There are people who wonder about my motives when it comes to Robert Elmore and the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame.
Why, they ask, am I so adamant that he be inducted? Why, they wonder, am I so distraught when he isn’t?
These are valid questions and I’m not at all sure I have valid answers. I don’t know when I became so emotionally involved when it comes to Robert Elmore, who played basketball at WSU from 1973-77, the years when I was a student. I don’t know why I get angry every year when Elmore is denied induction as is again the case this year. Wichita State announced three worthy SSHOF inductees Tuesday – Desiraye Osburn (cross country) and former baseball standouts Carl Hall and Mike Pelfrey.
No Elmore. Again.
In September, I publicly nominated Elmore for the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame, something I had not done in the past. Elmore, 6-foot-11, died of a heroin overdose in Rome, where he was playing basketball professionally, in 1977. He had recently been cut by the NBA’s New Jersey Nets.
I presume it is the heroin overdose that has kept Elmore out of the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame, although none of the committee members – who include Linwood Sexton, John Dreifort, Cleo Littleton and Mike Kennedy – has ever told me that.
Elmore still ranks second in WSU history in rebounds (1,039) and block shots (132). He averaged 12.4 rebounds for his career and also scored 1,186 points and was a 51.1 percent field-goal shooter and three-time all-Missouri Valley Conference first team player. He was, I believe, the greatest true center in Shocker basketball history.
I do not believe the circumstances of Elmore’s death should impact his SSHOF status. I am unsure of the vetting process done by the committee, but doubt it includes vigorous background checks. Not that a background check would have been necessary to determine Elmore’s cause of death; it was public knowledge.
I did not know Elmore. But I have talked to some of his former teammates and they say he was a wonderful person and outstanding player who got mixed up in some of the wrong things after he left the United States to play basketball in France.
“A great guy on and off the court,” former Shocker and SSHOF inductee Cheese Johnson said. “He was always happy and the things that happened shouldn’t be held against him. One thing doesn’t have to do with another.”
Elmore was from Queens, N.Y., near where Johnson grew up in Manhattan. They didn’t know one another as kids, but being native New Yorkers helped them bond when they were together for two seasons (1975-76, 1976-77) at WSU. Elmore and Johnson were key parts of the Shockers’ NCAA Tournament team in 1976.
“He was like an older brother to me,” Johnson said. “And he was a real popular guy. He was one of my best enforcers on that front line.”
Another former Elmore teammate, Chicago native Steve Kalocinski, said he spent much of trip to WSU in Elmore’s presence.
“He basically convinced me Wichita State was the right school for me because of his demeanor,” Kalocinski said. “Mo was such an imposing figure but his demeanor didn’t match up to that big physique. He was so down to earth and so easy going.”
Kalocinski knew Elmore was starting to dabble in drugs after he left Wichita State, but was surprised to hear that his former teammate had overdosed on heroin.
“It was such a tragedy because he was naive in that way,” Kalocinski said. “Now I see Mo’s brother, Len, on TV and I see Mo in those eyes. It’s a real sad deal. But should that take away from his accomplishments as a basketball player? I don’t think so.”
Neither do I, which is why I keep pushing for Elmore’s induction. His exclusion reflects poorly on the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame, in my opinion, but in being so public about my beliefs I fear that I have stunted the likelihood of his chances for induction.
In the next day or two, I hope, a member of the Shocker Sports Hall of Fame committee will talk to me and explain Elmore’s exclusion. I think it’s important that someone on the committee do so, especially since I went through the process of publicly nominating Elmore this year. I will write about the committee’s reasoning here on my blog. But then I will let this issue go and allow it, along with Robert Elmore, to rest in peace.