I’ve got good news, and bad news.
The good news is that the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, in Springfield, Mass., just announced that it will form a special review committee to look at African American candidates that may have been overlooked in the past.
From this announcement, it appears that the Hall of Fame, which had its 2008 enshrinement ceremonies this past weekend, is finally seeing the light.
Although I had heard that rumor some time ago, it wasn’t confirmed officially until a report this Saturday in the Boston Globe entitled “Black greats get 2d shot.”
But wait! Here’s the bad news.
According to the Globe article, which relies on comments made by John Doleva, the president of the Hall of Fame, this special review committee will only review “the qualifications of candidates from Historical Black Colleges and Universities.”
The committee will be set up by Mannie Jackson, chairman of the board of the Hall of Fame.
“We are doing a complete review,” Doleva said. “[Jackson] wants to take a look at how we looked at potential enshrinees in our history and make sure we didn’t miss anyone. The goal is for them to be enshrined and, if they are not worth enshrinement, perhaps giving them some recognition. We know many of these gentlemen are older. We are establishing a committee to look at it.”
Doleva was responding to a request from a group led by Hall of Famer Earl Monroe and film producer Dan Klores, who collaborated on a television special entitled, “Black Magic.”
First of all, what kind of language is Doleva using? “Not worth enshrinement”? Are we talking about people?
Meanwhile, why do they have to wait for “a request”? Are they serious? Or is it only certain requests, the ones that are loud enough?
What about the requests made by me, Claude Johnson, along with the ones from hundreds if not thousands of others, on behalf of the many forgotten pioneers of the Black Fives Era, that fifty year period from 1904 (the year blacks first played basketball on a wide scale organized basis) through 1950 (when black players first broke the N.B.A. color barrier)?
Ron Chimelis of The Republican, which covers news from Springfield and Western Massachusetts, goes even further in his piece, “Basketball Hall of Fame needs to look at black colleges and make voting public“:
I think this is quite appropriate, a truly positive step, but only half the solution.
Make the voting public. If there is a blind spot, it is amazing how quickly public accountability will clear it up.
You got that right! O.M.G., talk about a blind spot!
Since I know that John Doleva and the Hall of Fame know very well about the Black Fives Era (after all, they’ve invited me to speak there more than once) then I have to believe they were having a temporary “blind spot” regarding players and contributors like Cumberland Posey, Clarence “Fats” Jenkins, Ora Mae Washington, John Isaacs, Edwin Henderson, and others.
Whatever flaws exist at the Hall, racial insensitivity is not one of them. Since 1961, the only teams elected have been the all-black New York Rens (1963), Harlem Globetrotters (2002), and last year, the racially groundbreaking 1966 Texas Western team.
But it took a movie (“Glory Road”) to alert nominators and voters to Texas Western. Now a TV producer is alerting them to other snubs.
They’ve been knowing about the snubs! But my own comments are just the tip of a mountainous iceberg of discontent. You know you’re in trouble if your own hometown newspaper calls you out!
Now, I’m not interested in taking anything away from the deserving H.B.C.U. pioneers who were profiled so beautifully by Klores.
The black-college issue is an unusually fair one. Their history, unknown to so many, is exactly what a sports museum should bring to life.
I agree. But … sports museum? I’m told the H.O.F. doesn’t even see itself as a museum at all, but rather, as an entertainment complex. No wonder they keep dropping the ball.
Back to the matter at hand. For the Hall of Fame to create a review committee which only looks at those H.B.C.U. pioneers, while skipping over an entire era of of players and contributors who paved the way long before them, is much more than a snub. Isn’t it an insult?
You mean to tell me they won’t even review the qualifications of 93-year-old living legend John “Boy Wonder” Isaacs, whose birthday is in a few days?
Does Manny Jackson, who’s a Harlem Globetrotters executive, really want to ignore fellow Globetrotters stars from the Black Fives Era, like Sonny Boswell or Bernie Price, who at least deserve review?
I can only hope, hope, that Doleva was misquoted or that the media left out the second half of his statement, and that the Hall of Fame means to include all of history’s forgotten African American basketball pioneers in its special review committee charter.
Maybe the special review committee ought to be reviewed itself, because, as Chimelis notes:
As long as the vote is secret, the process will never have the credibility it needs to be above reproach. And the constant make-up calls, the perception the voters are finally catching up on doing what is right, will never stop.
I guess that’s what’s happening here; the Hall of Fame seems to have stumbled yet again.
But, maybe I’ve gotten this all wrong. Maybe they’ll announce a clarification.
If so, then I’ll apologize just as publicly, and praise the remarkable leadership of John Doleva and Manny Jackson and the Hall of Fame just as passionately as I’m voicing my disappointment here now.