A Net Gain

By Eugene L. Meyer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Autumn escapes, as everyone knows, are for leaves. From Skyline Drive to New England, folks head for the flaming fall foliage.

But not us. Our autumn pilgrimage is strictly for indoor sightseeing in Springfield, Mass., the gritty city where more than a hundred years ago basketball was born.

It may be fall in New England, but that's merely coincidence.

The Basketball Hall of Fame, part of a $103 million Springfield waterfront redevelopment, is wedged in between Interstate 91 and the train tracks, which border the Connecticut River. But we're not talking exteriors here. Imagine instead an immense interior space with more hoops than a Hula-Hoop revival.

Imagine also up to 200 sweaty guys of all ages, sizes and ethnicities running around and joyously shooting their hearts out at 20 or so hoops in a single room. And that's just one piece of the action.

Whatever you might think, it's just about Heaven to a hoops-obsessed boy, such as my son Aaron, 8. His favorite TV channel is ESPN Classic. He builds arena models from cardboard boxes. His favorite birthday gift was the NBA Encyclopedia. Though not as single-minded, his brother David, 11, also likes basketball and, after stumbling out of bed in the morning, starts his day with the sports section.

I, on the other hand, have come later in life to the game, spurred by my boys' interest. For the first time this year, I watched several rounds of both the NCAA Tournament and the NBA Playoffs. So after the old Basketball Hall of Fame moved into a new, high-tech home in September, and with hoops season getting underway, we decided the time was ripe for a hardware hiatus.

Packing begins with some urgency (on Aaron's part) two nights before our Friday-morning departure. Backseat road talk includes a debate on the greatest matchups: Bill Russell vs. Wilt Chamberlain, or Larry Bird and Magic Johnson.

After just under seven hours of driving (367.2 miles, four CDs -- two of mine, two of theirs -- and two pit stops), we pull into the Hall of Fame/Hilton Garden Inn parking lot in Springfield.

From our sixth-floor hotel window, we can see the parking lot stretches over acres to the Hall of Fame; it has not only white lines for cars but also the yellow outlines of four basketball courts. That's news to the front desk.

It's a splendid view of Springfield's newest icon: the immense dome and adjoining spire topped with a 14-foot-diameter orange basketball, reminiscent of the famed Trylon and Perisphere from the 1939 New York World's Fair.

After dark, 812 bulbs light up the sphere. The illuminated orange ball can be seen from miles away, and shines into our room, transfixing Aaron but keeping David awake. The second night, curtains drawn, everyone sleeps soundly and later.

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