Basketball Hall again misses its shot to honor Jeannette

Bill Tanton

February 11, 1993|By Bill Tanton

The Basketball Hall of Fame has blown it. Again.

This week it announced the names of eight players who will be enshrined at Springfield, Mass., on May 10.

And the name of former Baltimore Bullets player-coach Harry "Buddy" Jeannette is not among them.

Some of the new inductees -- Julius Erving and Bill Walton -- were as good as they get in basketball.

But this year the Hall of Fame has chosen to honor a Soviet woman, Ulyana Semyanova. It will also take in Dick McGuire, of the New York Knicks, and a former Baltimore Bullet, 6 foot 11 Walt Bellamy, who played here from 1961 to 1966.

But no Buddy Jeannette.

"Sixteen straight years we've tried to get Bud in the Hall of Fame," says Seymour Smith, a retired member of The Sun sports department who covered the old Bullets.

"We've been sending the letters of recommendation and Buddy's resume, and still they haven't picked him. It's a shame. He belongs in the Hall of Fame."

When Jeannette was Baltimore's biggest sports hero in the late '40s, Jim Lacy was playing basketball at Loyola College and led the nation in scoring. Lacy remembers Jeannette. Lacy was also a member of the Bullets' advisory board when Bellamy played here.

"Buddy was a better player in his day than Walt Bellamy was in his," Lacy said yesterday.

Said the man who owned the Jeannette-led Bullets, Jake Embry, who, at 84, is still sharp of mind:

"Buddy was better than Bellamy and better than Dick McGuire, too. McGuire was a great passer. Buddy did everything. He even coached the team when we won the championship in 1948.

"It's a disgrace that they pick some of these people -- including a Soviet woman -- and leave Buddy out. The whole damn thing burns me up."

When Buddy Jeannette joined the Bullets in 1947, Baltimore was beginning to emerge from a half century as a minor-league town. The Orioles were still in the International League. The Colts had just come into the All-America Conference. The pro hockey team played in the Eastern League.

It was the Bullets of Jeannette, Paul "The Bear" Hoffman, Mike Bloom, Kleggie Hermsen and Chick Reiser who were the first to bring a big-league championship to this city.

The Bullets beat the Boston Celtics and the New York Knicks and won the championship of the Basketball Association of America, the forerunner to the NBA, and Jeannette was their driving force.

"Buddy knew how to win," recalled Embry. "During the playoffs in the championship year, we were behind in Philadelphia at halftime by 16 points. I went to the dressing room, and the security people said, 'You'd better not go in there. The way it sounds, that coach is going to kill somebody.'

"I went in, and Buddy lashed that team like I've never heard players lashed. Of course they came out and won the game in the second half.

"When [Knicks owner] Ned Irish brought his team here he was so sure they were going to eliminate us from the playoffs that he hired a parlor car to wine and dine the New York press to celebrate on their way back.

"With two minutes to go, the Knicks led by eight points, but Buddy stole the ball twice from Carl Braun -- Braun had that high dribble -- and Buddy scored both times. We scored 10 points in two minutes and won the game.

"Ned Irish couldn't believe it. And to have it happen in our old Coliseum onMonroe Street, which might have held 4,000 when pTC we packed them in the corners. Irish said from that moment on he was the enemy of Baltimore."

That's the kind of thing Jeannette should be remembered for -- but obviously is not at the Basketball Hall of Fame.

Jeannette was a pro basketball pioneer. After graduating from Washington and Jefferson, he played 12 years pro, most of them in the old National League.

But the Basketball Hall of Fame is not just for NBA players; otherwise how could the Soviet woman be getting in?

It's for players like Jeannette who played in towns like Sheboygan, Wis., and Warren, Pa., and Fort Wayne, players who had beer thrown on them by hostile fans and sometimes had to fight their way out of bandbox arenas. Buddy Jeannette helped establish pro basketball.

Jeannette and his wife, Bonnie, are retired and living in Nashua, N.H. Buddy, at 75, occasionally travels the 70 miles to Boston to see the Celtics and to visit with Red Auerbach. Buddy recently attended the funeral of Celtics announcer Johnny Most.

Jeannette has no delusions about basketball today compared to his day. He realizes that, in his sport, the players get bigger and better and there is no end in sight.

"People up here say there'll never be another Larry Bird," Buddy was saying by phone yesterday. "Hell, they used to say there'd never be another George Mikan, but guys today can run rings around Mikan.

"Everything's different now. Players travel in jets. I tell these kids in the league today that I used to drive our team in a 1928 Pierce Arrow. They never even heard of a Pierce Arrow. One night I drove 35 miles in a snowstorm to a game in Sheboygan -- with no lights."

The person least upset about Jeannette's not getting in the Hall of Fame appears to be Buddy himself.

"I don't give a damn," he said. "I've finally gotten in on the pension. The Bear [Hoffman] did a lot of work to get that for us. That check is there every month. And they're talking about raising it."

"That sounds like Buddy," Jake Embry said with a little laugh.

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