The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is tucked between the interstate and the Connecticut River in Springfield, Massachusetts. Mr Team Mom and I recently visited while we were in the area helping our son move back home from college.
The Hall of Fame is inside a strip mall. No kidding, you actually walk in and to the left there is a Subway, to the right there is a gift shop and around the corner there is a Sprint store and a Red Robin-like place for hungry families to choose their favorite burger off a giant, laminated menu.
Admission is pretty steep, but we found a Groupon that let us in for basically ½ price--two of us for $25. We were directed to enter the Hall behind the ticket office and were greeted by a young man who hustled us into an elevator. The elevator rose three floors and dropped us out on a concourse that looked out over the Jerry Colangelo Court of Dreams.
While we were there, a couple dozen kids were on the floor shooting baskets and messing around on the court. The squeaky sound of sneakers on the court definitely added to the ambiance during our visit.
When you step out of the elevator, first you see a display with all of the most recent inductees. The Class of 2015 included (among others), John Calipari, Dikembe Mutombo, and Lisa Leslie. The case featured memorabilia from each inductee, like this award for Lisa Leslie.
After walking all the way around the concourse and soaking in the names and accomplishments of more than 300 Hall of Fame inductees, we wandered through exhibits highlighting players and milestones in international ball, college hoops, and even high school basketball. Female coaches and players were represented at all levels as players and coaches.
The Hall of Famers
A reminder about the rules: inductees can be players, coaches, referees or "contributors". Players, coaches and refs must be either retired for 5 years or have 25 years experience. More rules for nomination and induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
All of the other Hall of Fame inductees (before the class of 2015) have plaques with their names and a few paragraphs about their accomplishments. High on the wall above the plaques are portraits of each inductee.
The first inductee, of course, was James Naismith, the inventor of basketball.
Some of my favorite inductees were actually teams. Among the first honorees is the "First Team", which is the men who were in Dr. Naismith's Physical Education class who were the first people ever to play basketball. Little did they know what they were starting.
A number of "barnstorming" teams were also recognized. These were teams who did not play in a league (sometimes because they were not allowed to) and instead traveled the country and even the world playing special exhibitions. I never really realized how important they were to the growth of basketball, nor did I appreciate the barriers they overcame.
New York Renaissance: Inducted in 1963, they were an all-black team who faced discrimination virtually wherever they went, and were not allowed to play in any official pro league at the time. Despite that, they played more than 2000 games and in 1932-33 they won 88 straight games.
All American Red Heads: An all-female team inducted in 2012. Their team of all red heads (the wife of the original team owner was a hair dresser) played over six decades against men, playing the men's rules. I may have teared up a little bit watching the video of their induction ceremony. 65 women--former players and family members representing them--took the stage to receive acknowledgement for their accomplishments which started 60 years before the current WNBA.
The Dream Team: No big surprise to see the 1992 US Men's Olympic team in the Hall of Fame.
Blazers in the Hall of Fame
The Trail Blazers have not been inducted as a team (yet!) but the Hall of Fame does have a ball signed by the 1977 Championship team.
Six former Trail Blazers and one coach are members of the Hall of Fame: Bill Walton, Clyde Drexler, Drazen Petrovic, Arvydas Sabonis, Scottie Pippen and Lenny Wilkins (also inducted as coach) and Jack Ramsay. Here are some Blazer highlights.
Bill Walton was inducted in 1993. There was a particular emphasis on his college years. I was kind of surprised that he was inducted before so many other great NBA players like Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Kevin McHale and Larry Bird. I believe it is because he retired first and so was eligible before they were.
Even though he won a championship with that other team, Clyde's official picture and the memorabilia that he donated are from his time with the Trail Blazers.
That #22 jersey looks so good. And they even have a pair of his Avias!
While his time with the Blazers was short, Drazen Petrovic will always be one of my personal favorites. Mostly I remember screaming at my TV, begging Adleman to put Petro in.
Petro's jersey is from his days with the Nets.
Sabonis earned a gold medal with the 1988 Soviet Union Men's National team but is pictured in the Hall of Fame in his #11 Blazer's jersey.
Dr. Jack Ramsay
Former coach Lenny Wilkins was inducted as both a player (1989) and a coach (1998). Unfortunately the pictures I took of his plaque didn't turn out, but the Jack Ramsay photos turned out okay.
Ramsay was inducted in 1992.
A whole display was devoted to Ramsay's varied career. Memorabilia includes the jacket he wore while coaching St Josephs, the ball he received for his 800th win and the 1977 Championship ball. But no plaid. That kinda annoyed me.
Another section of the Hall included about a dozen different plays as diagrammed by Hall of Fame coaches. Jack Ramsay's Pressure Defense was included.
Media Row: Curt Gowdy Award
There was a good sized media display, including a beautiful suit hand picked by Craig Sagar. In 2012 Bill Schonely was honored with the Curt Gowdy award for excellence in electronic media broadcasting. All Gowdy Award winners.
Other fun stuff
Aside from the cool Blazer stuff, there's plenty of other fun things to see at the Hall of Fame, here are some samples of the weird and wonderful stuff you can see there.
A whole room is devoted to the earliest days of basketball.
Fun Fact: Mr Team Mom is actually related to Dr. Naismith--his grandmother was a first-cousin-once-removed. Here he is posing in front of a copy of the Original 13 Rules of Basketball. The original Original Rules are housed at Kansas State University, where Naismith taught after leaving Springfield. (For a great story about how they ended up in Kansas, watch There's No Place Like Home - ESPN Films.)
Several items on display remind us how much things have changed in over 100 years of basketball.
This uniform was worn by Ernie Claverly when he sank a game winning, 62 foot shot at the buzzer for Rhode Island College in the 1946 NIT tournament. Notice the snaps in the crotch to keep it tucked in. It looks like a giant onesie that you would put on an infant.
I didn't get the date for this uniform but it shows another innovative way to keep the players looking tidy--a sturdy belt to keep the shorts up and the shirt tucked in.
Pete Maravich was a wizard and magician on the court. He was also, strangely, known for his floppy grey socks. He donated a pair to the Hall of Fame.
Should you visit? Yes!
You might be wondering if you should visit the Hall of Fame? My recommendation is a resounding "yes!"
Manage your expectations a bit and keep in mind that the curation of exhibits is not on the same level as a Smithsonian or the Museum of Natural History.
The displays somewhat inconsistent. Some of the artifacts have shifted in their display cases, you might find a typo or a plaque that is out of date (Jack Ramsay's had two typos and had not been updated with the date of his passing). However, despite the typos and a lack of plaid, there was lots of great information about Jack Ramsay.
On the other hand, this display left me mystified as to its subject, due to the fact that there was not a single label in the case.
I guess since its the Spurs we're just supposed to know what each thing is? Kind of like that saying "if you have to ask . . . "
Despite the fact the exhibits aren't always perfect, there are plenty of fascinating things on display.
In any case, if you are anywhere near the area and you are even just kind of interested in basketball, its definitely worth the stop. Search for the Groupon to make it a bit easier on your pocket book. Prepare yourself for a Vegas casino style display rather than Smithsonian quality. But do take the time to find your favorite players and take a walk down memory lane.