In America, there
are halls of fame for cowboys, cockroaches and kite fliers, not to mention
exotic dancers, whose Strippers Hall of Fame turned Helendale, Calif., into a
kind of Cooperstown or Canton--a place to look at famous busts. But when Myron
Finkbeiner retired after a long career as a college basketball coach and
administrator, he asked himself, Is there any hall of fame whose primary focus
is to honor the good guys in sports?
There wasn't, so
in 1994 Finkbeiner founded a hall of fame for "humanitarian athletes,"
which sounds like a classic sports oxymoron, along the lines of "forward
lateral." The World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame existed exclusively in
his head then, but Finkbeiner began annually inducting three athletes at a
ceremony in his hometown, enshrining some of them in absentia, the way the
Nuremberg War Trials were forced to prosecute some war criminals. "To get
three world-class athletes to Boise, Idaho, on the same night is a real
chore," says Finkbeiner, 73, in a rare moment of repressibility.
closest friends were saying, 'Good luck, Myron,'" says former Boise
sportscaster Larry Maneely.
declined the Hall's honor. Pel� accepted, but skipped his induction. A female
professional golfer would only deign to be feted, Finkbeiner suspected, if she
was handsomely paid for the honor. And these were the good guys. "With some
athletes," says a former member of the Hall's selection committee, "it
was like you were trying to name them Pervert of the Month."
Kirby Puckett and
Julius Erving did show and were then embroiled in scandals. But the majority of
the men and women selected for the Hall--among them Bonnie Blair, Drew Bledsoe,
Tony Gwynn, Rafer Johnson, Mary Lou Retton, Steve Young and the Harlem
Globetrotters--lived up to their billing. Former Spurs center David Robinson
flew coach to Boise, donated his Navy uniform and gratefully accepted an honor
you've almost certainly never heard of. "If he slapped his wife around or
got a DUI," says Finkbeiner, "you'd hear about that."
In 1997 the Hall
found a home--first in a Boise office building, and now in a corner of the
Smurf-Turfed football stadium at Boise State. It's filled with mementos
Finkbeiner begged, borrowed and bought at secondhand stores. When he couldn't
procure a Prince racket Arthur Ashe used at Wimbledon, for instance, he tacked
a notice on the bulletin board of a Boise tennis club and got a similar one to
coached at Pasadena College for 10 years, recruited retired athletes such as
Jerry Kramer, Dale Murphy, Floyd Patterson and Stan Smith to the Hall's
selection committee--jock-strapped St. Peters, guarding the Hall's gates.
Still, a designer of museum exhibits told Finkbeiner, "What you're doing is
noble and great, but people are not going to come in off the freeway to see
David Robinson. Our society is sick, I'm sorry to tell you."
But Finkbeiner so
believes in what Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature" that
he blithely forges on. "He's the last innocent man," says a former
selector, fondly. "He's a walking Happy Meal."
And his happiness
has proved to be a contagion. "We've had people here like Kip Keino and Chi
Chi Rodriguez--athletes who've played on a world stage--reduced to tears at
their inductions," says Maneely.
The Hall is
awaiting Boise State's approval for a 50,000-square-foot expansion as part of a
Broncos stadium renovation. All Finkbeiner needs to do is raise $10 million to
fund it, one charity golf scramble at a time. "Major corporations," he
sighs, "want to see shovels in the ground before they'll donate."