On Friday, five people will be inducted into the basketball hall of fame, although for many fans it's all about one bald 46-year-old: Michael Jordan.
Still, even Jordan's entrance into the Hall won't change the fact basketball's shrine to its very best ranks well-behind the baseball and football Halls in the nation's sports conscious. Part of it is just the nature of each sport. The NFL is now the dominant sports league in the country and the hall of fame ceremony receives the appropriate amount of hype befitting a league swimming in it. Big, tough guys weep while wearing yellow blazers and a nation swoons. And baseball's obsession with its past is part of its eternal makeup, part of its allure and charm. Basketball doesn't have the popularity of the NFL or the history of baseball. Today's baseball fans can recite Joe DiMaggio's career stats in addition to Ken Griffey's. How many NBA fans can summon up Dolph Schayes's career numbers, or even Shaq's?
And the Halls themselves separate the sports. The Naismith one is the only hall that allows international players and coaches, as well as amateurs. So Dominque Wilkins goes into the Hall with Geno Auriemma and his hair. Alex English shares a stage with Joan Crawford - no, not that one. As worthy as those non-NBA entrants might be, it can't help but take a little bit from the pros who go in.
Speaking of history, baseball's first hall of fame class was Cobb, Ruth, Wagner, Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson, all giants of the game. Compare that to basketball's first class, in 1959:
James Naismith, Harold Olsen, John Schommer, Amos Alonzo Stagg, Oswald Tower, Phog Allen, Henry Carlson, Luther Gulick, Ed Hickox, Chuck Hyatt, George Mikan, James Kennedy, Hank Luisetti, Walter Meanwell, Ralph Morgan, Original Celtics, First Team.
Even the Schwab couldn't name that entire class off the top of his head. There's Mikan, sure. And Naismith and Phog and...John Schommer? By all accounts, a great all-around athlete for his day, and according to his bio, he's sometimes credited with inventing glass backboards. Players everywhere who love the bank shot thank him. But he's not exactly Honus Wagner.
Take a look through the basketball hall of fame's year-by-year entrants, which are listed here.
I think even most diehard hoops fanatics will find dozens of names who have them scrambling for google. Searching for a class that would equal Cobb, Ruth and the boys isn't easy. In 1969, the greatest class of coaches was inducted, as Red Auerbach, Adolph Rupp and Hank Iba all gained entry, along with Chuck Taylor, who was honored for his namesake shoes, not for being a "journeyman jump shooter."
Jerry West and Oscar Robertson joined in 1980, fitting since the two were so often linked during their playing days. Rick Barry joined Walt Frazier and Pete Maravich in 1987, months before Pistol Pete's death. But even in the last 15 years, when players who were around during the glory days of the 1980s became eligible, many of the classes lack star power. In 2005, Jim Boeheim, Hubie Brown and Jim Calhoun went in together, a delightful development for those who enjoy screaming coaches, not that great for those who appreciate legendary players.
In fact, this year's class probably is the best the basketball hall of fame's ever had, sort of a reverse of baseball's best class coming in its first year. There's Jordan, John Stockton, David Robinson, C. Vivian Stringer and Jerry Sloan. Three Dream Team members, along with the obligatory coaches.
Springfield remains a great destination for basketball fans. But it will never be Canton or Cooperstown. And for once in his career, not even Michael Jordan will alter that basketball history.