“While it was invented in Massachusetts, basketball really had its beginning in Indiana, which remains today the center of the sport” — James Naismith, 1936.
Those words ring true more than 70 years later. Indiana and basketball go hand in hand, like peanut butter & jelly. No other state can lay claim to the rich basketball heritage that Indiana has. From its home grown legends like Tony Hinkle, John Wooden, Oscar Robertson, George McGinnis, and Larry Bird, to its legendary courts such as Assembly Hall, Mackey Arena, The Wigwam, Chrysler Arena, and a little place called “Hoosier Gym”, to many Hoosiers, basketball has a way of making all that’s wrong with life right. It’s about legends, stories of legends, and the hallowed grounds where those legends roamed.
In 1985, writer/producer Angelo Pizzo , a Bloomington, Indiana native, set out to capture that feeling on film. He got his inspiration from the 1954 Indiana state high school championship team from Milan High School. The result was the release in 1986 of Hoosiers starring Gene Hackman, Dennis Hopper and Barbara Hershey.
Pizzo centered the movie around a fictitious town’s high school basketball team, the Hickory Huskers. Filmed in several areas throughout central Indiana, he found the perfect spot for the Huskers home court. The Knightstown Gym was built in 1922 and served as that high school’s basketball court up until the 1960’s.
Recently I was driving through the area and as luck would have it, the now “Hoosier Gym” was open. The sign on the door showed it closed at 5pm and it was 5:05, but I walked in anyway. Just inside the doorway is a small lobby that has display cases filled with Knightstown memorabilia as well as that from the movie.
When I was signing my name in the guestbook, I could hear someone bouncing a ball just around the corner in the gym. The echo was identical to a scene in the early part of the movie when “Jimmy Chitwood” was in there by himself shooting. As I was heading in, I half expected to see Jimmy in there in his white t-shirt and blue jeans.
However, it was Tom, one of the local caretakers of Hoosier Gym who was getting a few jumpshots in before he locked the doors for the day. Tom was kind enough to show me around, tell me what I didn’t already know about the gym, and showed me the the locker room where one of the scenes was filmed.
I felt like a kid in a candy store. Not only was Hoosiers voted the best sports movie of all time by USA Today and ESPN, it’s probably my favorite movie of all time of any genre. It was approaching 5:30, and I knew I had kept Tom way too long, but he seemed more than happy to oblige. He tossed me a ball and gave me the chance to take a few shots. Just out of the 4 or 5 shots I took, I knew that court would be very good to my rusty jumpshot.
But I’ll be back there for sure. Hoosier Gym is open 7 days a week for walkers, receptions, group events, and guys like me who just want to show up and soak it all in.