Dr. James Naismith invented basketball in Springfield, Massachusetts, where the Basketball Hall of Fame celebrates and curates its rich history. Some things are a natural match and just make sense together. That’s why the Basketball Hall of Fame is located in the city where the sport was invented in.
As a result, the two share an unbreakable bond, documenting an evolution of the sport from modest beginnings to the current era of recognized stars in every region on earth.
In Springfield, Massachusetts, Dr. James Naismith, a Canadian-born physician, and physical educator, invented the game while working at the YMCA International Training School in 1891.
Decades later, Springfield College became the first home of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1959.
In fact, the growth of basketball was slow, but as it grew the achievements and documented history of the sport became trademarks of the hall’s treasure trove.
Indeed, induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame is a fulfillment of a journey for each inductee, and now, after the September 2018 ceremony, there are 378 individuals enshrined in the hall, including Naismith himself, who was posthumously inducted in 1959, 20 years after his death.
To be sure, it’s a dream come true, former NBA point guard Maurice Cheeks admitted in early September 2018 at his induction.
Being in the Basketball Hall of Fame is something I never dreamed of. It’s kind of surreal. I am humbled beyond belief.
History of the Basketball Hall of Fame
From humble beginnings, the Basketball Hall of Fame grew into a world-renown institution. According to published reports in 2015 and ’16, the hall now attracts more than 200,000 visitors a year.
But what led to this success story?
It really started in the 1930s, historic accounts tell us. That’s when the National Association of Basketball Coaches, the fraternity of U.S. college mentors, collected funds to pay for Dr. Naismith’s travel expenses to Germany for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. While there, Naismith saw the United States prevail 19-8 over Canada in the gold-medal match.
“Naismith later called this his proudest moment and the sight of his game being played on the international stage stirred his emotions.”
That set the stage for the NABC to honor Naismith after his death on Nov. 28, 1939, in Lawrence, Kansas. (He coached the University of Kansas from 1898-1997.)
One idea at the time: build a memorial in his honor. Not surprisingly, plans were postponed during World War II.
Early Hall of Famers
The earliest class of inductees, in 1959, featured six pioneer innovators and administrators of the game (Naismith, Luther H. Gulick, Edward J. “Ed” Hickox, Ralph Morgan, Harold G. Olsen, and Oswald Tower) and Amos Alonzo Stagg.
Stagg played in the sport’s first public game, on March 11, 1892, and scored Springfield faculty’s only basket in a 5-1 loss to the school. He became a well-known college football coach for decades.
Who was the biggest name in the Class of ’59? Minneapolis Lakers center George Mikan, the pro game’s first superstar in the 1940s and early ’50s.
In 1960, former Purdue University guard John Wooden, considered by many the greatest college coach in history, was honored. The Wizard of Westwood, who led UCLA to 10 NCAA championships, was inducted again as a coach in 1973. Three others are in as both players and coaches: Bill Sharman, Lenny Wilkens, and Tom Heinsohn.
Perhaps Ned Irish is the first non-playing inductee’s name that many basketball aficionados will recognize. The longtime New York Knicks president founded the team in 1946 and was honored in 1964. Irish served as team president until 1974.
Meanwhile, in 1965, Walter Brown, Boston Celtics owner from 1946-64, posthumously joined the fraternity the year after his death.
Recognition in 1971 went to two of the earliest pro stars: Bob Cousy, the great Celtics point guard, and Bob Petit, the former St. Louis Hawks big man, and the first NBA player to top the 20,000-point plateau.
A few more marquee names
Like Mikan in 1959, the Class of 1975 highlighted the cornerstone of a great dynasty: Celtics legend Bill Russell.
Two years later, Lakers luminary Elgin Baylor, a predecessor to sleek aerial showmen Julius Erving, Michael Jordan, and Kobe Bryant, among others, became a Hall of Famer.
In 1979, the only player inducted was Wilt Chamberlain.
To tell the truth, that was appropriate. He was one of a kind. Chamberlain owned the spotlight that day at the Basketball Hall of Fame, not unlike the day he dropped 100 points on the New York Knicks in 1962 in Hershey, Pennsylvania.
In addition, the Big O (Oscar Robertson) and Jerry West were celebrated in 1980. They remain unforgettable NBA figures nearly 40 years later.
Moving ahead a few years, Pistol Pete Maravich, the inimitable Louisiana State scoring maestro and sensational showman who had mixed success in the pros, got the nod in 1987.
Tragically, Maravich died of a heart attack a few months later at age 40.
Wisely, the Basketball Hall of Fame widened its horizons in 1992, when the great Russian forward Sergei Belov became the first international player to be chosen for enshrinement in Springfield.
FIBA voters selected Belov No. 1 on its list of 50 best European basketball players of all time in 1991. Number two? Drazen Petrovic. The voting was closer than some might have predicted: 317 for Belov, 280 for Petrovic.
In 1993, dominant Soviet women’s center Uljana Semjonova, who stood 217 cm in her playing days, was the first non-American female to enter the hall. Her long list of accomplishments included 15 European Champions Cup crowns and consecutive Olympic gold medals, starting with the 1976 Montreal Games.
Oh, and by the way, with Semjonova at the pivot, her Soviet Union teams never lost a game in international competition.
Larger than life
The Basketball Hall of Fame Class of 1995 recognized Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA’s all-time leading scorer, and Cheryl Miller, considered by many the greatest women’s player of all time.
In his speech, Abdul-Jabbar recalled his earliest memories of the game.
“When I first started playing the game, it was in the CYO, the Catholic Youth Organization, in New York,” the UCLA and NBA legend told the audience. “And it was just wonderful that there was something like that for me to be involved in.”
By the same token, Larry Bird received the honor of a lifetime in 1998.
Since 2000, here’s a list of many of the prominent Basketball Hall of Fame players:
Isiah Thomas (2000)
Moses Malone (2001)
Magic Johnson and Petrovic (2002)
Robert Parish and James Worthy (2003)
Clyde Drexler (2004)
Charles Barkley, Dominique Wilkins, and Joe Dumars (2006)
Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon (2008)
Michael Jordan, David Robinson, and John Stockton (2009)
Dennis Johnson, Gus Johnson Karl Malone, and Scottie Pippen (2010)
Arvydas Sabonis, Artis Gilmore, Chris Mullin, and Dennis Rodman (2011)
ABA great Mel Daniels, Reggie Miller, Chet Walker, Jamal Wilkes and
Ralph Sampson (2012)
ABA superstar Roger Brown, Bernard King, Gary Payton, Oscar Schmidt
and Dawn Staley (2013)
Sarunas Marciulionis, Alonzo Mourning, and Mitch Richmond (2014)
Spencer Haywood, Dikembe Mutombo, and WNBA superstar Lisa Leslie (2015)
Yao Ming (voted as No.1 among best Asian basketball players of all time), Allen Iverson, and Shaquille O’Neal (2016) Tracy McGrady, George McGinnis, and EuroLeague icon Nikos Galis (2017) Ray Allen, Maurice Cheeks, Grant Hill, Jason Kidd, Steve Nash (2018)
Each year, the Basketball Hall of Fame grows with the arrival of new inductees. This is why the annual gathering of fans, media, and the sport’s dignitaries for Hall of Fame weekend is a unique opportunity to honor the game.
Yes, the players are the primary focal point of Basketball Hall of Fame ceremonies. But individual teams have also been honored, including the Harlem Globetrotters in 2002 and the 1992 U.S. Dream Team in 2010.
Moreover, the women’s dynastic Immaculata College squad that won AIAW (forerunner to the women’s NCAA involvement) national titles in 1972, ’73, and ’74, got the nod in 2014.
Similarly, visionary NBA commissioner David Stern, who oversaw the league for three decades (1984 to 2014), received his recognition in the year of his retirement.
Since 1959, players have been enshrined every year except four times, in 1965, 1967, 1968, and 2007.
Hall of Fame Game
The Springfield Civic Center, which opened in 1972, began hosting an annual Basketball Hall of Fame Game that year. The first game, between the Celtics and Detroit Pistons, that November, occurred after the NBA regular season began. (Boston triumphed 119-117.)
Until 1979, the game took place each year. It continued from 1981 to 2000 as a preseason contest each time.
The “In All Airness” podcast highlighted the game in a September 2018 episode.
Fourth-year-pro Michael Jordan poured in 36 points on 12-for-19 shooting in the Bulls’ 128-114 victory. Fellow Hall of Famer James Worthy had 31 to lead L.A., which played without Kareem and Magic.
In that game, His Airness unleashed an electrifying breakaway dunk. It became known as the “Come Fly With Me” jam. Lakers photographer Andrew Bernstein shot the iconic image.
For history fanatics, revisit the summer of 2009, when MJ gave his compelling Hall of Fame speech. It highlights his ultra-competitive personality.
College Hall of Fame Game
Starting in 1979, the Tip-Off Classic, the annual Hall of Fame-sponsored contest ushered in the official start of another college basketball campaign.
In 1979, Bird and Magic began their pro careers. It was the beginning of a basketball renaissance, and in the 1980s the Celtics-Lakers rivalry thrilled fans. It also produced increased TV ratings in the U.S. and abroad.
However, in 2005, the collegiate Hall of Fame game ended due to scheduling problems. Five years later, it returned as a 12-team tournament in Springfield.
Previously, two elite NCAA Division I teams squared off in its first iteration. What’s more, all but one of the first 20 editions had sellout crowds.
“I remember the old days of the Tip-Off Classic, not just the games on the court but as a social event,” Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno said in September 2010. “This revives something that was really successful. It shines a light on all the positive things that do occur in Springfield.”
Players, coaches, and team executives, of course, aren’t the only people who have had their day in the spotlight at the Basketball Hall of Fame.
Prime example: Referee Dick Bavetta worked 2,635 consecutive games in his 39-year career. Remarkably, he never missed a single contest. Bavetta received induction in 2015 and is one of 16 Hall of Fame referees.
The growth of the Basketball Hall of Fame
As the game developed within the United States and abroad, the hall’s modest location on the Springfield College campus since the late 1950s proved impractical. To showcase a growing collection of photographs, jerseys, balls, trophies, and other valuable memorabilia, more space was necessary.
But it took some time to come to fruition. June 30, 1985, to be precise. On that summer day in Springfield, the Basketball Hall of Fame celebrated the unveiling of a new three-story building, which cost $11 million to construct. More than 10,000 people attended the festivities (among them was Willard Scott, a famous TV weatherman for NBC’s “The Today Show”).
That building included the Spalding Shootout, “an interactive phenomenon where visitors of all ages shot hoops from a moving platform, proved most popular that first day and remained so every day thereafter.”
The Basketball Hall of Fame hosted a fabulous party on Dec. 21, 1991. Mikan, Rick Barry, and Erving were among the 12 dignitaries who blew out the birthday candles.
Springfield had an estimated population of 154,000 in 2017. Situated on the eastern bank of the Connecticut River, it’s not a city with the glamorous nightlife of New York or the fashion scene of Paris, but Hoop City is a unique place because of Dr. Naismith’s invention.
This is why it’s worth celebrating for those who appreciate, respect, and love the game.
New century, new home
In 2000, construction began on the new Basketball Hall of Fame. It was completed in September 2002. At a spectacular grand opening, the inductees included legendary coaches Larry Brown (in the ABA, NBA, and U.S. college ranks) and Lute Olson (college).
The expanded Basketball Hall of Fame, located at 1000 Hall of Fame Avenue, measures more than 7,400 square meters.
Furthermore, the building’s unique design showcases a giant basketball-shaped object. Additionally, the venue features interactive exhibits, shooting contests and clinics, and various skills events. (It also has a full-size basketball court and a theater with a seating capacity of 300.)
In conclusion, the Basketball Hall of Fame is a dedicated shrine to the sport’s glorious achievements, rich history, and legends. 2019 will mark its 60th anniversary.