Enshrinement should stay in Springfield

April 26, 2021 | G. Michael Dobbs

Here is a two-part disclosure: first, I’m not a sports guy and second, I worked at the Basketball Hall of Fame for seven years. I started in high school, went through my college years, and worked a while there after I was first married.

So, although I’m not a sports fan, I gained an appreciation for basketball, and more importantly, for the history and significance the Hall represents.

I enjoyed meeting some of the greats of the game back in the day – I’m talking about the first Hall on the campus of Springfield College – and will tell you many of the NBA stars who came by were nice guys – Dave Cowans, Marques Haynes and Jack Twyman are three of the nice guys. I won’t tell you about the jerks.

So, I have a very soft spot for the Hall in my heart. I deeply appreciate the important role in the tourism economy of the region and how its events can put the spotlight on Springfield and the Pioneer Valley.

It’s just too bad that when the hospitality industry in the area could use a boost as the pandemic continues, the Hall has decided to redirect the dollars their annual enshrinement brings to another area – the property of the Mohegan Tribe of Indians of Connecticut.

Yes, Springfield’s annual time in the national conversation will not happen. I received a press release on April 15 that read in part, “The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced today the list of Hall of Famers scheduled to present the Class of 2020 at the Enshrinement Ceremony to be held Saturday, May 15 at Mohegan Sun Arena. More than 50 Hall of Famers are expected to be in attendance for the ceremony, including all presenters.”

The highlight will be the induction of the late Kobe Bryant by Michael Jordan. I’m sure it will be very emotional.

I asked a representative from the Hall about it and was told, “Correct, at Mohegan Sun for this class only to allow for proper physical distancing and health and safety protocols.”

I understand the Hall has a long-standing relationship with the casino. I understand they had to delay the 2020 enshrinement and, yes, the decision to do this was made months ago.

Am I to believe, though, the COVID-19 measures at Mohegan Sun are better than those that could be put in place at the MassMutual Center, Symphony Hall and MGM Springfield? Really? In what way? Please explain to me.

I’m not buying that argument at all. I think this has more to do with pre-existing business arrangements and, perhaps, the gaming preference of some important basketball figures.

The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has allocated state dollars to help the tourism business. The Hall, for example, received $227,988 from the Hall of Fame vanity plate.

Why help a private non-profit? Because it generates tourism dollars that helps fuel an important segment of the economy.

How important is tourism here? According to the Western Mass Economic Council, “Tourism related employment in Western Massachusetts totals nearly 5,000, with a payroll of more than $120 million annually. Direct spending of travelers in the region is nearly $525 million, resulting in local tax receipts of nearly $11.5 million. Tourist dollars are spent in a variety of ways that directly affect the bottom-line of area businesses. From transportation and fuel to food, lodging and entertainment, scores of businesses rely on the business of tourism.”

I don’t need to tell you that 2020 put nearly all of the entertainment/tourism/hospitality industry in the region on hold. Restaurants, hotels, events such as fairs, movie theaters, museums and many more businesses were affected. Businesses closed and people lost their jobs.

The pandemic has kicked the hospitality industry in the throat and at the time when conditions are getting a slightly bit better, one would hope an institution such as the Basketball Hall of Fame would understand its duty to help in the recovery process.

But I guess not.

It makes a cynical old ink-stained wretch as myself question the wisdom of helping out the Hall with any public funding effort if the management there can’t see that an action such as this one runs counter to the economic health of the community in which it is located.

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