February 15, 2010
By: Zachariah Blott
As we expectedly learned over the weekend, Scottie Pippen and Karl Malone are among the finalists for the Basketball Hall of Fame’s 2010 class. Two of those 19 finalists, however, are quite unconventional: they’re teams. The 1992 Dream Team and the 1960 USA Men’s Olympic Team will be vying to become only the seventh and eighth teams enshrined in Springfield, MA.
Should we be putting teams into the Hall of Fame? How do we weigh their credentials against players, whose careers we often feel more comfortable comparing? Well, let’s first look at the six teams that are currently in the Hall, then I’ll discuss the credentials of the ’92 and ’60 USA teams.
The First Team (enshrined in 1959)
Most people know James Naismith invented the game in 1891 and taught it to some young men: these were those young men. It was 18 guys training to become executive secretaries for the YMCA, and they were “the first team.” Uh, actually the first two teams. They played their initial game to a Larry Brown-pleasing 1-0 score. Their inclusion in the Hall is hokey, but they represent the spirit of the game.
The Original Celtics (1959)
They are neither associated with the current Celtics nor are they the original team in NYC named the Celtics; that’s where the complaining ends because they truly were a revolutionary team. The Original Celtics played out of Madison Square Garden in the 1920s and did quite a bit for the sport.
First, they introduced exclusive player contracts, which organized professional teams into consistent squads. They also invented zone defenses, switching man-to-man defense, and inside post play. And most importantly, they barnstormed 200 games a year nationally, spreading basketball’s popularity across America. This team dramatically increased the sports’ reception in America and how it is played to this day.
Buffalo Germans (1961)
From 1895-1925, this team from the Buffalo YMCA toured around the world, won the 1904 Olympic demonstration tournament, and basically laid waste wherever they went. The Germans were the first great team in basketball history, winning 111 straight from 1908 to 1910 and compiling an overall record of 792-86. This club became so famous for its dominating play (and stylish jerseys, deep hair parts, and collection of tea pots) that Chuck Taylor (yeah, that one) falsely claimed to have played for them.
New York Renaissance (1963)
Like the Negro League teams that would crush MLB squads with regularity in the 1930s, the Rens barnstormed from 1923-1949, destroying white professional teams across the country. Named after the casino that housed them, they were forced to barnstorm because no league would accept a black team.
The Rens were known for their brilliant passing, which resulted in a famous 34-25 victory over the National Basketball League champion Oshkosh All-Stars in 1939. They once won 88 straight over an 86-day period, making articles like this one about back-to-backs look humorous. They were quite influential in the racial integration of the game and augmenting the popularity of basketball within the black community.
The Globetrotters, Western Miners, and verdict on this year’s nominees after the jump…
Harlem Globetrotters (2002)
Before gradually becoming the comedic ambassadors of hoops during the 1950s, the Globetrotters were a serious barnstorming club that beat the George Mikan-led Minneapolis Lakers in 1948 and 1949. They’ve played exhibition games to packed arenas in over 100 countries and arguably have done more than any person or team ever to increase basketball’s visibility and popularity around the world. Not only that, their back-to-back victories over the champion Lakers helped usher in the NBA’s first black players in 1950.
1965-66 Texas Western Miners (2007)
On March 19, 1966, the Miners became the first college team to win the NCAA championship with five black players in the starting lineup. Because of its national prominence and being against an all-white and traditionally powerful Kentucky squad, this victory was instrumental in further integrating the college game and changing people’s minds about the capabilities of black players.
If I had to rank the HOF-worthiness of each team, I’m looking first at the Original Celtics because of what they contributed to the sports’ popularity and style of play, then a trio of teams that made the game popular to new masses (Germans, Renaissance, Globetrotters), and finally the Miners (good story, but their importance is not in the same class as the Rens and Trotters) and the Original Team.
As for this year’s team nominees…
The Dream Team was, obviously, an amazing collection of talent (plus Christian Laettner) that won their eight games on the way to Olympic gold by an average of 44 points. It was the first USA squad to include NBA ballers, and players from the other countries were absolutely starstruck, asking for autographs and pictures before contests. Many people credit this team with significantly raising international interest in basketball. Dream Team Assistant Coach Mike Krzyzewski said, “The Dream Team’s impact on basketball worldwide may be more significant than anything else in the history of the sport.”
That’s a bold statement from a knowledgeable and respected coach, but I question if they had more to do with the spread of basketball than the four teams mentioned above. Additionally, I would probably rank their importance to the internationalization of the game behind that of the Soviet Union’s Olympic gold in 1988 (Yugoslavia won silver, USA bronze), Arvydas Sabonis, Detlef Schrempf, Drazen Petrovic, Yao Ming, Argentina’s 2004 Olympic gold (Italy won silver, USA bronze), Nike’s global advertising machine, and those Globetrotters. This team clearly gave international hoops a boost, but the sport was already becoming a pretty big deal worldwide by 1992.
The 1960 USA Olympic Team featured Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, and Jerry Lucas, and took home the gold medal by winning their 8 games by an average of 42 points. Basically they’re up for Hall of Fame glory because they were really dominant. If that’s how we’re going to start inducting teams, then I guess we should make room shortly for the 1963-75 UCLA Bruins, 1956-69 Boston Celtics, every three-peat, the Tennessee and UConn women’s teams from the past 20 years, the 1981-83 Dunbar Poets, the 1995-96 Chicago Bulls, etc. This is a bad idea.
I understand that people get all gooey with nostalgia when talking about the Dream Team, but something about them possibly getting in just feels cheap when you look at what most of the teams already in went through and contributed to what basketball is today. I’m not even sure teams should be anything more than an exhibition in the Hall, but if the Dream Team does make it, at least it will give Michael Jordan another crack at a HofF speech.
If so, he better get it right this time because I don’t think he’s making it as an executive.
[Ed. Note: Zing!]
Zachariah Blott is a dish best served cold.
Mike Krzyzewski Photo Credit: Icon SMI