Pay no attention to the grown man choking back tears in front of the video board.
There must have been some dusty air particles floating around Western Massachussetts last weekend, or else somebody was waxing seriously nostalgic.
That’s where I ended up on Saturday of Labor Day weekend. When I realized the route to my weekend destination rolled right through Springfield, I started plotting. The plan was always to stop somewhere along the way, but once I put two and two together, “somewhere” became a Hilton Garden Inn across from the Basketball Hall of Fame. So on Saturday morning, our first stop after the omelet station was the shrine to hoop history right in basketball’s birthplace.
Opened in 1968, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has gone through several transformations. In its current form, it’s a three-level museum that’s typically enjoyed from the top down. The staff sends guests up an elevator to the third floor where the Honors Ring includes a small exhibit for each of the 325 enshrined players, coaches, referees and contributors. Visitors then work their way down through the second floor — complete with special exhibits honoring specific elements of the game and positional stalwarts — to the ground floor where they can shoot hoops on Center Court and visit the store.
Springfield is a shorter drive for me than for many of SCH’s readers, so today I’m bringing the Hall to you. Since I somewhat unexpectedly got to take a trip through basketball history, and in particular enjoy the Jazz-related portions of the roundball shrine, so do you. Read on for a glimpse into the way franchise greats are immortalized.
The first thing I saw when I got off the elevator was a John Stockton jersey. That was a good omen.
Stockton’s purple Jazz-note jersey was part of a random exhibit of artifacts related to the enshrinees on that floor, but it was great to see such a familiar and meaningful bit of Jazz history in my first three seconds off the elevator. The same exhibit housed the game ball from the 1993 NBA All-Star game, the one where Stockton and fellow Jazz legend Karl Malone shared MVP honors.
The rest of that floor wasn’t exactly what I expected. After having heard so many inductees talk about artifacts they had submitted, I envisioned a pretty vast area where each Hall of Famer had his or her own full exhibit. It wasn’t like that. The Honors Ring is actually fairly small, and with more than 300 basketball icons, there isn’t room for much. Most honorees get a panel on the single exhibit that wraps around the third floor, in the order of their HOF inductions. Every now and then, a single artifact interrupts the flow — a Red Auerbach cigar, or a gold medal from the original Dream Team — but it’s mostly pictures and paragraphs.
That said, the first Jazz panel I came across1 did have an artifact: Pistol Pete Maravich’s floppy socks.
I don’t really remember Pistol for his socks. To be honest, I don’t have much direct recollection of any sort. Maravich played all of 17 games for the Utah version of the Jazz, the last of which was a month and a half before I was born. But when I think of what Pistol meant to the franchise, I’m picture someone with flamboyance and creativity, who had a gift for finding the flashiest highlight play possible.
Overall, he played 330 games for the New Orleans and Utah Jazz and his contribution goes way beyond the 8,324 point he scored. He was the personality of the team.
A few feet down the line, I got to 2008 inductee Adrian Dantley.
Enough has been written about AD’s tortured relationship with Jazz ownership and eventual bumpy departure to Detroit. So instead, let’s focus on a singularly prolific scorer, the only Utah Jazz player ever to lead the league in scoring. He cleared 23K career points, which was good enough for top 25 all-time until Ray Allen, Vince Carter and most recently LeBron James all passed him. Now, he sits 27th, and 13,635 of those points came while he toiled for the Jazz.
He was Utah’s best player when I was first becoming aware of Jazz basketball, and he was still around when I started memorizing roster details each year. But I didn’t start really feeling the emotional reverence until a few feet later, when I came across a couple of first-ballot HOFers, separated only by an artifact celebrating the success they achieved together.
Jerry Sloan and Stockton went into the Hall together, so their panels were side-by-side. Jerry’s entry included the basketball that was used when he got his 1,000th Jazz coaching win, and #12 was a part of every single one of those. At this point, the nostalgic feelings were swelling, and the Malone panel almost directly adjacent in the 2010 inductee area did nothing to stop it. Malone’s was one of the words-only exhibits, but there were tributes to the Mailman elsewhere.
The highlight of the Hall for me was probably on floor two, where they had more detailed exhibits for some of the game’s best guards, forwards and centers.
Not surprisingly, Stock was in the guards exhibit, right between Calvin Murphy and Isiah Thomas. Another purple #12 and several game balls and plaques representing John’s various milestones and accomplishments. Malone is honored again the forwards section, where a jersey from his first MVP season is on display. That was also the Jazz’s first year advancing to the Finals, so we’re approaching peak nostalgic territory now.
The best part of this section isn’t pictured here. The players section also had large video boards where you could watch career highlight and player bio videos for a number of the greats. I watched several, even shaking my head in begrudging respect at the Michael Jordan video while he ripped the heart out of the 90s Jazz.
But while I was watching the Stockton and Malone videos, other Hall visitors crowded around me and voiced several “wows” as we watched Stock flip improbably passes on the break or Mail finish a textbook pick-and-roll. It was here that my trip hit its emotional apex, though it’s hard to know exactly why. It’s not the videos showed film I’d never seen before — it was mostly the same plays we’ve seen on numerous “Simply the Best” reels, combined with interviews from Sloan and other greats. But it was too much.
One disappointment from the Special Exhibits section: no Sloan exhibit in the coaches area. That section was heavy on NCAA coaches (which is fine), but I was surprised that the third-winningest coach in NBA history wasn’t there. When I asked about it (assuming that I must have missed it), I was told that since everything there is donated, the criteria for inclusion in that section tends to be a bit more random. Oh well. There was plenty of Jerry, both in his third-floor panel and game ball exhibit as well as in the Stockton and Malone tribute videos.
This statue of Larry Bird was actually in the coach’s area, but Larry’s video was also really cool. He absolutely holds up, and I hope that as we keep adding generations to the annals of history, we don’t forget how special he was. There was also a cool exhibit about the Bird-Magic Johnson rivalry of the 80s.
I loved this Jordan quote, outside an event space on floor two.
I wasn’t going to be there and NOT play a little basketball. I even played on the peach basket that you can see in the far background. (In fact, my shooting percentage was far better on the peach basket. Maybe I should have played in 1891.)
Floor two also had some cool interactive media exhibits as well as a history of the game area. The latter included an exhibit on the NIT tournament, which the Utes won in 1947. That was just three years after they won the 1944 NCAA championship after a car accident involving two Arkansas players gave Utah a chance to become the first team ever to play in both the NIT and NCAA tournaments in the same year.
Dr. James Naismith himself. It was fun reading about him and about how quickly the game spread from the day this physical education teacher first got the idea to hang peach baskets in a Springfield gym to keep his 18 students occupied through the New England winter.
In a section devoted to Olympic and international basketball, Stockton’s Dream Team jersey and a signed Olympic game ball from Barcelona helped tell the story.
I had no idea I’d be visiting the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame until about 48 hours before I handed the guy my ticket and rode up the elevator. But I’m glad I went. It was a fun refresher on basketball history in general, but also a great way to connect with the Jazz glory days and a bunch of memories that were a huge part of my youth and fandom. It was well worth the stop.
Even if it meant getting a little dust in my eyes.