After going to Cooperstown to visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame hardly seems like a Hall of Fame at all.
The museum is housed in a silvery space age-type structure shaped like a basketball, and is accompanied by a pillar culminating in a basketball seemingly encircled by neutrons. There is an electronic billboard outside the Hall advertising upcoming events, the Hall itself is a part of a mall-style complex, and the centre of the Hall of Fame is a high-school regulation-size basketball court containing a jumbotron showing some of the greatest plays in basketball history.
Despite these differences, though, the Naismith Memorial is quite clearly a Hall of Fame. It is still a must-see spot for everybody who even just peripherally loves basketball, a dome filled with basketball history and amazingly addictive basketball toys.
The city of Springfield is not a bad one to spend a lengthy period of time in, as I figured out thanks to Mother Nature’s afflicting the entire Northeast with a snowstorm that was clearly meant for the next Ice Age. The state’s famed Massholes are non-existent, and the city has a warm feel. It seems a fitting location for the birthplace of a sport that espouses teamwork and co-operation.
As opposed to the Baseball Hall of Fame, which has patrons pass through the Hall of Plaques last, the Basketball Hall of Fame proposes that visitors walk around their “ring of honour” first. Located on the uppermost of the complex’s three floors, the ring shows short biographies of every Hall of Fame inductee in order of induction and assorted artefacts belonging to them. There is also a timeline of the evolution of basketball, as well as an assortment of short film clips about the game and a few interactive film stations where one can view the statistics of every Hall of Famer.
After moving away from the level of the enshrined, you move onto the meat of the Hall of Fame on the second floor. Walking around it in a clockwise direction (a direction I unfortunately failed to heed), you see a brief exhibit on the early days of basketball, a brief exhibit on March Madness and non-professional basketball, a room with exhibits charting stages in professional basketball’s development, a nice little tribute to the scribes of basketball, and then one reaches the part of the Hall of Fame that makes you feel like a kid in a candy shop: the interactive section.
The aforementioned section is one that was designed for those who are willing to have some excitement in the home of a sport reliant on excitement. Some of the highlights of this section are the “see-how-high-you-can-grab-a-rebound-meter” (I managed 8’10”, and I giggled watching my dad flail madly at 8’), the game consoles set up for one to play NBA Ballerz (the AI had no answer for my Kobe/LeBron combo), judge your vertical leap and reaction time (no comment), try to palm a basketball (once again, no comment), test your play-by-play skills (Clark Kellogg, there’s a new sheriff in town), and, playing on every vertex of modern technology, face Jason Kidd or Tamika Catchings in a virtual basketball game (apparently, it’s very difficult to block even a computerized Jason Kidd). Interspersed among this fun are jerseys and shoes of famous players (Shaq’s shoe is probably bigger than my dog), the 12’ net dunked on by Harlem Globetrotter Michael Wilson to set a world record, and, most significantly for me, a touching tribute to Israeli basketball (showing that Jews can be ballers, too).
After the fun, you move onto a big room full of lockers each dedicated to a certain pro or college team. These lockers contained pictures, memorabilia, and biographies of a team’s famous coach. When leaving the team vignettes, one can see brief capsules on the rise of international basketball and films of great games in basketball history. When finished, one can take to the court, grabbing a basketball and either play in a spirited game against whomever may be there, test their dunking skills on six foot high nets, or try to score in a replica peach basket, and then pass through the gift shop.
At any point during your visit, you have the chance of going to the adjoining movie theatre to watch a short movie on anything basketball. I saw a film called “ Jordan To The Max”, detailing the struggles of his career, his guts, and his second “final season”.
The Hall of Fame is clearly a place for basketball fans of all shapes and sizes, yet it isn’t just restricted to diehards. I learned more about various unknown pioneers of basketball like Hank Luisetti, Joe Lapchick, John McLendon, and Morgan Wootten, along with hidden superstars such as Bevo Francis, Luisa Harris, and Carol Blazejowski. It’s also a lot of fun to travel around the Hall, in particular showing your skills (or lack of) on the basketball court and pretending to be Marv Albert in the play-by-play section.
However, there are certain quibbles with the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame that were apparent to me after visiting the Baseball Hall of Fame. For one, several of the information was hardly up to date (they listed the dates of death for every enshrinee, but failed to have George Mikan’s or Red Auerbach’s). More important, though, was the inherent lack of emotion in the building. In Cooperstown, one could always find a chance to laugh or cry, yet in Springfield one could only look or wonder. The closest I came to feeling emotion was during the Michael Jordan film when they were discussing the murder of his father. The Hall of Fame did a great job making one appreciate the sport of basketball, but not feel its passion. This may partly be due to the fact that basketball has yet to truly weave itself into American culture; you can’t find an equivalent for Babe Ruth’s called shot or Willie Mays’ catch.
Overall, though, the Basketball Hall of Fame is still a pearl. I would strongly recommend visiting it, whether a true basketball fan or not.
BONUS FOOD TIP: If you do go to the Hall of Fame, ensure that you grab lunch at Max’s Tavern, a glitzy sports bar in the same complex which serves beer in champagne flutes. Make sure to try the garlic bread with gorgonzola fondue and the lasagna.
by Ethan Calof
Tiny URL for this post: