Proposed Sports Hall of Fame seeking nominations for inaugural class

By Updated: April 01, 2019 6:15 AM CT | Published: March 29, 2019 6:34 PM CT

There are loads of famous athletes with ties to Memphis either by birth, a stop in the minor leagues or a local legend whose talents were honed in the Bluff City and made their mark elsewhere.

Whatever the criteria, the Memphis Sports Council is interested in which athletes Memphians think are worthy of the inaugural Memphis Sports Hall of Fame. The council – a division of Memphis Tourism – is accepting nominations for the first class.

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They ask the public to provide suggestions in categories such as athletes, coaches and contributors. Until April 5, the council will accept nominations from any current or former Memphian. A 35-member advisory committee will select the initial Hall of Fame class, announcing the members on May 21, coinciding with the city’s bicentennial celebration.

“We’re honoring people for sports excellence, people that had an impact on Memphis in some form or fashion,” Kevin Kane, president and chief executive officer of Memphis Tourism, said. “That’s the whole intent of this – to memorialize and to honor people that have made an impact on this city through sports.”

The Hall of Fame will sit on the press level of AutoZone Park,  “a free attraction” open to the public attending events at the ballpark or visitors on non-game days. Kane said $250,000 in seed money will come from the council and Memphis Tourism. “We’re going to have to go out and probably raise another million bucks,” he said.

Organizers have divided nominees into three categories: players, coaches and contributors. The latter group would include journalists, broadcasters, team owners and business leaders significant to Memphis’ sports history.

The criteria of “Memphis sports person” seems to include those who are Memphis natives, those who lived here at some point and those who passed through as members of teams in the city.

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“If they had some type of connection to Memphis, and people think they should be in the Memphis Sports Hall of Fame, they could be voted in,” Kane said.

In addition to those recognized in the Hall of Fame, the 10,000-square-foot space will feature famous events in the city’s sports history: the 2002 Lenox Lewis-Mike Tyson championship fight at The Pyramid; Albert Pujols’ home run to give the Memphis Redbirds the 2000 Pacific Coast League championship; the Russwood Park fire in 1960; Al Geiberger’s 59 in the second round of the 1977 Danny Thomas Memphis Classic.

That was the same year President Gerald Ford recorded a hole-in-one during the tournament’s pro-am.

“We are looking for the best athletes, coaches and for those who have supported the development or advancement of sports in our community,” Malvin Gipson, executive director of the sports council, said in a release announcing the plan.

Some of the recognition will spread beyond sports accomplishments to how sports impacted the struggles of the city. One of the most notable is when Melrose stars Larry Finch and Ronnie Robinson decided to sign with Memphis State in 1969, less than two years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Many believe Finch and Robinson choosing Memphis State at the time helped soothe some of the deep wounds from the civil rights icon’s slaying.

“Those guys are clearly one of those moments,” Kane said. “The Larry Finch-Ronnie Robinson story is something we think needs to be told in this museum and this experience. …We’ve already talked about what Ronnie and Larry meant to Memphis two years after the King assassination. It will clearly be a defining moment in sports in Memphis and the impact they had.”

The nomination form is available here.


Memphis Sports Hall of Fame Kevin Kane Autozone Park Larry Finch
Clay Bailey

Clay Bailey

Clay Bailey, a lifelong Memphian, has worked as a reporter in the city almost four decades. He concentrated on suburban coverage. He also is a freelance sportswriter for the Associated Press.

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