If someone asked you what makes a great basketball player, you could probably come up with a list of qualifications that good players meet on and off the court. However, one of the distinguishing factors that makes a player great throughout generations is being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
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While the NBA was founded in 1946, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame wasn’t established until over a decade later in 1959, when former Colby College athletic director Lee Williams came up with the idea. The hall of fame board started inducting members in 1959; however, the original building, which was housed by Springfield College in Massachusetts, wasn’t completed and opened until nearly a decade later on February 17, 1968. The original building only housed the hall of fame for 17 years. Unable to accommodate the demands of fans, a new building was opened in 1985. That building was used for 17 years but was replaced by the current building in 2002.
The building itself holds 40,000 square feet worth of basketball history and honors over 300 inductees. The museum also offers interactive exhibits and hosts events such as live clinics, skills challenges, and shooting contests. During Enshrinement Weekends, the campus hosts several events in honor of the inductees.
While more than one person is picked each year to be inducted into the hall of fame, that doesn’t mean getting inducted is easy. These spots are offered to players, coaches, and influential people who impact basketball on a national level. Unlike some hall of fame institutions for other sports, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame doesn't disregard potential inductees based on nationality, amateur status, or gender, which creates a much larger pool of potential inductees to choose from. This broadened scope makes being inducted a huge honor.
In addition to having a large pool of candidates, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame also has strict criteria for who can be nominated and selected for enshrinement. Players are only eligible for enshrinement during their fifth year of retirement. Coaches must either be retired for five years, or they must have coached for a minimum of 25 years as an assistant or head coach for a high school, college, or professional team. Referees can also be inducted if they are retired for five years or have refereed for 25 years. People who have made significant contributions to the sport can also be eligible for enshrinement.
After eligibility is determined, the North American and Women’s Screening Committees vote on each nomination to determine finalists. Finalists are then reviewed by the hall of fame’s board of trustees before being sent on to the Honor Committee for selection. Other inductees can be elected by direct vote from the following direct-elect committees: the Early African-American Pioneers, the International Game, the Veterans, and the Contributors. These direct-elect committees have been functioning since 2011.
The first hall of fame class included seven contributors, four players, one referee, and two teams. Some notable inductees of that class include James Naismith, who invented the game of basketball and developed the game’s original 13 rules. The hall of fame is named after him. Another notable inductee from the 1959 class is Harold G. Olsen who was a founder of the NCAA tournament.
Senda Berenson Abbott was the first woman inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. She was the director of physical education at Smith College from 1892 to 1911 and organized the first women’s basketball game at Smith College. She was the chairperson of the Basketball Committee for Women and authored the book “Basketball Guide for Women.” She was inducted in 1985.
The Utah Jazz have nine players and one coach who have been inducted into the hall of fame for their respective roles. Pete Maravich (1987), Walt Bellamy (1993), Gail Goodrich (1996), Adrian Dantley (2008), John Stockton (2009), Karl Malone (2010), Bernard King (2013), Spencer Haywood (2015), and Elgin Baylor (1977) were inducted as players, while Jerry Sloan (2009) was inducted as a coach. Baylor also coached the Jazz but was honored as a player. Bellamy was inducted into the hall of fame as a player individually and as part of the 1960 U.S. Olympic team. Stockton and Malone were also inducted twice as both individuals and as part of the 1992 Olympic team.
While being inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is a tremendous honor for players, coaches, referees, and contributors to the sport, those inductees are just a small fraction of the greatness that basketball inspires all over the globe. And while many aren’t recognized for their impact on the sport, it’s the small efforts within communities that make basketball a favorite pursuit around the world.
Being enshrined in the hall of fame is a sign of someone reaching the pinnacle of greatness in the sport, however, it’s important not to forget that behind that inductee’s achievements was a great high school or college coach, great teammates, great opponents and great fans who helped them reach that level of success.