Indiana snapshot: Basketball temples take center stage


INDIANAPOLIS — George McGinnis remembers every detail from that night he listened to the Indiana state basketball championship in the parking lot of Hinkle Fieldhouse.

It was 1966, and he and his Indianapolis Washington teammates sat in awe as the crowd roared inside the big, brick basketball temple. Like thousands of teenagers across the state, McGinnis and his friends dreamed about playing inside Hinkle, where champions were crowned, hardwood dreams became reality and folk heroes were born.

Even today, at age 70 and after a Hall of Fame career, it’s one of McGinnis’ fondest memories because it helped spur Washington to return to Hinkle three years later and complete a perfect season, just like Oscar Robertson did in 1956.

“It was just packed,” McGinnis recalled. “There wasn’t really a place to park, so we parked illegally and listened to the game on the radio but you could hear the crowd after every basket. We said to ourselves ‘That’s going to be us one day, that’s going to be us.””

It’s one of many yarns that define Indiana basketball and the arenas that helped create its legacy. Six will go on full display when the NCAA Tournament tips off later this week.

The meccas only start with Hinkle’s sunlit court, which will hosts its first tourney games since 1940 — 14 years prior to Bobby Plump of tiny Milan High making the real shot that inspired “Hoosiers.”

Five national championship banners hang from the rafters inside Assembly Hall, home of the Indiana Hoosiers. Three of those titles came under former coach Bob Knight, including the 1975-76 team — the last undefeated Division I men’s champion.

“The hair on the back of your neck stood up when you ran out on the floor to the roar of Hoosier Nation,” said Kent Benson, a starter on that title team. “It shook the building. It was absolutely deafening it was so loud.”

At Purdue’s Mackey Arena, fans will find John Wooden’s retired number. And when it’s at full capacity the sounds resound off the metallic, domed roof, making life as difficult for musicians as Boilermakers opponents.

The other three are just a short drive from Hinkle: Indiana Farmers Coliseum, which opened on the state fairgrounds in 1939 and played host to the Indiana Pacers’ three ABA titles; Lucas Oil Stadium, home of the NFL’s Colts and where Gordon Hayward’s half-court heave came within inches of giving Butler the 2010 national championship; and Bankers Life Fieldhouse, which hosted three games during the 2000 NBA Finals — the first of Kobe Bryant’s five title runs.

And the history of these venues stretches well beyond basketball.

The coliseum was built as part of President Franklin Roosevelt’s “New Deal” legislation and hosted Indiana’s basketball state championships briefly in the 1940s when Hinkle served as a World War II military barracks. The Beatles performed at the coliseum in 1964 and it’s where McGinnis watched his first pro game and made his pro debut in 1971.

“The fans were right on top of you and there was just an air about it — the way the fans were yakking. And there was no room for diving in for a loose ball. If you did, you’d kill somebody,” said McGinnis, who returned for the 2014 reopening after a $53 million renovation. “It looks nice. The seats are great.”

Assembly Hall has hosted many big acts ranging from Elvis Presley to Bob Dylan and Bob Hope to Johnny Cash. The Jackson Five played there, too, and President Barack Obama and Bill Gates both spoke inside the Hoosiers home arena, which served as the site of the U.S. Olympic men’s basketball tryouts in 1984 and later became the scene of Knight’s infamous chair toss.

Mackey Arena opened in 1967 by pitting Wooden, Lew Alcindor and mighty UCLA against Rick Mount, the 1966 Mr. Basketball winner and Sports Illustrated coverboy, making his college debut. President Ronald Reagan spoke there in 1987.

Lucas Oil Stadium and Bankers Life Fieldhouse, meanwhile, have hosted dozens of major concerts and events but are best-known for their sports ties.

The retractable-roof stadium will host its third national championship game April 5. It served as the Super Bowl site in February 2012 and college football’s title game will be played there in January.

Bankers Life, home of the Pacers has hosted everything from hockey games to professional bull riding to the 2011 NCAA women’s title game. Michael Phelps even swam in a temporary pool there, constructed for the 2004 FINA World Championships.

But talk to most people around the state and one place still rules: Hinkle, the beloved old barn built in 1928 that got a $36 million overhaul in 2014. Left alone were those signature windows high above the court.

“We’d drive there in the summer, just sit in the parking lot, thinking and each one of us would be like (broadcaster) Tom Carnegie calling the game: ‘He takes the shot … ,'” said Steve Downing, a high school and college teammate of McGinnis who is now the athletic director at nearby Marian College. “We would just go play basketball out at Speedway or wherever and on the way home, we would drive by Hinkle Fieldhouse and just sit in that parking lot and daydream about basketball.”


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