Feinstein: Basketball HOF System Corrupt, Secretive, Incompetent

It happened again.

Once again, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame—one of the most corrupt organizations in sports—overlooked Lefty Driesell. It also went right past Jim Phelan and Bob Huggins.

And it made Chris Webber—a man best-remembered for his failure to know his team had no time outs left and for the embarrassing taking down of two Final Four banners—a finalist.
Nice job, fellas.

For the record, Phelan (830); Huggins (812) and Driesell (786) have combined to win 2,436 games as college basketball coaches.

Phelan won a college division (now Division 2) national championship at Mt. St. Mary’s in 1962; he integrated the school when Fred Carter became the first African-American student (not basketball player, student) there and he led the school into Division 1 and two NCAA Tournament appearances before retiring in 2003. He’ll turn 88 next month. What are these people waiting for—more evidence?

Huggins is the kid in the group—63—but suffered a major heart attack at 49 and gave people a scare Monday night when his defibrillator apparently went off and he suddenly went to his knees during West Virginia’s win over Texas.

Huggins has won every place he’s been and took two schools: Cincinnati—which was on probation when he arrived—and West Virginia (his alma mater) to the Final Four. People bring up his graduation rate at Cincinnati, but Jim Calhoun retired with Connecticut on APR probation; John Calipari’s had two Final Four appearances vacated; Larry Brown has been on NCAA probation THREE times and Rick Pitino is still trying to clean up the ‘brothel/madam,’ mess at Louisville.
They’re all in the Hall of Fame.

Huggins has a wonderfully dry sense of humor; is an intensely loyal friend, especially when someone’s in trouble; and his ex-players—with or without degrees—swear by him. Ask other coaches how good he is and they will go on at length about why he’s one of THE best there is—then and now. And yet, he wasn’t even nominated this year. How is THAT possible?

Driesell, who is 85, took four different schools to the NCAA Tournament: Davidson, Maryland, James Madison and Georgia State. The only one of those four that had done anything at all in hoops before he arrived was James Madison. He made Maryland matter; made the ACC stronger and made college basketball a big deal in Washington, D.C.

He took four teams to the elite eight—two at Davidson, two at Maryland. His best team, the 1974 Maryland team that lost in overtime in the ACC final to eventual national champion N.C. State, didn’t even play in the tournament because that was the last year that only one team per conference could go to the 25 team NCAA’s. The Terrapins—who lost by one AT UCLA that year, were no worse than the third best team in the country that winter.

Driesell also invented Midnight Madness and was one of the sport’s true characters. To look at his resume—wins; program builder; contributions to the sport—and say, ‘no,’ especially given some of those who the Hall has said ‘yes,’ to is completely and utterly ridiculous.
Now, there are some who don’t know college hoops—many of them NBA guys who have Hall of Fame votes—who will say, ‘what about Len Bias?’

There are those who somehow still hold Driesell responsible for Bias’s tragic death of a cocaine overdose on the night of the 1986 NBA draft. Lefty had as much to do with Bias’s death as you or I did. In fact, to this day, he truly believes that was the first time Bias had tried cocaine. If you believe that, you believe in the tooth fairy—but that’s how much faith, naively misplaced, he had in Bias.

There is also an urban myth—that no doubt the voters have heard—that Lefty suggested that Bias’s room should be ‘cleaned up,’ the morning he died. Also completely untrue. I know who made the suggestion—it wasn’t anyone who worked at Maryland—and I know that Lefty and assistant coach Oliver Purnell both rejected the idea. A grand jury that investigated Bias’s death also found that to be the case.

But because the Hall of Fame’s system is so corrupt and secretive and incompetent, there is no doubt in my mind there are voters who still somehow think Bias’s death should be part of Driesell’s resume. What should be part of his resume is the fact that Bias wasn’t even highly recruited coming out of high school and four years later was the No. 2 pick in the NBA draft.

Last year, the North American committee—which is responsible for deciding the bulk of the finalists each year (there are committees for women; international players; old-time players; contributors)—voted 9-0 to send Lefty’s name to the so-called ‘honors committee,’ which, based on their voting record, is an oxymoron if I’ve ever heard one.

There are 24 members on the so-called honors committee. Their names, like the names of all those on any committee, are kept secret. In fact, all those who have any sort of vote are told by the Hall that if they reveal that they are on a committee or reveal the names of anyone on their committee, they’ll lose their spot instantly.

The other day I likened the Hall to the mafia. I’ll admit now that was unfair—to the mafia. They at least had SOME sense of honor.

The 24 members—and I KNOW a majority come from NBA backgrounds because the NBA controls the Hall—do not even have a conference call to discuss the nominees. Which means that when Driesell’s name comes up (he’s been a finalist three times) no one among the nine who voted for him (last year) is on the call to say, ‘just so you know, the stuff you’ve heard about Bias is a myth and here’s why.’

You need 18 votes to be elected and I GUARANTEE there are more than six voters who don’t know the true story about Driesell and Bias.

Last year, after I learned that the Hall had sent a letter to Driesell (supposedly) to inform him that he was a finalist, I called John Doleva, the Hall’s CEO. The letter had been sent, not to Lefty, but to his son Chuck—sort of. Chuck had coached at the Citadel until 2015. He is Charles Driesell Jr. In February of 2016, the Hall sent HIM a letter addressed to, “Charles G. Driesell, the Citadal,” (note spelling) informing he was a finalist for the Hall.

So, to review: the people working at the Hall sent the letter to the wrong Driesell; at a place where the wrong Driesell no longer worked and mis-spelled the name of the place.

Seriously?

“I regret a mistake was made,” Doleva said. He defended the secrecy of the voting process saying, “I think the people we’ve selected proves that the system works pretty well.”
I repeat myself: seriously?

On another occasion when Lefty was a finalist, the release naming the finalists noted that he had graduated from, “Duke University in Raleigh, North Carolina.”

Only missed by 25 miles.

I know from personal experience that this sort of remarkable sloppiness wasn’t unique to Driesell. In 2013 I won the ‘Curt Gowdy Award,’ for print journalism. The Hall gives the Gowdy award to one print journalist and one broadcast journalist each year. This year the broadcast journalist is Craig Sager—who died in December. Why the Hall couldn’t have given the award to Sager while he was fighting cancer and still around to enjoy it, I can’t say. Knowing them, maybe they hadn’t heard he was sick. It didn’t get much attention.

Shortly after I was told I’d won the award, I was sent the press release—already sent out to media outlets—about my being named. There were EIGHT factual errors, including saying that I still worked at The National Sports Daily—which folded in 1991. Yes, it said, “He works (present tense) for The National Sports Daily.”

When I called to let the people in Springfield know about the errors—gee, maybe someone should have run the release past me BEFORE sending out?—I asked if the person giving my induction speech had to be a Hall member. I knew that was the case for coaches and players.

“Oh know,” I was told. “You don’t get to pick the person who introduces you, our emcee on the night of the dinner will do it.”

The emcee was a guy who worked for NBA TV who I’d never met. One of the (allegedly) great honors of your life and someone you’ve never met introduces you. I can never remember his name because I’ve blocked it. Here’s how he introduced me:

“And now we come to one of the highlights of the night.” Pause. “Oh wait, I’m on the wrong page of my script.”

Nice. Then he mentioned that I was a native of Washington, D.C. I was born and raised on the west side of Manhattan—which I mentioned in my acceptance.

At least he didn’t say I still worked for The National.

One other note: I wrote to Doleva later and told him I thought it was way past time that the print award be re-named. Curt Gowdy was a great BROADCASTER. I suggested the award by re-named for Frank Deford, the greatest sportswriter of my lifetime. Of course I was completely ignored.

The point of all this is to say simply: The entire system needs to be blown up. David Stern, Adam Silver and Jerry Colangelo need to get in a room, fire everybody and change the system so that everyone who votes on any committee makes his or her vote public; that when someone is a finalist one representative of that nominating committee presents his or her resume to the so-called honors committee and answers questions about the candidate and—painful as it may be to the NBA three—there be more representation of the college game on the committees.

Until then, no one should pay money to go to the place or give it any credence. Like I said, at least the mafia had SOME honor. Not these guys.

John Feinstein’s latest non-fiction book, “The Legends Club,–Dean Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, Jim Valvano and an Epic College Basketball Rivalry,”—will be published in paperback next week. It spent six months on the New York Times bestseller list and was his 19th New York Times bestseller. He is also the author of 10 Young Adult mysteries, including “Last Shot,” which won the Edgar Allen Poe Award for mystery writing in the YA category.

More from John Feinstein
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