Like hoops Hall itself, star-filled Class of 2009 falls just a bit short
Michael Jordan, John Stockton and David Robinson all played on '92 Dream Team
Exclusion of Bernard King prevents Class of 2009 from being best ever group
Hall of Fame expected to use Jordan induction to tackle staggering amount of debt
That's quite the class the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced Monday. Takes you back to the 1990s: Michael Jordan and a handful of others -- David Robinson, John Stockton and coaches Jerry Sloan and C. Vivian Stringer.
With Robinson and Stockton going in alongside MJ, that's a quarter of the 1992 Dream Team. Impressive as that is, if the Honors Committee had gone a little deeper into its nominees, this would have been, hands down, the best class ever.
By my lights, at least one other finalist, and perhaps three others, should have made it, too. The definite would be frontcourt scoring marvel Bernard King, while you could make the case for both Chris Mullin (who'd have been a fourth Dream Teamer) and the late Dennis Johnson (the redoubtable "Two Guard of Champions").
As chosen, though, this year's class is only "in the argument," along with the Class of 1980, which also included three gold medalists: Jerry Lucas, Oscar Robertson and Jerry West.
There have been several other fine classes welcomed to the banks of the Connecticut River over the years:
Rick Barry, Walt Frazier and Pete Maravich, inducted in 1987, might be the most electrifying trio. No three guys plied the basketball trade with more singular style than they did.
The 1990 class of Dave Bing, Elvin Hayes and Earl Monroe would be right behind that group, on a par with ...
... the 2008 class of Adrian Dantley, Patrick Ewing and Hakeem Olajuwon.
And the deepest class might have been inducted in 1993, when Julius Erving, Dan Issel, Calvin Murphy and Bill Walton all gained admission. (Walt Bellamy was also waved through the gates that year, but I've long maintained that the very definition of a Hall of Fame is a shrine that excludes good-but-not-great players like Walt Bellamy.)
Call Robinson and Stockton the Jordannaires, call 'em "my supporting cast," call 'em whatever -- but call 'em, even when joined with MJ, something just short of the finest group of players ever accepted into Springfield in one fell swoosh.
And if the not-entirely-inadvertent product placement in the previous sentence does anything, I hope it will inspire the Hall, which is laboring under $4 million to $5 million in debt, to use the serendipity of Jordan's induction this year to raise the revenue it so desperately needs.
How desperate is the Hall?
In a Feb. 18 memo to its Board, president and CEO John Doleva described an organization in crisis, with daily admissions barely half what were projected when the new building opened in 2002, and carrying a debt load he called "staggering." Doleva said he came to work every day focused not on preserving and promoting the game and its heritage, but on managing cash flow.
Doleva floated four ways of facing down the crisis: selling the Hall to an outside entity; embarking on a fundraising campaign (at a wholly inauspicious time, it should be noted, in the midst of a financial meltdown and on the heels of a capital campaign the Hall had just concluded); declaring bankruptcy; or selling off its $10 million worth of memorabilia and artifacts. All this after layoffs and paycuts, instituted last year, to realize annual savings of a half-million dollars.
While the Springfield Republican reported a week ago that the crisis had eased somewhat, and that revenues are expected to pick up during the forthcoming summer tourist season, you can be sure that choosing the last of these four options would earn the Hall the lasting enmity of players, coaches and civilians who have made donations over the years.
The Hall has the right idea with plans to launch a 4,000-square-foot Jordan exhibit in the run-up to September's enshrinement. Here are a few more ways Doleva & Co. could play the Michael card:
Sell the TV rights to Enshrinement Weekend, with a special focus on international sales given how beloved Jordan is around the world. China's CCTV alone ought to pony up handsomely.
Station Jordan in the lobby for three-hour stretches each day of Enshrinement Weekend, Sharpie at the ready, available and willing to sign. Anything. For a price. The entirety of which would go to People's Bank, the Hall's primary creditor.
In honor of two of Jordan's favorite avocations, set up in the parking lot, just for the weekend, a pitch-and-putt course for a high-stakes skins game. Invite any duffer to play (for a price), and sell the broadcast rights to Golf Channel. (This might require the temporary indulgence of the State of Massachusetts, but hey, the state didn't balk at pouring millions of taxpayer dollars into the current facility.)
Hit up Cooperstown for a contribution. After all, MJ was a Birmingham Baron, if only briefly.
Have the Hall of Fame gift shop stock a limited edition third Jordan jersey. You'll recall that, after every fan on earth had a Bulls No. 23 hanging in his closet, Jordan retired, only to unretire and don No. 45 -- thereby touching off a new round of jersey sales. I'd like to see No. 13, after James Naismith's Original 13 Rules.
Create a Hall of MJ Shame, with piņata likenesses of all those whom His Airness believes have crossed him over the years -- Chicago front-office nebbish Jerry Krause; Windy City scribe Sam Smith; supposed All-Star Game freezeout mastermind Isiah Thomas; and miscast Bulls coaches Doug Collins and Tim Floyd. Give Jordan fans three whacks for a dollar. If any piņata remains intact by the end of Enshrinement Weekend, bring MJ himself by to do the ultimate honors. With an official Southern League bat. And admission charged.
And, yes, goad Nike into backing a tractor-trailer-towed exhibit of all the footwear and other gear the Hall's latest enshrinee has inspired and Nike has in turn flogged. The Beast of Beaverton should pay for the privilege.
If the aforementioned sounds crass, it beats pawning the collection. And if all else fails, the Hall could implement a long-ago suggestion of my former Sports Illustrated colleague Leigh Montville. Upon learning that the Hall had plans to do what it wound up doing -- build a museum shaped like a basketball -- Leigh suggested that the entrance resemble the valve in which the bicycle-pump needle gets stuck, with visitors wetting themselves down to gain entry.
I don't know about you, but I'd be much more willing to plunk down $16.99 if I were then handed a button reading, "I got into the Basketball Hall of Fame."
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