Monday, September 14, 2009

I was at my favorite watering hole the other evening and in a quieter corner, several of the televisions were on to the live broadcast of the 2009 inductions to the Basketball Hall of Fame. One young woman at the bar looked up and expressed her thrill that she was seeing Springfield on national television. The shot that inspired the exclamation was a beautifully composed one outside of Symphony Hall.

I, too, was impressed. Although I'm not a sports fan, I've always liked basketball and perhaps some of this interest comes from the fact I worked at the Hall of Fame from my junior year in high school through college and into the first year of marriage.

I couldn't wonder what my boss, Lee Williams, would have said about the prominence the Hall now enjoys. You see without Williams I doubt we would have a Hall of Fame today.

Williams, a basketball coach at Colby in Maine, came to the Hall of Fame to actually build it. The foundation had been dug on the campus of Springield College and sat there literally for years. Williams actually bullied and pleaded for the funding to get the structure open in 1967.

He was not a historian. He was not a curator. He did, though, what no one before him was able to do – get the place open.

His wife managed the souvenir stand and Williams seemed to being charge of raising funds and attention.

Working there was somewhat surreal. Hours of tedium and then something would happen. Someone would sneak in. Someone would try to steal something. or someone like Dave Cowans of the Celtics would show up with a couple of nephews and money in hand to buy admission tokens. I told him to put his money away. I liked the fact he was willing to pay.

Red Auerbach on the hand – what a jerk.

I won't sugarcoat Williams. He was not always the nicest guy to work for. He had a huge ego. Our summer shift was 10 hours long and through some loophole, he was able to avoid paying us minimum wage. Hey a job was a job in those days as it is in these days. Once I was promoted to manager, I did make enough dough to help put myself through UMass.

And I learned how to get free Cokes from the soda machine.

The one day in all of those years I called in sick – which meant he had to go in on a Saturday and open up the place – he said to my wife, "I feel for for Mike, but I feel sorrier of the Hall of Fame!"

Still when I was on WREB – a station Mrs. Williams listened to religiously – I did an interview with him when he was leaving the Hall and retiring. He seemed genuinely pleased to see me and to be interviewed.

I wonder if anyone in the current Hall of Fame staff knows who Williams was. I sort of doubt it.

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