I have to admit that when I first saw the headline suggesting that the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is struggling financially, I wasn’t surprised.
Many observers of that Hall of Fame over the last several years have had the sense that something there isn’t quite right, whether they were grumbling about it or not.
This most often reflects itself in the public and media reaction to 1) the way inductees are selected (in secrecy that is seemingly oblique), 2) the selections themselves (many have been baffling or gratuitous), and 3) the omissions (some are glaring).
It also shows up in the contrast that exists between the activities, procedures, and public stance of the Basketball Hall of Fame to those of other halls of fame.
The news blurb, Basketball Hall of Fame struggles with finances, revealed a few things that, although seemingly obvious to some, had not been made public previously:
John Doleva, the hall’s president and chief executive officer, says the situation has improved significantly since Feb. 18, when his letter to trustees outlined a crisis that could have forced the facility to sell some of its memorabilia.
In a worst-case scenario, it might also have had to consider selling the hall of fame itself or declaring bankruptcy.
Doleva said they want to craft a long-term plan for stability without a day-to-day countdown over survival, though broader issues of raising money and eliminating debt still need immediate attention.
The debt, estimated between $4 million and $5 million, includes a $3.5 million loan established with PeoplesBank in 2008 with a seven-year term, he said.
“I tell the trustees I don’t come to work every day worrying about running a world-class museum,” he said. “I come to work every day worrying about cash flow.”
Maybe that last quote by Doleva is what reveals the true essence of the problem.
Maybe, just maybe, Doleva has it backwards.
Maybe all this time Doleva ought to have been envisioning the Hall as a world-class institution, rather than resorting to marketing gimmicks due to worries about cash flow.
Maybe, just maybe — and I write this with compassion — there is a sort of a poverty mentality that has trickled down and permeated within the walls of that place.
Doesn’t it make you wonder how many of the Hall’s selection committee choices (or omissions) were influenced — whether directly, indirectly, or subconsciously — by this seemingly incessant focus on “lack”?
Meanwhile, one more point might be made with something else in the news blurb that caught my eye:
Jerry Colangelo, chairman-elect of the hall of fame’s trustees, said Doleva’s concern should be shared.
“The hall of fame is a jewel, an asset to the community,” said Colangelo, the former Phoenix Suns owner who was elected to the hall as a contributor in 2004. “What we need now is a great team effort to assure that it can do well.”
An appropriate response to Colangelo and to all of the Hall’s officials might be this quote from Lauryn “L Boogie” Hill:
“It’s funny how money change the situation.”
Now, all of a sudden, the Hall is calling on “the community” to get involved?
But, where was concern about “the community” when the Hall’s so-called “wack” inductions were made? Where was the “team effort” when obvious candidates were overlooked?
I’m not suggesting that the Basketball Hall of Fame’s enshrinement process should be based on popularity or “community” opinion. And some of the Hall’s recent ideas may help, although they’ve probably been put on the far back burner.
But, it would certainly help with publicity if the Hall would lift –at least somewhat — its cloak of secrecy. Why not, for example, reveal the identities of the voting members of the selection committees, as do other halls of fame?
Public opinion does matter, as the Hall is now finding out. They can claim that patron traffic is down due to the current economic decline. But another real and perhaps even more compelling reason is that the Hall of Fame has quite possibly marginalized itself.
Many basketball historians, scholars, and educators were dismayed when the Hall of Fame expanded and renovated some years back, with the help of the National Basketball Association. That’s because the attitude and identity of the facility seemed to have been reduced — from “museum” or “archive” or “hallowed hall” … to “entertainment complex.”
In a vast and collective Freudian slip, large numbers of people now refer to the site as the “N.B.A. Hall of Fame.”
Maybe the Hall doesn’t fully appreciate the importance of cultivating its connection to- and relationship with the public — not through fancy events, but through the opportunity for forthright and meaningful dialog about what it’s doing, how it’s choosing or not choosing, and what matters to people.
I mean, has anyone ever gotten a survey from them?
As L Boogie would say, “Mis-communication lead to complication,” followed closely by, “If you don’t change then the rain soon come.”
I don’t wish to use Lauren Hill’s music to in any way belittle or diminish the nature of the problems facing the Basketball Hall of Fame, so, leaving on a positive note, let’s realize, “From the night can arrive the sweet dawn.”
(I couldn’t help that.)