By Ross Atkin, Sports writer of The Christian Science Monitor
As a tourist attraction, the Basketball Hall of Fame has long lagged behind its counterparts in baseball and football. The problem, according to sportscaster Curt Gowdy, president of the basketball shrine, is that "a lot of people can't find it." Anyone who's been there knows that's only a slight exaggeration, which is why Gowdy and others are so eager to break ground for a new facility in downtown Springfield, Mass., hard by the interstate.
Accessibility has been a factor in the success of football's two Ohio-based shrines, the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton and the College Football Hall of Fame in Kings Mill. Conveniently situated near mayor roads, both outstrip the basketball hall in attendance, the pro hall attracting well some 200,000 visitors a year and the college hall 85,000. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, which averages between 35,000 and 45,000, presently sits hidden away in a rather nondescript brick building on the Springfield College campus, where Dr. James Naismith invented the game.
The granddaddy of sports shrines, of course, is the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. It, too, is off the main drag, yet manages to attract about a quarter-million visitors. A charming setting, the public romance with baseball legends and lore, and the fact that the hall itself has been in existence since 1939 all stimulate attendance.
World War II disrupted early plans to launch the basketball hall, which finally opened its doors in 1968 after an arduous fund-raising drive. Bob Cousy , a former basketball great and national chairman of the current fund-raising campaign, is "cautiously opitmistic" $2.5 million can be raised to supplement $5 million already pledged by the state toward a new facility. Encouraged by the sport's international popularity and the hall's commitment to honor male and female players and coaches at all levels, from high school on up, director Lee Williams believes the new basketball shrine may annually draw between 200,000 and 300,000 visitors after opening in late 1983 or early 1984.