Close your eyes and imagine artifacts and collectibles from 60 sports Halls of Fames, sports governing bodies and other top athletic organizations collected in a single space — in the city that never sleeps. Open your eyes and you’ll see that you’ve imagined the newly-opened Sports Museum of America in New York City.
Besides its wide attraction dedicated to all sports, the Sports Museum of America will host the first women’s sports hall of fame, will be the new permanent home of the Billie Jean King International Women’s Sports Center, and also the new home of the Heisman Trophy – first awarded in 1935 – and its annual presentation.
The new museum showcases exhibits, memorabilia, stories and heroes that resonate with fans of all ages, said Laura Purcell, the museum’s curator.
“Its 19 galleries are filled with more than 600 artifacts, 1,100 photographs and 20 original films that represent sports from baseball to football, basketball to soccer, figure skating to extreme sports, and everything in between,” she said.
Purcell pointed out that 98 percent of the artifacts in the museum are on loan, some for as brief as four months, but most for up to two years. The museum reached out to a wide array of groups and people to accumulate the artifacts needed, she added. Ultimately, more than 200 different groups became lending sources, as well as approximately 120 individual athletes.
“Some athletes have loaned us artifacts for up to five years,” she added.
Sports Museum of America has more than two dozen mechanical and computer interactive exhibits that allow visitors to get close to a sport. In the hockey exhibit, Intensity on Ice, you can step into a goal, put your face inside an interactive goalie mask and experience the view a goalie gets as a 120 mph slap shot comes rocketing toward him.
In the auto racing area, titled The Need for Speed, visitors can strap themselves into a driver’s seat as the Daytona 500 speeds by them. And if being on the track isn’t enough, there’s a Pit Crew Video, the Race Within the Race, that showcases the tension and teamwork of a pit crew during a NASCAR race.
Visitors will be able to experience the pressure of an NFL official who has to make the correct call on the field; compare the heft of baseball bats used by Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr. and Ichiro Suzuki; and in the Fan Culture gallery, test their skills against broadcasting legends when they broadcast a play-by-play from the famed “Shot Heard ’Round the World” or other moments in sports history in the Broadcaster’s Booth.
Artifacts in the museum include a souvenir boxing glove signed by both Muhammad Ali and Joe Frasier from their second fight at Madison Square Garden on Jan. 28, 1974; a fourth grade report card of Billie Jean King where the teacher highlights her athletic prowess on the playground; and Michael Jordan’s number 9 jersey from the 1992 Summer Olympics in Barcelona, Spain, when members of the Dream Team were gold medalists.
Jesse Owens is represented in a photographic image taken in front of 26 Broadway (the museum’s home) during a ticker tape parade held in his honor by the city of New York after the 1936 Berlin Olympics, as well as a diary that he kept during those Olympics and his invitation to have lunch with the Queen of England.
On display is the American flag that goalie Jim Craig wore after the U.S. hockey team upset the heavily favored Russian team in the Miracle on Ice during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y., and the number 48 car driven by Jimmie Johnson in 2006, the year he earned NASCAR’s top title as the Nextel Cup Champion.
The museum also features themed sections such as Dare to Dream: Dreaming Big, a display that shows professional athletes as children before they realized their athletic dreams. Expressed through film, artifacts and images – such as Derek Jeter’s Little League uniform and Jeff Gordon’s first racing trophy – the gallery calls to mind an individual’s dreams of how they once imagined themselves as a star athlete.
Olympics: When the World Comes Together tells the stories of America’s greatest athletes and teams and has two interactive databases – Innovators (athletes who introduced something new to the game) and Record Shatterers (those who have excelled at their sport) – that visitors can access and explore.
Barrier Breakers is a themed section that deals with progressive social change in sports, while Sports Nation: Where Everybody Plays, pays homage to weekend warrior sports – bowling, volleyball, horseshoes and softball – as well as having areas dedicated to cycling, horse racing, boxing, extreme games, lacrosse and running.
Located at 26 Broadway, the corner of Broadway and Beaver Street in the heart of lower Manhattan, the museum is very near to the Statue of Liberty and the Ellis Island ferries, Wall Street, South Street Seaport and the 9/11 memorial that’s currently being constructed.
The museum’s founder and chief executive officer, Philip Schwalb, said, “The Sports Museum of America will, for the first time, offer visitors one destination where they can come to experience the feeling of triumph at the core of all great athletes and all sports.”
The inspiration for the museum came in 2001 when Schwalb was making his way through the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., and thinking that a version of that facility would be a huge attraction in New York City.
Using his own money, Schwalb worked with the Halls of Fame for the major sports in America and got them to come in as partners on the Sports Museum of America. Likewise, Schwalb established partnerships with the governing bodies and athletic organizations responsible for all the major and minor sports in the country.
Schwalb noted that it took the help of athletic organization partners and the generosity of athletes to be able to put the venture together, but that with their support “we’ll be able to share athlete’s stories, and through them, showcase the excitement, grandeur and significance of sports in American culture,” he said.
Museum partners include the USA Football and the Pro Football Hall of Fame, NASCAR, USA Basketball and the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the NCAA Hall of Champions, USA Hockey, the Hockey Hall of Fame, US Soccer and the Soccer Hall of Fame, the Women’s Sports Foundation, the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, US National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame and Museum, USA Track & Field, and the National Track and Field Hall of Fame, among others.
The museum’s honorary board of trustees includes seven-time NBA All-Star Jason Kidd, Heisman Trophy winner Doug Flutie, Olympic Hall of Famer Mary Lou Retton, former World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Joe Frazier, racing legend Mario Andretti, tennis great Martina Navratilova and Basketball Hall of Famer Julius “Dr. J” Erving.
The museum has a retail store with more than 4,000 square feet of sports merchandise and memorabilia, as well as 8,000 square feet of space for catered special events. For more information, call the museum at 212-747-0900 or visit www.sportsmuseum.com.