I visited the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA, for the first time this January. Let me say I was thrilled and excited and just a trifle ticked off. Not at the place, at myself.
All these great displays built around and above and beckoning toward this beautiful, sweetly soft, wooden-floored, perfectly lit basketball court with racks of game balls at each end where—after you pay your money to enter the museum—YOU CAN SHOOT ALL DAY. Are you kidding me? In the town where James W. invented the freaking game? And so I cursed my ruined knees and softly and yes, wistfully and painfully, in my mind’s voice said, “In another lifetime.”
Thus it is with halls of fame. They evoke so much, regardless of the sport. They make you marvel and they make you reflect and ultimately they make you wonder in the gentlest of ways what your own role in the world of the outstanding might be. Maybe it’s just to joyfully take part in the game at which others so mightily excelled. Or maybe it’s to wonder what is a hall of fame at all other than a place of imperious exclusion. It’s not who’s in. It’s who’s out.
This year’s basketball nominees are so numerous (133) in so many categories (from “North America” to “Women” to “ABA” to “Early African Pioneers” to “International”) with so many worthy names (Spencer Haywood, Gary Payton, Rebecca Lobo, Roger Brown, Nat Clifton, Loyola of Chicago, Max Zaslofsky, Tim Hardaway, Paul Silas, Jerry Tarkanian, Oscar Schmidt, Jerry Krause, Sarunas Marciulionis), that how do you know where to start?
For me, maybe it begins and ends with Bernard King. If there’s a Basketball Hall of Fame, he should certainly be in it. But he’s not. Who knows why? Entrance to these things is always elusive.
I don’t vote for the Basketball Hall of Fame, but I do vote for the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. This year, we Baseball Writers of America put nobody in the Hall. Not one living player. The Steroid Era, and our inability to fathom who was dirty and who was not, and the general cynicism created by such spectacular frauds as Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire and Roger Clemens, ruined the voting. I voted for Don Mattingly, Jack Morris, Tim Raines, Lee Smith and Curt Schilling, players I felt were at least semi-clean. Obviously, none of them got in, either.
So a hall of fame can be a place of grace and magnificence, but it can also be a place of doubt and sadness. In truth, being in or out doesn’t change in one molecule what a person is. I reveled beneath Michael and Dr. J and the Cooz and the Big Dipper in Springfield. But my knees hurt. And my mind wandered.