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Friday, August 6, 2010

Mason Square in Springfield will be Center of Hoops on Sunday

The Springfield Republican and their online site -- -- have done a tremendous job of advancing the 2010 Basketball Hall of Fame Enshrinement, scheduled for next Friday night, August 13th.

One of the noteworthy activities leading up to the Enshrinement is the dedication of a monument at Mason Square (State and Sherman Streets) where the very first game of basketball was played.  

Here is an interesting story on the concept and the monument:

There are many ways the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame has collaborated with the Springfield community for an eight-day celebration of Enshrinement 2010 – including the unveiling of a monument on Sunday at 2 p.m. in Mason Square that marks the exact spot where basketball was first played.

Invented by Dr. James Naismith, basketball was first played on Dec. 21, 1891, in a YMCA gymnasium on State and Sherman Streets in Springfield’s Mason Square.

Leading the charge to bring a monument to Mason Square celebrating his neighborhood’s role in the history of basketball was Aaron Williams.

“We were instrumental in assisting Aaron Williams in turning his vision into a reality with a monument that surpassed his and his neighborhood’s wildest dreams,” said John L. Doleva, president and CEO of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

But before telling the rest of the story, it is first important to travel back in time three years ago when Doleva was approached after Enshrinement ceremonies by the vice president of the Chicago Bulls.
“He told me it was a great Enshrinement, but expressed his dismay that no one could show him where the first actual game was played, and that always stuck in my mind, “ said Doleva.
“Then Aaron called me with his idea and I thought it was time to put some heads together,” he added.
The result was a major project to recognize Mason Square’s unique place in basketball history that had broad and enthusiastic support throughout Springfield from the neighborhoods, the city, and the Basketball Hall of Fame.

“I am just feeling so honored to be participating in this project and happy that it will be ready for this month’s Enshrinement,” said Williams, who got the project rolling with the support and encouragement of neighborhood businesses and civic leaders.

Enter Brian Hanlon into the picture.

“Brian is our official sculptor and a wonderful friend of the Hall,” said Doleva.
The master sculptor has created iconic physical awards for the Hall of Fame including the “Spires” given to each Hall of Famer upon their induction.

“John approached me with the challenge of creating something for a founding event, and I really didn’t understand what it was all about until I met Aaron and saw his passion for the project….he is Mr. Springfield,” said Hanlon.

“To be able to identify the actual spot in Mason Square where basketball was founded was of great interest to me as a history nerd,” he added.

Then there was the question of what to do.
“A statue of Naismith seemed too easy to mark the spot, and it’s been done already, so I tried to come up with something symbolic,” said Hanlon.

The final concept was to create two brass statues, one seven-feet in height, of a player from 1891 passing a basketball to a youth of today from Mason Square that symbolically mark the game’s beginning, its impact today, and the future impact of basketball on the world stage.

“We actually modeled one of the statues after a boy now living in Mason Square,” said Hanlon. A call was also made to Patrick J. Sullivan, executive director, Springfield Parks, Recreation and Building Management for his assistance.
“Jack Maloney, chairman of the Park Commission and I are very pleased to have worked on this community collaboration with the Hall of Fame in seeing that the actual birthplace of basketball gets its proper recognition in the city. It has truly been a tremendous effort on the part of everyone who got involved to make this a reality,” said Sullivan, who offered the services of Michael Tully, senior park project manager, to help on the project.

“Mike took my concept to a whole other level. His creativity in layout is to be commended and the city is lucky to have him as an employee,” said Hanlon.

It was Tully who helped to identify a location with streetscape improvements just across the street from the former location of the original YMCA gymnasium where the sculptures could stand upon a 30-foot circumference area of granite and brick to create the look of a contemporary basketball. He also suggested the four glass panels surrounding the sculptures that will be up-lit at night and etched with historical information, including the story of the first game and the significance of the Mason Square location.

“This was all thought about with lighting in mind to make sure that the monument is a 24/7 beacon of the actual location where basketball was invented, as well as to deter vandalism,” said Tully.
The glass panels will have green technology of LED tape lighting that will accent the glass etchings at night. The lights will change on 15-second intervals to provide an engaging factor in the evening. There will also be a beaming light that shoots out of the bronze basketball. The glass panels will be tempered glass and encased making it very hard to break.

“From the start we have engaged the community to make sure that they embraced this idea because without their consent it wouldn’t have happened, and we had the support of Springfield Mayor Domenic J. Sarno as well. It was a great collaborative effort of local private business, local government and big citizenship that made this project happen,” said Tully.

While a McDonald’s restaurant stands on the exact spot where the first game was played, a second piece will eventually mark the actual site where basketball was first played, he added.

Of course, nothing comes for free, and money had to be raised for the project amounting to $100,000, noted Doleva. Hanlon provided at no cost the design and hand sculpting of the pieces, a $50,000 cost savings. Donors to date include Springfield College, MassMutual Financial Group, Chicago Bulls, Bay State Gas, Baystate Health, Palmer Paving, Hampden Bank, and Southworth Paper Company.
Springfield City Councilor E. Henry Twiggs, who represents the Mason Square district and who was one of the influential persons Williams contacted when he was growing support for the project, said he is proud of Williams and “his tenacity in bringing recognition to Mason Square where basketball was first played.”

“The residents of Mason Square have expressed to me their enormous pride in the fact they are finally being recognized for what they gave the world,” said Twiggs.

Twiggs also expressed his hopes about not only the monument’s learning potential - five public schools are within walking distance of the monument - but its economic potential. He sees the new monument bringing tourists to Mason Square, one of the poorest areas in the city of Springfield, encouraging new business and eventually creating additional jobs.

Following the official unveiling, there will be a Mason Square Enshrinement Basketball Festival at 2:30 p.m. presented by Nike and the Basketball Hall of Fame that will feature music, three basketball games and various cultural events celebrating the invention of the game. 

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