A new Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts opened in 2002. A triumph in museum design, interactivity and inclusiveness, the Hall of Fame is a celebration of the game. It is a loving tribute, it is a living tribute. We had a great time.
Every kid and every adult at the Hall had a great time. We were basketball. We participated and learned.
In the course of five hours Gab and I were shooters, dribblers, jumpers, rebounders and ball stealers. We broadcasted game highlights, we learned about the game, we learned coaching strategy, we posed for basketball trading cards, we were inducted into the Hall of Fame, and we were audience members. We will also be traveling to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. I do not see how either will be able to match the pure joy of the Hoops Hall.
I had been to the old Basketball Hall 12 years ago. I had a good time but I remembered little about the place. I was struck then at the smallness of the place and its static design. It was little more than a three story warehouse with memorabilia. Yeah, I was wildly interested in the memorabilia, but the best part of my visit was the rousing pop-a-shot contest against other tourists in the Hallís exit corridor. Hardly the dramatic busts of football legends I found in Canton, or the heroic induction plaques of Cooperstown.
Things have changed.
The Hallís design has taken a page from its football brother. The roof in Canton is shaped like a football. Springfield has taken it a step further. From the parking lot you see a huge white ball and a well sponsored one story space. Within this space are a few restaurants, the gift shop and the ticket booth. Through glass adorned with basketball quotes one gets a glimpse of the museum. After purchasing the $16.00 ticket, one of the Hallís few negatives, one goes into an elevator and is taken up to the third floor, the top floor. Only now do you realize that you are within the ball. The huge basketball is the museum in its entirety.
You leave the elevator and your eyes are drawn upward to the faces of the inductees: players, coaches, referees and contributors to the game. These pictures encircle the upper portion of the basketball. It is an impressive assortment of people. They seem to be looking down at the visitors from their heavenly perch. And they must be ecstatic, as they look down onto a full-sized basketball court two floors below where the museum-goers are constantly playing. Shooting threes, playing one-on-one or a pick up game in the sports Hall of Fame. Itís exhilarating. You are playing in a shrine. It is your game. The pantheon smiles. Their game is in good hands, it is alive.
The museum too is alive. The sound of bouncing basketballs is its pulse. The sound never stops. I love it.
Underneath the pictures, lying slightly-tilted at chest level is a short biography of the inductees accomplishments and a small piece of their memorabilia. You see a ticket from Walt Frazierís NIT championship game, Tom Golaís college teams shorts, George Gervinís Nikes with Iceman printed on the back. This display circles the entire third floor. Above the player info, lying flat against the wall and at eye level is a history of basketball timeline explaining rule changes, important dates, and championship winners. For each decade there is an accompanying short film. What a wealth of information.
Touch screen computers nearby also contain more basketball information. They allow you to see career statistics of every Hall member. For many members there is a short film highlighting a certain aspect of their career. I was amazed to see an interview and highlight footage of my hometownís own, Bob Davies, the Harrisburg Houdini. If you didnít know he was the first person to dribble behind his back in a game.
I hadnít even gotten to 1910 on the timeline when the lights went dim and a modest light show started. I moved to the edge of the third floor ring and looked down onto the court over the rail. Then the scoreboard came on. Yes, there is a scoreboard hanging from the ceiling over the court. The scoreboard showed a short video, fully captioned, about buzzer beating shots. The lights came back on and everybody started playing basketball again. The scoreboard stayed on, showing a constant video stream of highlights.
There are so many places for your eyes to wander at the Hall of Fame. Information panels, memorabilia, live basketball games and contests, touch screens, interactive displays. But at no time to you feel overwhelmed. You meander around and are allowed to focus on whatever is in front of you. Soon after the scoreboard video show, hip hop beats came on, and a museum worker called everybody to the court who wanted to participate in a three point shootout. A line of at least 75 kids and adults gathered and competed while the museum staff emceed the contest. The museum-goers turned into a basketball crowd, oohing, aahing, booing and cheering.
The second floor is another open-air ring, except it is at the widest portion of the ball and is further back from the court. This floor is the main exhibit area. The exhibits cover basketball. High school basketball, college basketball, pro basketball, womenís basketball, international basketball. They are all given equal share. I found this inclusiveness remarkable. If you played the game, you played.
Also on the second floor are interactive displays. In my sandals, I had a 30 inch vertical leap, although I was accused of cheating. Gabís wingspan is 3 inches longer than she is tall. Leandrinho Barbosa and Andrei Kirilenko watch out. Despite her wingspan advantage, Gab and I were equally quick trying to steal a virtual ball. We posed for basketball cards and Gab did a Sports Center-type broadcast. In an aside, we were in a Bristol, Connecticut, home of ESPN, Dunkin Donuts earlier today. It was a very strange and crowded place. Two types of easily distinguishable clientele, ESPN workers and town members. Superb people watching time.
When we finally made it to the first floor, it was time to ball. Adjacent to the court are eight different types of basketball hoop and backboard combinations ready for shooting. They are shown evolving. You wouldnít believe how hard it is to make a shot in a narrow peach basket without a backboard. Well, it was hard for me. But once I got onto the court and got some practice, I was just raining the jumpers. I must have been possessed by Dale Ellis. It was wonderful. My handle was pretty weak, though. I am most definitely not the second Harrisburg Houdini.
Also near the court is a sort of a mega pop-a-shot game. You have four targets. Pass a ball to Dawn Staley (I think). Alley oop to Dominique Wilkins, make a shot, make a shot using the backboard. Once you get one you have to clear the other three before you can do it again. You have 15 seconds. The line was long but I was going to beat the kids around me. 9 was the high score for the day. The kid right before me got 4. I was up. Boom, good pass. Boom, alley oop. Then I ran into some shooting troubles. 9 seconds, 8 secondsÖ Made shot. Made shot. I have 4. 5 seconds left. Now whenever a ball went awry for the people in line around me, I would gather it and put it back on the rack. 2 seconds left. I reach for a ball nothing there. Iím searching fruitlessly. And my time runs out. Score of 4 and no help from the 10 year olds. Arghh.
I went back onto the court, the centerpiece of the gameís Hall of Fame, and just shot the ball for another 30 minutes. I love this game.
PS Ė To top off our great basketball day, when we left the Hall, we sat in the parking lot and listened to my beloved Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets defeat Kansas in overtime to make the Final Four and while we were there, checked the internet to find that Gab had a stellar fantasy basketball week, soundly defeating our friend Bill Caffrey (9 to 1) to advance to the fantasy final four.
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