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Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame October 23, 2009

Posted by flashbuzzer in Sports.
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I recently visited the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield. The museum features a variety of exhibits that convey the wonders and nuances of basketball to the general public.

Here are ten nuggets that I gleaned from my time at the museum.

1. The inventor of basketball, Dr. James Naismith, did not believe in the benefits of actually playing the game. Instead, Naismith felt that a basketball player should strive towards “muscular Christianity”; this description was famously applied to Eric Liddell in Chariots of Fire. Naismith wanted players to focus on improving their physical fitness and learning the value of self-sacrifice via rigorous individual and team-oriented practice sessions.

2. Like other sports and games, basketball has had many archaic rules that seem a bit silly in retrospect. Some of these rules that stood out to me include the following: a) coaches could not coach their teams during games, b) coaches could not speak to their players during timeouts, and c) womens’ teams were allowed to have six players at a time on the court.

3. Before Stephen Curry, Austin Daye, and Pete Maravich, there was Christian Steinmetz. Steinmetz was college basketball’s first great scorer and became the first collegian to top 1000 points at the end of his career. Though he stood just 5-9 and weighed 137 pounds, he dominated games for the Wisconsin Badgers during an era when most players had trouble scoring.

4. Before Earl Boykins, Spud Webb and Muggsy Bogues, there was Barney Sedran. Sedran was the first great “midget” basketball star and became the shortest player ever to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, standing 5-4. As expected, he was a lights-out shooter, and he put up spectacular stats as a barnstorming pro.

5. The New York Celtics enjoyed an incredible run of success as one of basketball’s first great barnstorming teams. The Celtics pioneered the practice of signing star players to lucrative individual contracts; this allowed them to retain the services of stalwarts including Joe Lapchick and Dutch Dehnert. They also invented the zone defense and used it to great effect against bamboozled opponents.

6. The results of the NIT used to carry more weight than those of the NCAA Tournament when it came to determining the nation’s best college team; many elite Eastern teams would opt for the NIT as they preferred to play under the bright lights of Madison Square Garden. Perhaps the best example of this came in 1939, when the “Big Dance” concluded with Oregon defeating Ohio State 46-33. The NIT, though, saw a 24-0 Long Island team led by Clair Bee defeat Loyola in the finals.

7. John McLendon was the first great black basketball coach and actually learned the game from Naismith during his undergraduate days at Kansas. McLendon believed that his teams should adhere to the principle of “activity”; he pioneered the fast-break offense and favored an aggressive in-your-face approach on defense. These innovations allowed him to become the first coach to win three consecutive collegiate titles while he was at Tennessee State.

8. Most basketball fans would know John Wooden for winning ten national titles at UCLA and coaching Bruin greats such as Lew Alcindor and Bill Walton. Wooden, though, was also a skilled strategist; for example, he devised the 2-2-1 zone press that harassed opponents as they attempted to bring the ball past the mid-court line. This full-court press tactic undoubtedly inspired Rick Pitino’s matchup press and Nolan Richardson’s 40 Minutes of Hell.

9. Bob Knight is famous for, among other things, his motion offense. In the motion offense, there are no set plays; the players utilize the tactics of crisp passing, sharp cutting and well-timed screening to set up good shot opportunities against any defense that is thrown at them. Knight intended that dribbling be kept to a minimum in the motion offense; perhaps that was due to the influence of Naismith, who did not include dribbling in his original thirteen rules of basketball.

10. Sergey Belov of the USSR was arguably the greatest international basketball player of all-time. Belov was the best player on the Soviet side that racked up several international honors during the 1960s and ’70s, including four European Championship and two World Championship gold medals. Unfortunately, he is best known, at least among American basketball junkies, for being on the Soviet team that defeated the USA squad in controversial fashion at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich.

From my perspective, the museum is really a basketball lover’s paradise, and one could spend hours browsing its various exhibits and mining hidden gems from the presented material. I enjoyed seeing artifacts such as the game balls for John Thompson’s 500th career victory, a pair of shoes worn by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the high school jersey of LeBron James. I also thought it was neat that the museum had a large basketball court on the ground floor that even featured a peach basket; many kids took the opportunity to shoot jumpers and layups on this court. In addition, the museum’s third floor features a panoramic display of photographs of the Hall of Fame inductees, which was quite awe-inspiring.

In terms of drawbacks, some of the interactive exhibits were not working. I also felt that the museum should have included some material on the thriving streetball culture, as that has played a major role in the development of modern basketball (for better or worse).

Overall I enjoyed my time at the museum and I learned a lot. Also, I was told by one of the museum’s staffers that 80% of its collection is currently in storage; the exhibits are rotated every 3 months, so I would definitely be interested in a return visit at some point.


1. Victor - October 26, 2009

Interesting, I’ll be sure to stop by this mueseum if I ever visit. XD. Was this on a tour? And you should send this link to your youth group. Introduce me to some of them. ^^

flashbuzzer - November 6, 2009

This happened to be on one of my random excursions in Massachusetts. For a (relatively) small state, there’s quite a bit to see.

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