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Visiting the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame

Topics/tags: Rants

Today, I visited the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, in Springfield, Mass. Although I grew up in the Boston area and I was a big Celtics fan [1], I never managed to visit the Hall of Fame until now. It was surprisingly empty. Or perhaps it’s not so surprising; it’s fall, and school is in session. I’m not sure who visits during days like that, other than the occasional tourist. I appreciated some things about the museum, including lots of videos [2] and a great exhibit about the importance of the players’ union [3]. I clearly would have had more fun if I was someone who played basketball; there’s a big gym at the center that includes a variety of old kinds of hoops, as well as hoops of different heights so that you can dunk.

At the entrance, there was also a catalog for the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame Auction. I picked up a catalog because I thought it would make a fun souvenir. I read through it while waiting for the introductory video to start. There’s not much I would want [4,5]. I found some of it amusing, including the sheer volume of memorabilia associated with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the customized Hummer that LeBron James received for his 18th birthday.

But I also found it frustrating. I’m not sure who is selling this stuff, but some of it really belongs in the Hall of Fame. There are lots of jerseys out there, so it seems fine to auction those off. But Abdul-Jabbar’s NCAA Championship Trophy? It should be in the museum, not in some collector’s hands. James Naismith’s personal scrapbook? The museum is named after him; shouldn’t the scrapbook be there? What is going on that these are being sold? And what’s going on that they are being sold with the museum’s name associated with the sale?

The other thing that bothered me was the Zion Williamson memorabilia listed at the end of the catalog. As a high-school or college player, Williamson would not be allowed to make money from his uniform or shoes. But it seems that someone is. I’m not sure that California’s solution is the right one [6], but something needs to be done.

I’m glad I visited the museum. It reminded me of some of the reasons I used to watch basketball and re-emphasized the ways in which it combines teamwork with individual performances. But I wish I had not picked up the catalog.

Postscript: It’s a bit more than a week before the end of the auction. Right now, the five highest bids are for a Michael Jordan photo-matched used & signed jersey ($76,000), the 1969 Lew Alcindor UCLA Bruins NCAA Championship Ring ($55,000), a LeBron James high-school jersey that is photo-matched to his first Sports Illustrated cover ($50,000), a lithograph of the NBA’s 50 greatest players signed by all (or almost all) 50 players ($48,000), and Abdul-Jabbar’s 1969 Naismith College Player of the Year trophy [7] ($43,000). In contrast, the Naismith scrapbook is only at $5,000.

Postscript: Today is 10-10. I suppose I should have considered writing something about the Grinnell tradition. However, nothing in particular came to mind, so I’ll leave it until another 10-10.

[1] I followed the Celtics in the late 1970s, after their last championship and before the Bird era. It may have been the worst time to be a Celtics fan. But I really liked the team.

[2] I saw some great shots of Bill Russell’s blocks as well as the legendary Havlicek stole the ball!

[3] I had not realized that the players had threatened to boycott the 1964 All-Star game unless (reasonable) demands were met. And I’d forgotten how free agency had started in the NBA.

[4] Or could afford.

[5] There’s a lithograph of five Boston Celtics signed by Red Auerbach, John Havlicek, Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, and Tom Heinsohn that I found cool. A part of me also really likes the various signed items related to the 1992 Dream Team. But I don’t need any of that stuff.

[6] For those who haven’t been paying attention, the California legislature approved legislation that allows college athletes to profit off of their name or image. While that sounds like a good idea at first glance, it is likely to create some significant problems, such as boosters offering to pay recruits a lot to use their image.

[7] The trophy was awarded to Lew Alcindor, but you know what I mean.

Version 1.0 of 2019-10-10