By Kevin McPherson
LITTLE ROCK — The incomparable Sidney Moncrief — a 501 legend, an Arkansas Razorbacks icon, and one of the top 5-to-10 NBA players of the 1980s — will reach the pinnacle of hoops honors Friday night as he’ll be formally inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
“We all played this game because we loved it,” Moncrief said on Thursday as he took part in various Naismith HOF events as a lead-up to Friday night’s official enshrinement ceremony. “I am so fortunate to be here on the behalf of the University of Arkansas and the Milwaukee Bucks.”
Moncrief — who played at Little Rock Hall High School before starring for the Hogs in college and later the Milwaukee Bucks for 10 seasons in the NBA — joins Bobby Jones, Bill Fitch, Jack Sikma, Paul Westphal, Teresa Weatherspoon, Al Attles, Charles “Chuck” Cooper, Vlade Divac, and Carl Braun to make up the 2019 Naismith Hall of Fame induction class.
The enshrinement ceremony will be televised live on NBA-TV beginning at 7:30 p.m. on Friday.
Moncrief along with Arkansas coaching legend Nolan Richardson — he led the program to its only basketball national championship (1994) and three Final Four appearances — are the only two Razorbacks to be inducted into the Naismith HOF.
Current Arkansas head coach Eric Musselman, a former head coach in the NBA who’s enjoyed long-tenured coaching career spanning more than three decades, will be on hand for Friday’s ceremony along with his wife, Danyelle Musselman.
“Sidney was one of the all time greatest defenders the game has ever had,” Musselman said on Thursday. “A two-way player who could impact a game in so many ways. A true winner on so many fronts.”
Moncrief had been a Naismith HOF finalist in previous years, but on April 6 he learned that he had broken through to Naismith immortality.
Fellow Arkansan, college teammate at Arkansas and one of the famed “Triplets”, and a former college All American and first-round NBA draft pick — Ron Brewer, Sr. — talked about Moncrief’s Naismith selection on the day it was announced.
“It’s an honor and a privilege to know him as a friend, as a basketball player, and a person I can follow through thick and thin,” Brewer said on April 6. “Sidney deserves it. It’s an honor to be able to say that I had a chance to play with him. He represents the University of Arkansas, the state of Arkansas, Razorback fans, and actually NBA fans as well, with great professionalism. If anybody deserves it, he does.”
In November, Moncrief was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame — an honor that was celebrated in January when Arkansas hosted LSU at Bud Walton Arena in Fayetteville as “Super Sid” was recognized with a pre-game video tribute and a presentation during the game.
Moncrief signed with Arkansas and legendary head coach Eddie Sutton (also in the NCB HOF) in 1975. Moncrief, Sutton, Richardson (also in the NCB HOF), and Arkansas great Corliss Williamson each has a banner hanging in the rafters of Bud Walton Arena to honor and recognize their achievements and impact on Razorbacks basketball.
Moncrief’s No. 32 Arkansas jersey was originally retired in a ceremony at Barnhill Arena in March of 1990, and it was commemorated and raised to the rafters at Bud Walton Arena in a ceremony during the 2015-16 season.
At the time of Moncrief’s January college basketball HOF celebration in Fayetteville, the Sutton family weighed in with praise for him.
“Sidney Moncrief is a beloved player and person to the Sutton family,” said Oklahoma State assistant coach Scott Sutton, who as a child was around Moncrief and the Razorbacks when his Dad, Eddie, was guiding the program to previously unreached heights in college basketball. “He’ll always be remembered as one of the greatest Razorbacks of all time. He did everything with style and class, and helped put Arkansas basketball on the map for good.”
In this current era of basketball and the constant talk of “positionless” hoops, fans would appreciate what the 6-foot-4 Moncrief brought to the court as an all-around player. He could rebound, score, and defend in and around the paint like a forward, and he could lead or run the break, shoot and score, and even run a team from the backcourt. Defensively, Moncrief set a standard not seen before in basketball. And his mental toughness, intensity, and acrobatic aerial grace will forever be etched in the minds of Arkansas basketball fans who saw him play.
Along with “Triplets” teammates Brewer, Sr. (Fort Smith) and Marvin Delph (Conway), Moncrief helped lead Arkansas to the 1978 Final Four in St. Louis. He also led two Elite Eight appearances (1978 and 1979). The Razorbacks’ 1978 national semifinals run included a final 32-4 overall record that marked the first of five total 30-or-more-win seasons in program history. A consensus first-team All American in 1978-79, Moncrief remains the only first-team All American in school history. As a junior in ’77-78, Moncrief was named second-team All American by United Press International (UPI), which at the time was the coaches’ version of the national rankings and All American teams. He was named All Southwest Conference in each of his sophomore, junior, and senior seasons. He was also named to the 1978 NCAA Tournament All-Regional West Team and to the 1979 All-Regional Midwest Team.
During that magical run to the Final Four in 1978, Moncrief, Brewer, and Delph would guide the Hogs past Weber State (73-52, Round of 32), UCLA (74-70, Sweet 16), and Cal State Fullerton (61-58, Elite Eight) before falling to Kentucky in the Final Four national semifinals. The Wildcats would go on to defeat Duke for the 1977-78 national championship, and the Hogs would defeat Notre Dame, 71-69, in the last national third-place consolation game ever played in the Final Four. In Arkansas’s 5 NCAA tournament games in 1978, Moncrief averaged 36.2 minutes, 14.2 points (on 52.2% field goals and 63.9% free throws), 5.8 rebounds, and 1.2 assists.
Moncrief’s legendary career at Arkansas ended in the NCAA tournament’s Elite Eight on March 17, 1979, against basketball icon Larry Bird and the Indiana State Sycamores. Moncrief — he averaged 38.6 minutes, 22.0 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 2.7 assists as a senior at Arkansas — played all 40 minutes against Bird and the Sycamores, finishing with 24 points (10-of-16 field goals and 4-of-4 free throws), 8 rebounds, and 2 assists. But Bird’s game-high 31 points and 10 rebounds paced Indiana State as reserve guard Bob Heaton would make a buzzer-beater in the paint for a 73-71 win following a controversial traveling call on Arkansas guard U.S. Reed when it appeared Reed has been tripped. Bird and Indiana State would eventually lose to another basketball icon, Magic Johnson, and Michigan State in the 1979 NCAA championship game in what is still the highest-TV-rated college basketball championship game ever.
Moncrief finished his career at Arkansas as the top scorer in program history at the time, tallying 2,066 points from 1976-79 (surpassed only by Todd Day’s career total of 2,395 points from ’89-92). Moncrief had 600-plus points in each of his last two seasons in Fayetteville, and he’s one of just four Razorbacks to score more than 600 points during two separate seasons. His statistical impact can still be seen in Arkansas basketball record books: In addition to his scoring, he ranks first in career rebounds (1,015), free throws made (588), and free throws attempted (752); he ranks second in career points (2,066) and career field goal percentage (60.6%); and he ranks sixth in career scoring average (16.9 points per game).
Joe Johnson Arkansas Hawks chairman Bill Ingram remembers growing up in Little Rock with Moncrief as the hero for in-state youth.
“I thought I was Sidney Moncrief,” said Ingram, who ended up a three-year starter at Little Rock Parkview in both basketball and football but was playing in the Little Rock Parks and Recreation League as youth when Moncrief was starring at Arkansas. “But all the kids in Little Rock thought they were Sidney Moncrief on the basketball court. He was like a folk hero to us back then. Everybody wanted to be Sidney Moncrief.
“If anybody deserves Hall of Fame recognition, it’s Sidney. He’s the original Little Rock hero. To the kids in Little Rock, Sidney was like God and the Razorbacks were IT. We didn’t really know other teams existed. I think Sidney Moncrief was the first mega-star that made every kid in Little Rock and Arkansas want to play for the Razorbacks. I used to sneak and stay up late to watch Sidney and the Razorbacks on tape-delay (10:30 p.m.) when I was supposed to be in bed, and I know all the kids did that. We’d come to school the next day talking about the game and trying to reenact what Sidney did.”
Moncrief was selected fifth overall in the 1979 NBA Draft by the Milwaukee Bucks, where he spent his first 10 NBA seasons before retiring briefly following the ’88-89 season. After a one-year hiatus from the NBA, Moncrief played one more season and finished his career with the Atlanta Hawks in ’90-91. Moncrief was just the second Razorback in school history to be selected in the first round of the NBA Draft, and he remains as the only Hogs alum to be drafted in the top five.
While in Milwaukee and prior to chronic tendonitis afflicting both knees amd cutting short his brilliant pro career, Moncrief was arguably among the top 5-to-10 NBA players in a 5-year span in the 1980s, earning All NBA first-team honors once (1983) and second-team honors four times (1982 and ’84-86). The five-time All-Star was also named to the NBA’s All-Defensive first team four years (1983-86) and second team in 1982, along with earning NBA Defensive Player of the Year honors twice (1983 and 1984).
During his 11-year NBA career, Moncrief averaged 15.6 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game. Not always revered for his scoring prowess, Moncrief finished his career as the Bucks’ all-time leader in career offensive rating (119.7), he averaged 20-plus-points four consecutive seasons (’83-86), and he shot 50.2% field goals and 83.1% free throws for his career.
The Bucks, who had the NBA’s third best record in the 80’s (behind only the Los Angeles Lakers and Boston Celtics) with “Super Sid” leading the way, retired Moncrief’s No. 4 jersey in 1990 and rededicated it in January of 2008 with Moncrief in attendance.
Moncrief appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated twice, once as a Razorback and once as a Buck. The SI cover that captured his soaring, in-flight attack on the rim against Texas at Barnhill Arena in Fayetteville in 1978 remains once of the top-rated SI covers of all-time.
Perhaps nobody summed up what Moncrief meant to the Hogs — as well as the entire state of Arkansas — better than the late, great Paul Eells of KATV Sports, who was the long-time voice of the Razorbacks.
“Before Sidney Moncrief and the Triplets, what was basketball here?” Eells rhetorically quipped to a 19-year-old reporter during Super Sid’s retirement ceremony inside the Hall High gym in 1989. “He didn’t just make Arkansas fans wake up to basketball, he made them live it with a fervor.”
Linked below are a Twitter video of Sidney Moncrief slipping into his orange Naismith Hall of Fame jacket on Thursday, a couple of highlight reels from Moncrief’s brilliant playing career, and several photos including Sporst Illustrated covers …