When Thunder assistant coach Maurice Cheeks retired in 1993, he was the NBA's all-time leader in steals and was fifth all-time in assists.
He had been selected to four All-Star Games, won a world championship, advanced to three NBA Finals and was a five-time member of the all-defensive team.
"That's a hall-of-fame career," said Cheeks' boss, Thunder coach Scott Brooks.
Not in the eyes of voters. Not yet, at least.
For the second straight year, Cheeks has been named a finalist for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. Finalists must receive 18 of 24 votes from the Honors Committee to earn induction. The 2012 class will be named on April 2 at the Final Four in New Orleans, with enshrinement Sept. 7 in Springfield, Mass.
Cheeks received a thunderous ovation Feb. 29 in Philadelphia when a video tribute to him was played during a timeout. Cheeks was also recognized Monday night at Chesapeake Energy Arena during the first timeout of the Thunder's 95-91 victory over Dallas.
Brooks and others have expressed shock Cheeks has yet to be inducted.
"He should be in, no disrespect to the voters," Brooks said. "He's a Hall of Famer in my mind, in many people's minds."
Cheeks said he does not look at his outsider status as an injustice, however.
"No, you can't look at it that way. Any time you have an opportunity to get into a hall of fame, from my standpoint, it's an honor," said Cheeks, who was chosen for the Philadelphia Sports Hall of Fame in 2008. "I mean, come on. How many people get to play this game for so many years with so many great players? To have a chance to get in is special. Obviously, to actually get in is more special."
This state was the birthplace of former NBA standouts Alvan Adams, Mark Price and the late Wayman Tisdale, but the 55-year-old Cheeks has become the resident NBA statesman in Oklahoma.
"Oh, that's not good, if I'm in the statesman," Cheeks said with a laugh. "I'm the elder statesman. You didn't want to say it, but I'm the oldest guy. Right now, I'm benefitting being with an organization like Oklahoma City that's moving up the ladder in terms of the way they play and the way they carry themselves. Even though I've been in this league a long time, I'm still learning a lot about this league."
A product of West Texas A&M in Canyon, Texas, Cheeks admitted he had no idea how he would make the roster after the Philadelphia 76ers picked him 36th overall in the 1978 NBA Draft.
That same year, the Sixers tried to trade up for North Carolina guard Phil Ford, who was taken No. 2 overall. Philly also selected St. Bonaventure guard Glenn Hagan with the 43rd overall pick that year.
"I had no idea I was going to make the team," Cheeks said. "Then one day he (coach Billy Cunningham) told me at the baggage claim I had made it. At that time, we had four or five guys who could really score the ball and they needed someone to just run the team and to make sure the ball was getting to the people it was supposed to get to. I don't know what clinched it (making the final cut). All I tried to do was figure out how I could make that roster and it was to play defense and pass the ball."
Cheeks wound up playing 11 seasons with the Sixers (1978-89), then four more seasons with Sacramento, New York, Atlanta and New Jersey. He served as a Sixers assistant coach for seven seasons (1994-2001) before becoming head coach for Portland (2001-05) and Philadelphia (2005-08).
Cheeks currently ranks No. 5 all-time in career steals and No. 10 in career assists.
"A lot of them went hand-in-hand because a lot of times when I stole the ball, I was giving it to somebody else (for a basket)," Cheeks said. "My play was beneficial because I was with a lot of really, really good players and I benefitted in learning the game by playing with those good players. My play was not magnified because I had so many good players around, but I also was able to learn a lot more, and that's what helped me get better and better each year."
Thunder general manager Sam Presti said he marvels at Cheeks' basketball knowledge and at the demeanor he has shown since joining the coaching staff on Aug. 14, 2009.
"He's a great benefit to all of us," Presti said. "We don't take it for granted that we have somebody in our organization who has contributed as much to the game as Maurice. I just think he's a class act all the way around."
Presti stressed the value of having someone of Cheeks' stature in an organization that is in just its fourth season.
"He has been great to get to know," Presti said. "I feel really fortunate to have the opportunity to work with him and learn from him."