In an unprecedented move, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced Friday that it has formed a new Early African-American Pioneers of the Game Committee, which has the clout to induct deserving candidates with a direct vote.

From the Basketball Hall of Fame’s announcement:

The Hall of Fame election process will also have a new look with the 2011 class. In previous years, four separate screening committees – North American, Women’s, International and Veteran’s – have reviewed the candidacies of more than 100 nominations. This year, there will be the addition of the newly formed American Basketball Association (ABA) and Early African-American Pioneers of the Game committees. Developed to maintain a strong focus on keeping history on the forefront of the voting process, these specialist committees will preserve a balance between two eras of basketball. Both the ABA and Early African-American Pioneers committees will each select one directly-elected Enshrinee for the annual Hall of Fame class, but since these single selected Electees are not designated as Finalists, the selections will be announced with the final class in April.

“An important role of the Hall of Fame is recognizing and celebrating the history of the game of basketball,” said Jerry Colangelo, chairman of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame Board of Governors. “The addition of the ABA Committee and Early African-American Pioneers of the Game Committee help ensure that we have experts that put the game into historical context and show the true diversity that has helped shape the modern game.”

What is great about this new committee is that — just like the International and Veterans committees — it has the power to enshrine African American basketball pioneers with a direct vote.

Basketball Hall of Fame logoPreviously, a candidate had to become a finalist and then face a second round of balloting in the Veterans Committee for enshrinement. This usually led to candidates being overlooked.

Most people familiar with basketball history know that there are numerous African American pioneers of the game who are deserving.

Journalistic pioneers led by long-time sportswriter Howie Evans of the New York Amsterdam News have been lobbying this point literally for generations.

For more than a decade, the focus of our efforts here at the Black Fives Foundation (and its prior incarnation as Black Fives, Inc.) has been on advocacy for pioneers — black or white — who made contributions toward the development of African American basketball teams during the racially segregated Black Fives Era, a period that lasted through 1950.

Our list of potential candidates from this era who are “most deserving” for enshrinement was first published in 2007.

We hope that much lively debate about the merits of various potential candidates will follow.

Meanwhile, we believe that establishing the new Early African American Pioneers of the Game committee took a certain amount of courage on the part of Hall of Fame executives, and probably meant having to overcome some internal interference. So they deserve a lot of credit.

“It’s wonderful,” says Dr. Susan Rayl, a professor at State University of New York, Cortland, whose Ph.D. dissertation in 1996 was the seminal study of the New York Renaissance (aka “Rens”) all-black professional basketball team. “I think it’s very appropriate that we look at African Americans who laid the foundation prior to the N.B.A., and who paid the price for all of the players who are playing now.”

“It’s long overdue and this is a tacit acknowledgment of prior shortcomings, but their instinct is correct and they are to be commended,” says Ray LeBov, executive director of the Association of Professional Basketball Researchers. “In forming the committee it is critical that they select individuals who are truly experts and specialists in this area.”

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Editor’s Note: Since being formed in 2011, this special committee has enshrined Reese “Goose” Tatum (2011), Don Barksdale (2012), Edwin B. Henderson (2013), Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton (2014), and John “Boy Wonder” Isaacs (2015). Its selection for the Class of 2016 is Cumberland Posey, Jr.