With 12 new inductees recently shepherded into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, and a total of 325 players, coaches, referees and contributors already enshrined, you might think it would be hard to find deserving candidates who have been overlooked, though our man in Springfield, Mass., Scott Howard-Cooper, compiles a pretty compelling list.
Here are three more glaring omissions from the hoops Hall, long overdue for embracing:
For all the work that chairman Jerry Colangelo has done in swinging open the Hall’s doors to neglected candidates in recent years, the voting process itself leaves much to be desired. It remains the least satisfying of the major sports’ Halls because it lacks the above traits in sufficient quantity. And its persistence as such requires that the topic be revisited year after year.
The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., for all the heat it takes and the presumed idiosyncrasies of its electorate, at least has numbers on its side; there were 569 ballots cast in the 2013 election, cast by 10-year members of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Many of the voters write about and discuss both their eligibility and their ballots, hitting on the transparency and accountability aspects mentioned above. And the fact that it is a lifetime privilege assures a sense of consistency across decades in the working definition of a Hall of Famer, as baseball sees it.
The Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, narrows its actual selection process down to something more closely approaching a smoke-filled room. Voters hail from the league’s 32 member markets, along with a representative of the Pro Football Writers Association and 13 at-large members appointed by the Hall. Eventually, this Board of Selectors ends up meeting face-to-face to cut down a list of nominees to 15 finalists, with two more added by a Seniors committee. They debate the candidates’ merits, finally settling on four to seven inductees in a given year. Again, most of the selectors are known to the public, the coverage of the process is extensive on the eve of the Super Bowl and voters continue until they resign or die. More transparency, accountability and consistency.
The Naismith Hall, by contrast, is a black box, a star chamber of a select group of voters hand-picked by the Hall administration that serves only for three years. The process lacks all three traits – transparency, accountability and consistency – as described recently by the Boston Globe’s John Powers:
To accomplish all of the expansion, patching, and filling, the Hall has created a complex system of seven screening committees, five of which elect members directly, in addition to a 24-member Honors Committee that chooses the North American and women’s inductees after they’ve been vetted by the Board of Trustees.
But unlike the other Halls, the Naismith doesn’t divulge its voters’ names, and asks that they keep mum themselves. “I have no problem with going public with who they are but they don’t want to,” says Colangelo, who favors making the process both more inclusive and transparent. “They’re afraid of relationships and being hustled.”
The Hall will disclose the committees’ makeup — Hall of Famers, basketball executives, media members, and other contributors to the game. Yet with nearly half of the inductees chosen by specialized panels, some observers believe that the public should know who’s doing the picking.
“The idea that you’re going to vote something that significant and people aren’t going to know who votes is absurd,” says writer Jack McCallum, a former voter and Gowdy Media Award winner.
Next year, the basketball Hall will add a component of fan participation to the voting process, with the intent of boosting its marketing profile even while it limits the impact of the great unwashed. The Hall’s doors are swung so wide now that glaring omissions have been reduced — most on Howard-Cooper’s list likely will be invited in the next few years — leaving the fans’ participation to mere chatter.
Baseball generates the most chatter, largely because its Hall voting is done essentially by a third party (the BBWAA), largely independent of the leagues and the teams. That turns the process each winter into another facet of baseball’s Hot Stove League, all the speculation and wrangling that accompanies trades and free agency and keeps the sport in the headlines even when its diamonds are covered in snow.
Basketball’s approach is too closely held, keeping the public and the media at arm’s length. It feels like a stacked deck at times, with no way to track a candidate’s improving or declining chances across several years, no chance to connect the dots between voter grudges and a player’s or a coach’s true worthiness. Why, for instance, did Jerry Tarkanian get in now, after being snubbed for so long? Did he have to serve some probation for his “NCAA renegade” reputation, or did the voting body simply change around him?
The method is unlikely to change substantially anytime soon. Colangelo seems satisfied with the results, and NBA commissioner David Stern‘s appreciation of Hot Stove League chatter amped up by the new CBA won’t likely persuade him. That’s too bad, because it could pack a lot more passion and further stoke fans’ appreciation and understanding of the game’s most legendary figures.
Admiring and respecting those folks is fine. Arguing, debating, lobbying, agonizing and celebrating, though, moves the emotional needle way more.