In America, thereare halls of fame for cowboys, cockroaches and kite fliers, not to mentionexotic dancers, whose Strippers Hall of Fame turned Helendale, Calif., into akind of Cooperstown or Canton--a place to look at famous busts. But when MyronFinkbeiner retired after a long career as a college basketball coach andadministrator, he asked himself, Is there any hall of fame whose primary focusis to honor the good guys in sports?
There wasn't, soin 1994 Finkbeiner founded a hall of fame for "humanitarian athletes,"which sounds like a classic sports oxymoron, along the lines of "forwardlateral." The World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame existed exclusively inhis head then, but Finkbeiner began annually inducting three athletes at aceremony in his hometown, enshrining some of them in absentia, the way theNuremberg War Trials were forced to prosecute some war criminals. "To getthree world-class athletes to Boise, Idaho, on the same night is a realchore," says Finkbeiner, 73, in a rare moment of repressibility.
"Even hisclosest friends were saying, 'Good luck, Myron,'" says former Boisesportscaster Larry Maneely.
Muhammad Alideclined the Hall's honor. Pelé accepted, but skipped his induction. A femaleprofessional golfer would only deign to be feted, Finkbeiner suspected, if shewas handsomely paid for the honor. And these were the good guys. "With someathletes," says a former member of the Hall's selection committee, "itwas like you were trying to name them Pervert of the Month."
August 27, 2006
Kirby Puckett andJulius Erving did show and were then embroiled in scandals. But the majority ofthe men and women selected for the Hall--among them Bonnie Blair, Drew Bledsoe,Tony Gwynn, Rafer Johnson, Mary Lou Retton, Steve Young and the HarlemGlobetrotters--lived up to their billing. Former Spurs center David Robinsonflew coach to Boise, donated his Navy uniform and gratefully accepted an honoryou've almost certainly never heard of. "If he slapped his wife around orgot a DUI," says Finkbeiner, "you'd hear about that."
In 1997 the Hallfound a home--first in a Boise office building, and now in a corner of theSmurf-Turfed football stadium at Boise State. It's filled with mementosFinkbeiner begged, borrowed and bought at secondhand stores. When he couldn'tprocure a Prince racket Arthur Ashe used at Wimbledon, for instance, he tackeda notice on the bulletin board of a Boise tennis club and got a similar one todisplay.
Finkbeiner, whocoached at Pasadena College for 10 years, recruited retired athletes such asJerry Kramer, Dale Murphy, Floyd Patterson and Stan Smith to the Hall'sselection committee--jock-strapped St. Peters, guarding the Hall's gates.Still, a designer of museum exhibits told Finkbeiner, "What you're doing isnoble and great, but people are not going to come in off the freeway to seeDavid Robinson. Our society is sick, I'm sorry to tell you."
But Finkbeiner sobelieves in what Lincoln called "the better angels of our nature" thathe blithely forges on. "He's the last innocent man," says a formerselector, fondly. "He's a walking Happy Meal."
And his happinesshas proved to be a contagion. "We've had people here like Kip Keino and ChiChi Rodriguez--athletes who've played on a world stage--reduced to tears attheir inductions," says Maneely.
The Hall isawaiting Boise State's approval for a 50,000-square-foot expansion as part of aBroncos stadium renovation. All Finkbeiner needs to do is raise $10 million tofund it, one charity golf scramble at a time. "Major corporations," hesighs, "want to see shovels in the ground before they'll donate."
"It's been astruggle to get on people's radar," says Maneely, now the president of theHall's board of directors. "But with what's happening in pro and collegesports right now, it seems like the right idea at the right time." Indeed,if the World Sports Humanitarian Hall of Fame can't succeed, perhaps we get theheroes we deserve.
Such thoughts donot plague the unsinkable Myron Finkbeiner, who keeps dreaming of his futureHall, with Disney-like designs for "a robotic Jesse Owens and BabeDidrikson, interviewed by a robotic Bob Costas." (Hey, if you want arobotic interviewer, why not Ahmad Rashad?)
Finkbeiner'sgarage remains filled with extraordinary memorabilia for exhibits that maynever open. Even more artifacts are in a storage facility, just sitting there,like Citizen Kane's crated treasures. "We'll never get to the same place asCooperstown, Springfield or Canton," says Finkbeiner. "But I can seethe snowball getting a little bigger."
Told for yearsthat his Hall has a snowball's chance in hell, Finkbeiner knows only oneresponse. He keeps rolling a bigger snowball.
• If you have acomment for Steve Rushin, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finkbeiner blithely forges on with his World SportsHumanitarian Hall of Fame. "He's the last innocent man," says a formerselector. "He's a walking Happy Meal."