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Scott Howard-Cooper

Class of 2011
The Hall of Fame Class of 2011 poses in Symphony Hall in Springfield, Mass.
Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Basketball's Hall of Fame needs to stand up to get noticed

Posted Aug 18 2011 11:34AM

2011 Hall of Fame coverage

It was just the top deck, the last few rows, and mostly on the sides of the horseshoe-shaped second tier at that. They are the worst seats in the house. But still.

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has to be able to sell out its enshrinement ceremony. It has to.

Last Friday, it did not. It looks bad.

Maybe the tickets were sold and went unused, although the organized groupings of empty seats would suggest otherwise. Even though this induction class lacked the draw of 2010 (Karl Malone, Scottie Pippen, the Dream Team, the 1960 Olympic team of Oscar Robertson and Jerry West) and 2009 (Michael Jordan, David Robinson, John Stockton), it had geographical benefits that should have packed the 2,500-seat Symphony Hall in Springfield, Mass.

Satch Sanders was a standout in Boston (90 miles away) and lives in Sturbridge, Mass. (40 miles). Chris Mullin is from Brooklyn (150 miles), Philadelphia University coach Herb Magee lives in Philly (230 miles), and not only is Stanford women's coach Tara VanDerveer from upstate New York, her parents met at college in Springfield. Her grandfather was the city's recreation director.

Sure Dennis Rodman is from another planet. But he's a big enough selling card to overcome that. The place should have been standing-room only.

The Hall has a marketing problem or a problem connecting with the public, but it's a problem either way. Hall officials concede, to their credit, that they have an issue. They have weighed different initiatives to make the museum more prominent. Some have been as subtle as moving the enshrinement ceremony up about a month, to the current spot of mid-August, in hopes of generating greater attendance while school is still out. Others are as revolutionary as considering giving fans a vote in future Hall elections.

The museum is a wonderful tour through the history of the game on all levels -- it's not just an NBA home -- and the enshrinement ceremony is well done and loaded with previous inductees returning for festivities. But the Hall does not come close to resonating beyond the basketball world the way Cooperstown does for baseball or Canton for the NFL. Basebal has decades more history and football is part of an NFL machine that big foots everything.

Still, some of the biggest shortcomings of basketball's Hall of Fame are self-inflicted. They can be corrected:

Release the ballot totals. Hall chairman Jerry Colangelo shows no sign of releasing the names of the voters. He says he does not want to expose them to lobbying efforts. At least announce the results, though.

Look at baseball. Cooperstown generates weeks of debate on which candidates came close to being elected this year compared to last, and which lost support. The basketball Hall needs that discussion.

Show off more. Last week, with Mullin on the doorstep to induction and former teammates Mitch Richmond and Tim Hardaway in town to watch their friend's crowning achievement, officials staged a Run TMC reunion at the Hall. Three famous guys sitting around talking hoops.

Do that more. Do it with members of the incoming class, do it with previous enshrinees, do it with people who came to cheer on friends. Do it three times, at least, not once. Julius Erving and Artis Gilmore sharing ABA memories. VanDerveer, Jody Conradt and Ann Meyers in a roundtable about the dramatic changes in the women's game the last 20 years.

Sell tickets, providing income for the Hall or a donation to charity. Tape the sessions for the archives or for re-sale. The Dream Team came through in 2010. Think a few fans wouldn't have paid to hear three or four players reminisce about life in the summer of 1992? Conversation, from serious to fun. Magic Johnson and Larry Bird did one before. Do more.

Pick a different day, and a different way, to announce the inductees. The Hall likes the idea of releasing election results on the first Monday of April, during the Final Four, to underline the important relationship with the amateur game. The Hall has a major media presence on hand in the Final Four city and can hold a major press blowout that afternoon with some of the inductees.

One problem: The NCAA championship game is that night. Maybe the biggest news moment of the year for the Hall, and it has a shelf life of a few hours. What, Super Bowl Sunday isn't available?

Tapping into the number of media on hand is obviously important. But making the annoucement on the day of the title game, ensuring that you will be the No. 2 story that day, at best, is a bad plan for an organization trying to gain prominence.

Instead, forget champoinship Monday. And forget telling the chosen ones so far in advance. Tell the inductees shortly before the results are released, or don't, and let them learn with everyone else. That would generate some buildup to the news.

Make an announcement that the inductees will be unveiled on another date, and follow soon after with a news conference in Springfield or New York or Chicago or Los Angeles. The media will already know the when and the where of the in-person unveiling, just not the who.

Yes, the Hall will lose the quantity of reporters on hand for the Final Four -- most of whom aren't there for that anyway -- but it will generate a lot more buzz.

The Hall of Fame needs that. The museum is grand enough, the organization is important enough and the Hall's signature events -- from annoucing the inductees to the enshrinement ceremony in Springfield -- are historic enough to stand on their own.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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