On the first floor of the new Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., visitors standing on a moving belt can shoot at 14 hoops of various heights and distances. As the balls bounce, the building reverberates, making it sound like everyone's high school gym. "I wish they had a place where you could stuff," says one visitor, feeling right at home.
For 17 years the Basketball Hall of Fame occupied a drab brick building at Springfield College—where, of course, Dr. James Naismith invented the game in 1891. But on June 30 the Hall was relocated to an airy, new $11.4 million building in downtown Springfield, right next to Interstate 91 and the Connecticut River.
It contains a panoply of basketball paraphernalia, including Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's first protective glasses, the ball that Wilt Chamberlain used to score his 30,000th point, Anna Naismith's wedding shawl, a scroll inscribed with her husband's original 13 rules of basketball and his McGill University "M". There are videotapes of great college games and the Harlem Globetrotters, plus a theater-in-the-round-type presentation of a film called Play 52 that gives one the feeling of being in a game. There are pictures and programs from the early barnstormers, photos of women players in bloomers, shots of the alltime greats. There are a 3,000-volume research center and a replica of an NBA dressing room. There is artwork: a head of Bill Walton sculpted in redwood, four LeRoy Neimans, even a pair of Bob Lanier's size-22 shoes—bronzed. The front atrium has a "basketball fountain," a 40-foot-high pinball machine that sends balls cascading down through a wire chute.
But visitors—especially the letter-jacketed ones—are drawn to the quotes and artifacts in the high school gallery. On a given day Mike, from Wareham, takes in Cheryl Miller's Riverside (Calif.) Poly jersey, No. 31 (a misses size 16), which she wore when she scored 105 points against Norte Vista High. Howie, from Plymouth Carver, Jameson, from Warwick Hockey, and Sean, of S & O Auto Repairs (West Side Babe Ruth Champs 1985), are entranced by Moses Malone's No. 24 from the Petersburg (W. Va.) Wave and Patrick Ewing's No. 32 from Rindge & Latin in Cambridge, Mass. They also admire blowups of Chuck (The Rifleman) Connors in his Brooklyn Adelphi Academy No. 15, Otto Graham in his Waukegan (Ill.) No. 15 and Mike Warren—now of Hill Street Blues—as the South Bend Central Bears' No. 44.
The Hall is open from 9 to 5, seven days a week, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day. The address is 1150 West Columbus Avenue, and the building—decorated on the outside with bright panels of players making shots—is visible from Route 91.