On February 7, nineteen thousand Lakers fans gathered in downtown LA to crown a king. LeBron James stood across from Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kenrich Williams dribbling inside the three-point arc, sweat dripping onto the glossy wood floor. Williams pressured the Lakers captain with constant arm checking. Two quick dribbles left and James started posting up Williams at the free throw line. He spun, rose up, and performed his signature fadeaway jump shot. Every phone in the stadium was locked on James, the ball arced and descended, every fan on their feet as the ball swished through the net. The crowd erupted and whistles blew, stopping the game with 10.9 seconds left in the third quarter. James raised his hands, embracing the love. A new NBA all-time-scoring leader has been crowned.
Basketball fans had the opportunity to witness history being made when James broke the previous record held by former Laker’ Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But what about when Abdul-Jabbar overtook Wilt Chamberlain? That game is long over. Luckily basketball history lives at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield Massachusetts. The b-ball museum gives fans an immersive experience that highlights legendary players, coaches, and moments from the history of the game.
“Look! There’s a giant basketball.” My father pointed to the sky.
I lifted my eyes from my notes to see a super tall, thin, white spire with a large orange basketball at the top of the museum.
“I didn’t expect it to be so small,” I said. The outside looked like a shopping plaza. A few different stores lined the building: Plan B Burger, Subway, and The Place 2 Be. All this seemed to belittle the glory and pride the Hall represents.
The first thing to welcome us, memorialized in silver and sitting proudly in front of the hall’s main entrance, was a statue of James Naismith, the inventor of basketball and the first coach of the game. Even to the most casual of visitors, or ignorant fans, like my father and I, this statue demonstrates how influential and important Naismith was to the game of basketball. Five foot, ten-inch Naismith is a giant among true giants.
My father and I step through the small glass doors into the hall, and my chest is struck with an intense feeling, like I’d just received a bounce pass from Giannis Antetokounmpo. A wide tiled hallway and tall ceiling adorned with a grand orange banner reading, “Basketball Hall of Fame.”
“Oh hey, there’s Micheal!” My father shouted with a giddy voice, he had seen a familiar face.
The lobby had several floor to ceiling pillars holding banners featuring the famous players of the game. The first pillar depicted a graphic of Michael Jordan presenting his achievements. The other half of the pillar had a glass case that housed signed balls, shoes, a game-worn Chicago Bulls jersey, and a screen that played a short movie showing highlights and talking about who Jordan was as a player. The other pillars showcased other legends of the game. Names like Shaquille O’Neal, Scottie Pippen, and Larry Bird.
A hall employee with a rag and spray bottle in hand rushed around the lobby. His long ponytail flapped away as he weaved through the crowd. He brushed by me quickly and turned his attention toward the ground in front of the Shaq exhibit where he sprayed and polished a shiny golden spot I had totally missed. I looked back at my dad with excitement in my eyes and Euro stepped my way through the other hall attendants. The spot read, “Shaquille O’Neal class of 2016, Size twenty-two.”
“No way,” I said to my dad, “look at this, look at this.”
I put my size ten-and-a-half foot on the outline of Shaq’s monstrous size twenty-two foot. I wondered if they got his exact measurements to engrave into the stone or if they just asked him to step on it and the imprint stayed like a fossil of a T-Rex.
My father and I decided it was time to get our tickets. The employee told us about a quick movie in a theater behind the lobby and we were welcome to wait for the showing to start in fifteen minutes. The theater walls had lights that stretched across mimicking the lines of a basketball. The theater dimmed and as the movie began colors came screaming across the wall from the screen. “That’s f***ing cool,” I whispered to my father.
The film depicted the beginnings of basketball from Naismith all the way to the 1992 Olympic Dream Team, the Olympic Redeem Team of 2008 and everything in between. The theater was filled with young families with two or three kids, no doubt taking advantage of their day off from school. I recommend anyone who visits to view the showing before they enter the rest of the hall.
My father and I, now giddy from the movie, eagerly await the elevator to the third floor where you are supposed to start your journey. The doors open to a huge dome, the ceiling lit up with a purple-ish blue hue that cascaded down the sides of the sphere. From the edge of the railing on the third floor we could see all the way down to the first. The first floor, named “The Court of Dreams” was filled with kids ages ranging from four to eighteen. All of them dribbling and shooting on the biggest court I’d ever seen with a giant screen playing historic highlights above. The second and third floors were thin walkways that hugged the side of the dome like rings. I felt like I had just entered a Space Jam-style spaceship.
The most entertaining floor in the hall was the third, but I’m sure the kids shooting on the first floor would probably disagree. As we made our way around the top level, there were cardboard cutouts of athletes like Shaq, Chinese giant Yao Ming, and five-foot-three Muggsy Bogues, the shortest player to ever play in the NBA. To my delight, I measured up nicely with Muggsy, but Yao and Shaq towered over me. I blame that on my Italian heritage. The floor also featured basketballs with hand imprints so you could compare your hand size to stars like Kevin Durant or Nneka Ogwumike. My whole hand barely filled the palm of Durant’s.
“Imagine playing basketball with a baseball and a six-foot hoop,” I remarked to my dad.
The second floor was much larger than the third as it expanded more than just a ring around the sphere. This floor, my fathers’ favorite, had tons of exhibits that walked us through the creation of the game and its early developments. Changes like the invention of dribbling, getting rid of the football-esque laces on the basketball, and the addition of the three-point shot. The floor led us down a long hallway with a black ceiling and walls. The hallway opened up into a new attraction, the “Hall of Honor.” The circular room lit up with blue on the ceiling and walls. The names of every hall of fame inductee surrounded the room stained onto a thin glass banner hanging on the wall. The wood floor resembled a classic basketball court. The room again reminded me of a basketball-styled spaceship, I was starting to think the Monstars were waiting for me at the Court of Dreams. The exhibits were set up like Captain Kirk’s control room, three large white curved screens that stood at waist level. The interactive displays told the stories of legendary inductees like Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash.
“The Court of Dreams,” was the name of the first floor. A huge basketball court with at least fifteen hoops. The room was filled with kids running around, dribbling, and shooting, no doubt picturing themselves in the finals of the NCAA tournament or game seven of an NBA final.
At first sight I had no intention of taking a shot. The scrambling crowd of kids and relentless roar of dribbles was quite the contrast to the calm walk through b-ball history with my dad. But, I saw two young boys in Celtics jerseys shooting on the old-fashioned bucket hoop tucked in the corner. It was a replica of the early hoops I had seen in footage on the second floor. Luckily, a ball rolled out of the crowd with no one chasing it. This was my chance, I lined up my feet, took a shot, the ball just barely hitting the back edge of the basket. It spun around four or five times and shot back out at me. Do-over. This time I lined my feet up with determination. The ball arched high and drained through the old wooden basket, unfortunately the wood didn’t make that iconic swish sound, but it was just as satisfying.
Zachary Morro is a staff writer for the Blue Muse Magazine.
Header image courtesy of Getty Images.