The HOF: An Illegitimate Institution

The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame is an illegitimate institution. Not to get all militant on y’all, but it was literally founded by a bunch of white men who ran the National Association of Basketball Coaches. They just decided in the 1950s that they were the keepers of a sport that transcends race, religion, gender, and ability and started the Hall of Fame.

Well, at least we know who started the Hall of Fame. As you’ll read, we have no real idea how they make the sausage over there. Anyhoo, on to the thrust of my rant…

For an institution to be legitimate it has to have a certain level of transparency and legibility in its decision-making process. Transparency means that persons outside the organization can reasonably observe the decisions being made. Legibility means they can understand the decisions being made. Combined transparency and legibility provide the public with a full grasp for how and when decisions are arrived at. This then gives the public a firm basis to judge the decisions made by an institution, in this case the Basketball Hall of Fame, which fails miserably at all this.

Read this nonsense from the HOF’s website, think back on all the public events of the HOF, and then ask yourself the following questions:

Do you know who the voters are for the Basketball Hall of Fame?
Have you ever seen a Basketball Hall of Fame ballot?
Can you recall an official from the Basketball Hall of Fame explaining the selection process?

The first two questions are definitely no. The third question is perhaps a maybe, but probably a no.

And that’s a bad sign for legitimacy.

As of right now, nobody outside of the Hall of Fame in the general public has any idea as to who specifically votes on Hall of Fame nominees. We are aware of the committees that are set up to vote and decide on these nominees, but we do not know who actually sits on these committees and casts votes.

So every Hall of Fame induction season—when we are invariably disappointed that someone has not been inducted—we have no idea or no explanation as to why a certain candidate did not make the cut. The Hall of Fame just delivers the list to The Jump and congratulates itself on preserving basketball history.

Furthermore, we do not how close a candidate was to making the HOF cut. All we’re told is who got to be a finalist and then who gets inducted.

This understandably leads to wild speculation and rants about why so and so didn't make the Hall of Fame. This might make for good water cooler talk and fodder for debate shows, but if the Hall of Fame wants to be taken as a legitimate keeper and teacher of basketball and its history this current process is some shoddy shit.

(And, look, I get happy when I see someone get into the Hall of Fame because they think it’s a wonderful validation of their career. On the flipside, though, you see other people agonize over not being in the Hall of Fame because they think it somehow leaves their career void of an achievement. It’s a crappy way to treat people, honestly.)

A legitimate Hall of Fame would be far more transparent about the process.

They would tell the public not only the committees that decide who makes the Hall of Fame, but would inform the public about the specific persons that sit on and vote on those committees. Furthermore, the final vote of each and every committee would be revealed. Each member of the committee would have their ballot revealed (or at the very least the ballot would be revealed anonymously).

Being able to see the actual vote—literally, show us the ballot—and vote breakdown would do much to improve the transparency and legitimacy of the Hall of Fame.

Revelation of the final ballot is only one step.

Let’s go back to revealing who is doing the voting. If the Hall of Fame were to reveal the persons who sit on these committees, the public would also be able to judge the Hall of Fame’s selection of the selectors.

For all we know these committees are stacked with one certain type of demographic of basketball knowledge. They could all be white men. They could all be black women. Although let's be honest that latter scenario is unlikely. They could all be journalists. There could be no players. There could be too many coaches. Not enough people from the professional ranks.

I don’t know, you don’t know, because they won’t let us know.

And if we’re sitting here in the dark on some basic questions, then maybe we should stop treating the Hall of Fame with any sort of reverence until it starts treating the public with some modicum of respect.