key figure in whether or not his teams won in the end.
Robert Horry is the greatest role player of all time. I say this not as hyperbole, but as a verifiable fact. This alone is worthy of the Hall of Fame. On the basketball court, Robert Horry directly contributed to team success year after year. He was not merely a "good" role player or a serviceable one just happy to be on a roster. He was the best.
If that does not define a Hall of Famer, I do not know what should.
To those who claim that Horry is not good enough to be a Hall of Famer, I can only offer one simple retort:
Kiss the rings...
 Notably, the San Antonio Spurs have won nothing of value since the decision to not play Horry in a playoff game. The moral? Do not bench Robert Horry.
 Those 244 playoff games remain a record.
 I will admit; I was one of these people.
 A recent Deadspin post sarcastically asked the following question: "are there Horry fans? Are there fervent Horry fans?" Yup - right here, buddy.
 Then again, do we not live in an advanced metrics sports world now where we can look beyond face-value statistics? I certainly hope so.
 He also threw a towel in (coach) Danny Ainge's face. Now, while it is not exactly on the level of Happy Gilmore's "take off your skate and try to stab someone" record - it is still noteworthy. Also, awesome.
 Yes, one ring. I still refuse to acknowledge that the 1999 lock-out season ever happened. Because that would require me to accept that Scottie Pippen was once a Rocket. This I cannot do.
 Okay, maybe not the 2001 Lakers. That team was insane and would have gone 15-0 in the playoffs but for a sluggish start and the presence of Allen Iverson and Dikembe Mutombo in Game 1 of the Finals.
 Shaquille O'Neal later matched that feat in 2000.
 Okay, maybe Carmelo has not exactly learned this lesson just yet.
 Jordan did win that NCAA Basketball tournament thing in 1982. But he had James Worthy and Dean Smith to guide him. It is amazing what can be accomplished with good coaches and teammates.
 Cue the Faith No More song. "What is ‘it'?" indeed.
 Horry's career high for assists in a game is 11.
 Chauncey Billups has been infringing on Horry's trademark nickname since 2004.
 It is worth noting that it is not the "NBA" Hall of Fame - but the Basketball Hall of Fame.