Friedlander: Why isn't Michael Jordan in the College Basketball Hall of Fame?
The press release from North Carolina’s athletic communications department dropped into my inbox on Tuesday.
It announced Tyler Hansbrough’s selection to the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in a class that also includes former Duke star Johnny Dawkins and Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski.
National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame Reveals Class of 2023 https://t.co/fRijPfQAYO
— U.S. Basketball Writers Association (@USBWA) May 16, 2023
It was pretty straight forward.
Until I got to the section listing the 13 other Tar Heels already inducted into the shrine.
All the usual suspects were there: Dean Smith, Charlie Scott, Phil Ford, James Worthy. But as I reached the end of the list, it didn’t take long to realize that someone was glaringly missing.
What happened to Michael Jordan?
I understand that His Airness was a much better pro than he was in college, in part because – as the old joke goes – Dean Smith was the only man in basketball history capable of holding him under 20 points per game.
But it’s not as if he was a lowly grinder. He was a 2-time consensus 1st-team All-American, the 1984 national Player of the Year and an NCAA champion while at UNC. And he’s already a member of both the Naismith Basketball and FIBA halls of fame.
I naturally assumed the omission was a typo.
A call to the Hall of Fame confirmed that while such luminaries as Zelmo Beatty, Robert “Hooks” Houbregs and Arnold “Stilts” Risen have all been enshrined for their achievements on the court, Jordan has not.
It’s an omission that begs the obvious question.
So I asked Kevin Henderson, CEO of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame: What’s keeping Jordan out?
“Mr. Jordan has requested not to receive any additional honors having to do with his collegiate career,” Henderson said, choosing his words carefully as he gave the explanation.
“I can’t speak for everybody else. But he requested at the time he was asked and at different parts in different years that he did not want to receive admission.”
As for the reason why, Henderson said simply: “You’ll have to ask Mr. Jordan.”
Since “Mr. Jordan” is about as accessible to media inquiries as the President, I chose instead to reach out to others in hopes of understanding the reasons for his stance.
But even that didn’t help.
UNC’s long-time communications director Steve Kirschner said he wasn’t aware of the situation. Several former Tar Heels teammates said they didn’t know, perhaps sworn to secrecy.
The most reasonable guess, provided by a member of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association — the group that administers the selection process — is that “MJ probably doesn’t want to go through the hassle.”
There’s some substance to that.
Back in 2009, Jordan tried to opt out of his selection into the Naismith Hall of Fame. According to ESPN, he even went so far as to ask if his induction would be delayed by 5 more years if he checked into a game and played for 1 possession.
He eventually consented to induction. But it was clear from the tone of his bitter acceptance speech, in which he aired a string of caustic barbs at friends and foes alike, that he wasn’t exactly thrilled about doing it.
Since the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame is a relatively new entity, having only been established in 2006, there’s a good chance Jordan really does just want to avoid the “hassle” of showing up and having people tell him how great he was.
It’s the only reason he’s not in the athletic hall of fame in his hometown of Wilmington, NC, which has a rule requiring its honorees to attend their induction ceremony.
The College Basketball Hall of Fame doesn’t have any such stipulation. According to its CEO Henderson, it’s simply deferring to the wishes of the player.
That’s very respectful. And admirable.
But why bother?
While Jordan might not need any more plaudits attached to his name, his name is vitally important to the credibility of a relatively new endeavor such the college hall – which is located in Kansas City as part of the College Basketball Experience.
The USBWA should go ahead and induct him, anyway. There’s no point in having a shrine honoring the greatest college players of all time if you’re going to exclude the guy who’s generally accepted as the best of the best.
The worst thing that can happen is that Jordan gets mad and says he’ll never set foot on the premises.
Which is what he’s doing already.
So invite someone to speak on his behalf. Show highlights of his championship-winning shot against Georgetown. Or just quietly hang his plaque in the gallery.
Any of those alternatives is better than having to keep explaining why Jordan isn’t a Hall of Famer every time another class of inductees is announced.