OSU Cowboys: Eddie Sutton's exclusion sheds light on hoop hall's lacking transparency
The note came from a heartsick Cowboy.
When news spread last week that Eddie Sutton wasn’t getting into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame, a longtime employee in the Oklahoma State athletic department reached out to me with a simple request.
“Just want to know why,” he wrote.
Don’t we all.
As we sit here a week since we learned about Eddie, the harsh reality is the Basketball Hall of Fame is quite possibly the least transparent organization in all of sports. And I say that as someone who regularly deals with the Thunder. But among major halls of fame, the basketball shrine is the only one that doesn’t even reveal the name of its voters.
The hall says finalists are selected by a nine-member subcommittee, then voted upon for induction by a 24-member honors committee.
We literally have no idea if that's true.
The final decisions might really be made throwing darts at the bar down the street from the hall. Probably not, but we have no way of knowing.
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Such cloak-and-dagger secrecy might be fine for the Chicago political machine or New York crime families, but it doesn’t fly in the world of sports honors. We want to know how the sausage is made. We want to see how football coaches vote in the polls, how baseball writers vote for the hall, how media members vote for the Heisman. On and on the list goes.
It needs to come to the Basketball Hall of Fame — and I’ve got just the group to make it happen.
The league doesn’t own or run the Basketball Hall of Fame, which has plenty of members who never spent a day in the NBA. But nowadays, there is are lots of connections between the two.
Jerry Colangelo, former owner of the Suns and a longtime figure around the league, has been the chairman of the hall’s board of governors for a decade. That board includes six current employees of the NBA or its offshoots, including deputy commissioner Mark Tatum, best known as the guy who announces the second-round picks during the draft. Another nine employees are on the hall’s board of trustees.
Additionally, finalists for the hall are announced during All-Star Weekend, the proceedings broadcast live on NBATV.
All that means the hall thinks highly of the league and its people.
And why wouldn’t it?
The NBA has gone global and is continuing to grow. Part of the reason is access. Any time fans want, they can watch highlights and find advanced statistics and see behind the scenes of all sorts of things, and yes, when there are votes for MVP or most improved or whatever, the league welcomes full disclosure. Voters can choose whomever they want, but at the end, they are held accountable.
It’s the kind of thing the basketball hall needs.
The hall is getting all sorts of heat for excluding Sutton, and it’s not just coming from places with a soft spot for the legendary coach. No less than Dick Vitale had strong words for the voters.
“What were you thinking?” the ESPN personality tweeted.
It’s a great question — one we deserve to have answered — and the only way to do that is to make the process more transparent.
This isn’t a new problem. Three years ago, John Feinstein wrote a column for the Washington Post entitled, “Want to know who votes for Basketball Hall of Fame? None of your business,” and lambasted the whole process. He uncovered myriad issues, including the hall confusing details about Lefty Driesell with those of his son, Chuck, who is also a coach.
At the time, John Doleva, chief executive of the hall, told Feinstein everyone there was on board with the selection system.
“Confidentiality allows for honest conversation,” Doleva said in part, adding the hall burns the ballots after the vote.
That’s not confidentiality.
And Eddie Sutton being kept out of the hall has shed light on the problem. If sharp people involved with the hall stood up and said, “We can do better; here’s how,” things would change.
No one involved is sharper or has more sway than the folks from the NBA. I know they have lots of issues on their plate, but this would add much-needed legitimacy to a place that is supposed to be basketball's Valhalla.
Would it lead to Eddie Sutton being inducted?
That's anyone's guess.
But if he wasn't, at least we'd have an idea why not.
Jenni Carlson: Jenni can be reached at 405-475-4125 or email@example.com. Like her at facebook.com/JenniCarlsonOK, follow her at twitter.com/jennicarlson_ok or view her personality page at newsok.com/jennicarlson.