My first and only visit to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame took place in the early 1990s.
I remember that it was awfully tough trying to pry away from the first floor exhibit of basketball hoops from throughout history, from Naismith’s mounted peach basket to the modern day Plexiglas backboard and break-away rim.
The basketballs were aplenty, fed to you via a conveyor belt, thus, allowing those of all ages to continuously take aim at the various goals on display.
And since it was the middle of the week on a December afternoon, I took my time checking out the Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
While I viewed the shrines of the game’s greatest players – Jerry West, Rick Barry, Oscar Robertson, Pete Maravich, Wilt Chamberlain, and Bill Russell, to name a few – the Naismith facility, in my opinion, paled in comparison to the Pro Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.
But that soon could change.
On Sept. 10 through 12, Michael Jordan will lead this year’s induction class. His “Airness” will be joined by the “Admiral” David Robinson and John Stockton, both teammates on the Dream Team, and Utah Jazz coach Jerry Sloan and Rutgers’ women’s hoop coach C. Vivian Stringer.
But make no mistake about it, Jordan, a five-time NBA most valuable player with six championship rings from his days with Chicago Bulls, is the big draw here. For the exception of those couple of years spent playing for the dreaded Washington Wizards, he enjoyed a storied career with the Bulls and the University of North Carolina Tarheels.
Professionally speaking, I crossed paths with No. 23 on several occasions during his playing days. Jordan, who is best of friends with Fresno State alumnus Rod Higgins, used to visit the Central Valley in the summer to play in Higgins’ benefit exhibition game.
I was working at one of the small town newspapers and would get calls for coverage from Craig Reid, who helped organize the Rod Higgins Summer Classic.
Now, I was in awed the first time catching Jordan in action on the hardwood of Selland Arena. At one point, I stood close enough to him that I took a photo of the basketball superstar sporting his latest Nike Air Jordan footwear.
A collection of Air Jordans are currently on display at the Naismith Memorial as part of the new Michael Jordan exhibit.
MJ’s sneakers revolutionized the footwear industry. I can still remember those early years of noticing people from all backgrounds and cultures standing in long lines at sporting goods and sneaker stores just to purchase the latest Air Jordans. And a pair of these shoes didn’t come cheap.
The Hall of Fame is featuring 24 years of these sneakers as Nike’s way of paying tribute to Michael Jordan.
The exhibit also includes photographs, time lines, basketball memorabilia, jerseys, and even the baseball glove used during Jordan’s time playing minor league baseball.
It’s too bad that the renovated 6,000 square feet of space used mostly to accommodate the Jordan display will only be around for just a few months.
I’d like to see a permanent home devoted to one of the game’s all-time greats.
The baseball museum recently opened an exhibit for slugger Hank Aaron, with the Babe Ruth display ranking as one of the highlights at the Cooperstown shrine.
Springfield should do the same.
No doubt a permanent display featuring Michael Jordan would register a slam dunk.