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There’s Even Room for Romar in the Basketball Hall of Fame

Hartford Courant

Part of the world’s most extensive Romar collection hangs in a back room at the Basketball Hall of Fame, away from public view.

The legend of Lorenzo Romar, a 6-foot-1 guard, began when he averaged 9.3 points as a University of Washington senior. Or was it when the Golden State Warriors selected him in the seventh round of the 1980 draft, or when he averaged 7.6 points in his best National Basketball Assn. season, was waived three times in little more than a year, played for the Continental Basketball Assn.'s Evansville Thunder and Tampa Bay Thrillers in 1984-85, or . . .

Before the 24-second clock runs out, let’s toss this one up: What in the name of Topsy Del Gobbo is a Lorenzo Romar uniform doing here anyway?

It’s time Romar thanked the Detroit Pistons for waiving him Nov. 8, 1984. He went to Milwaukee, a free agent. His Detroit uniform went to the Hall of Fame, a goodwill contribution.

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Sometimes basketball fame is nothing more than convenience. The Pistons didn’t need Lorenzo Romar, or his uniform. The Hall of Fame needed a Piston uniform for an exhibit of representative NBA uniforms. The rest, as they say at 1150 West Columbus Ave., is basketball history.

“Me? In the Hall of Fame?” said Romar, 30, who became a Christian six years ago and joined Athletes in Action in San Diego. “I wasn’t even aware of it. It’s a complete shock. And I’m not sure it makes a lot of sense.”

Well, history at the Hall of Fame can mean many things. It can mean George Mikan, Bob Pettit, Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, Wilt Chamberlain, Pete Maravich and Julius Erving. And it can mean Lorenzo Romar, John Paxson, Mark McNamara, Clemon Johnson, Moore’s All-American Redheads, the South Philadelphia Hebrew Assn. and the menu from Larry Bird’s Boston Connection restaurant in French Lick, Ind.

“Maybe,” Romar said, “they’re trying to draw some sort of contrast.”

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Much of the contrast--and a surprising number of genuine basketball artifacts--is tucked away beyond the “Spalding Shoot Out,” past the Bob Coyne cartoons, the Sports Illustrated covers and the NBA locker-stall exhibit.

In an isolated storage area not much bigger than the Boston Celtics’ locker room, a Romar uniform shares rack space with those of Earl Jones of Springarn High School in Washington, D.C., Neal Walk of Florida (the difference between him and UCLA’s Lew Alcindor was a coin flip in the 1969 draft), LaRue Martin of Loyola, John Paxson of the San Antonio Spurs and Clemon Johnson of the Philadelphia 76ers.

From the sublime to the generic: jerseys from the University of Connecticut (women’s), Slippery Rock College and Punxsatawney High School. Detroit Piston fans should note that the latter was acquired for a Groundhog Day display, not for a tribute to Coach Chuck Daly.

Here one can find trophies, stained green by time, saluting national industrial league champions from 30 years past, Civilian Conservation Corps and Caterpillar (as in tractor) AAU jerseys, a watch by Elgin commemorating the 1944 NBL champion Zollner Pistons.

And, oh, those basketballs. A red, white and blue ABA edition (“Dave DeBusschere, Commissioner”) signed by Julius Erving or immortalizing a 92-foot field goal by the Pacers’ Jerry Harkness that beat the Dallas Chaparrals Nov. 19, 1967. Even a ball from the 1924 National Interscholastic championship game--Windsor (Colo.) 25, Yankton (S.D.) 6.

Follow the bouncing balls and you’ll find one dribbled 451.8 miles from Hodgdon, Maine, June 14-21, 1984 for the opening of the new Hall. Do not, under any circumstances, overlook the nonstop dribbling record of 347.2 miles at Covenant Children’s Hospital in Decatur, Ill., Aug. 8-11, 1981.

Authenticity? Be serious. There’s more tread left on Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s head.

Could those be Bob Lanier’s size-22 sneakers? And, there, below a tabletop with Michael Jordan’s NBA All-Star jersey and Elgin Baylor’s Seattle University jersey, Spud Webb’s garment bag. Hold on . . . sorry, it’s another Lanier colossus, a white canvas Converse, in a king-size sneaker bag. The other sneaker was part of the U.S. exhibit at last summer’s World Expo in Brisbane, Australia. The Hall’s prized Lanier pieces are a bronzed pair on display.

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Spike Lee and Michael Jordan weren’t even Air-born when Lanier first laced up what may be the most famous artifacts in basketball history.

“You’re talking industrial-strength odor-eaters,” says Michael Brooslin, the Hall’s curator.

Behind the Hall’s storage walls are 150-200 basketballs, 300 uniforms, a table of trophies, trinkets and watches, six shelves of sneakers, pennants, plaques, cartoons and life-size cutouts of Parade All-Americans. Boxes are stacked on top of boxes. And still more boxes: The Hall’s inventory grows by 300-400 items yearly. Only a small percentage makes it to the big show, the Hall of Fame floor.

Some trophies are broken. You’ll have to excuse the shooter’s shattered left leg on the 1980 Pepsi-Cola NBA Old-Timers game trophy. But the gold touchtone phone presented to Ed Gottlieb at the 1969 NBA All-Star game probably could get through to the Miami Heat hotline.

Some, like the 1986 Hall of Fame game trophy, are unwanted.

“I think it was supposed to be given to the Celtics,” Brooslin said. “They never took it.”

Politics (President Calvin Coolidge), royalty (Spain’s Prince Felipe de Borbon), Hollywood (Cary Grant), fantasy (Linus, Snoopy, Charlie Brown), Lana Turner and Andre Turner converge here as unlikely memories of a game invented in 1891 by Dr. James Naismith, a Springfield College professor.

How to organize such a mess? Andy Warhol’s estate recruited Sotheby’s. The Hall of Fame has only Brooslin to sort, document and organize an intriguing collection from the 1890s to the 1980s. Brooslin, 33, became the Hall’s first curator almost two years ago.

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“Virtually everything was in boxes before I came here,” Brooslin said. “Now we pretty much know what we have. But it’s a five-year type of deal. It looks like we’ll go to a computer next year. That will help.’

Until then, Brooslin sits before stacks of index cards, tagging and cataloguing. Although Brooslin admits to visiting the old Hall of Fame at Springfield College only once while a student at nearby American International, he says he’s having the time of his life. Beats his last job by a longshot--curator of the National Rollerskating Museum in Lincoln, Neb.

Some items Brooslin will never ID, such as the faded orange tanktops with stenciled numbers, no player or team names. The tag reads, “Orange tank, unidentified.”

“It looks like, ‘Why the heck do I even have these?’ ” he says.

On a recent afternoon Brooslin returned from the basketball shelves, his eyes as big as the Walter Brown Trophy.

“We’ve never had a complete inventory,” he says. “I didn’t even know I had this Hollywood stars basketball until two days ago.”

Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, Tony Curtis. Lana Turner, Barbara Stanwyck, Hayley Mills. Gene Kelly, Doris Day, Gina Lollabrigida. Tony Randall, Sandra Dee, Rock Hudson. It’s a bouncing Hollywood autograph book, auctioned by Dorothy Lamour to raise funds for the 1968 Olympic team. The Beta Shoe Company bought it for $285.

If only the names were so clear on the lace-up ball signed by Calvin Coolidge. His signature and the year, 1924, are clearly visible. So is John C. Jeets, tournament director. That’s about it.

“I’ve gone through it and through it,” Brooslin said. “I can’t even figure out what tournament it is.”

A classic ball--so, it looks like a football exposed to a mutant air pump--with a president’s signature doesn’t make the cut. It sits next to a ball dribbled 185 miles by Boxboro High School on Dec. 23, 1973.

“We like to use it not so much for the signature,” Brooslin said, “but it’s one of the better lace-up balls we have.

Collectors pay up to $5,000 for a uniform. The Coolidge ball?

“For that particular basketball,” says Carol Sherman of Profiles in History, an autograph broker in Beverly Hills, Calif., “we’d probably price it at $500-$1,000. If we knew who else signed it, it might be worth much more.”

Profiles prices the “Hollywood” ball at $750-$1,000. Of course, once in the Hall, always in the Hall.

“Collectors,” Brooslin said, his faced curled in a sour look. “I don’t even want to talk about it. With old stuff, it can be difficult for us. But anything new, you know who’s going to get it.”

Remember the NBC peacock, brought to you in living color? Presenting Ira Harge’s contribution to basketball history, a 1971-72 ABA Miami Floridians uniform: black, orange with a magenta stripe and stirrups. Let’s be kind and say the design lies somewhere between Bo Ellis and Alexander Julian.

And no ABA collection is complete without a Marvin Barnes (never inducted, never indicted) original, “Spirits of St. Louis” printed in orange over the Lindbergh plane with “Marvin” on the back.

For pure, glow-in-the-dark slickness, we suggest a red satin jacket with an Indian emblem worn by Clarence (Bevo) Francis. An appropriately flashy outfit for someone who scored 113 points for Rio Grande College against Hillsdale Feb. 2, 1954.

Francis’ jacket was displayed in the old Hall, more a shrine for New England basketball. Now the uniforms of Walter Luckett (Kolbe-Bridgeport), Tom Roy (South Windsor) and Ron Perry (Catholic Memorial) and a ball commemorating Danny Moore’s 71-point night for South Catholic Feb. 13, 1970 are here, in the Hall of Fame but not quite.

Well, take heart. Fillipe de Borbon’s Celtic jersey, a replica of that given Spain’s prince at the McDonald’s Open last year, didn’t make it. Even though, Brooslin says, “It’s our first piece of royalty.”

You’ll also find Rick Barry’s No. 24 (Golden State Warriors), Oscar Robertson’s No. 4 from the Cincinnati Royals, Earl Monroe’s No. 10 from Winston-Salem, ceramic ashtrays made by Maurice Stokes, the uniform top of Dick Van Arsdale (Phoenix Suns) and the shorts of twin brother Tom, a crumbling banner from the 1904 Universal Expo in St. Louis.

And Lorenzo Romar.

“I’d love to give some reasons why I’m there,” Romar said, “but I can’t think of any statistic that would qualify me for the Hall of Fame. I had a career high of 22 points, twice. I had eight steals once. I had 14 assists a couple of times--guys are almost averaging that now.”

But he was waived at the right time. Twice. Don’t bother looking for Romar’s Warrior uniform. You’ll never see it. The other half of the Hall’s Romar collection is open year-round to the public, part of the NBA uniform exhibit.

It’s true. Lorenzo Romar, Detroit Pistons, has made it to the floor of the Hall of Fame.

Don’t give up hope, Mike Smrek.


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