Although he’d invented the sport in Springfield, Massachussetts in 1891, James Naismith later claimed, “Basketball really had its origin in Indiana, which remains the center of the sport.” After having observed the game Nasmith improvised from two peach baskets and a soccer ball, the Reverend Nicholas McKay brought the game home to the Crawfordsville, Indiana YMCA, which he ran. He hired the local blacksmith to forge a pair of metal hoops, which he hung with coffee sacks, to catch the ball. By 1911 the state had a high school tournament. The first eight champion teams came from schools in a three-county area to the northwest of Indianapolis. One of those towns, Wingate, boasted the first electric scoreboard in the country in its livery stable-turned-gymnasium. At the same time, major facilities were being constructed to house the game and its fans. The Hinkle Fieldhouse, built in 1928 on the Butler campus, was the largest basketball arena of its day, with a capacity for 15,000 spectators. Enthusiasm for the new sport mounted to the point that a new term was coined to express it. “Hoosier Hysteria” reached a fever pitch in 1954, when the team from the tiny town of Milan, Indiana defeated Muncie Central’s team, a school with an enrollment ten times the size.
As school systems became progressively consolidated, no team from a school with fewer than 500 students ever won the state championship again. In the sixties, however, ample interest and funding existed to launch a professional team. The Indiana Pacers, named for the pacecar in a race, entered the American Basketball Association in 1967. The ABA folded into the National Basketball Association in 1976, by which time the Pacers had already played two seasons in the newly constructed Market Street Arena in Indianapolis.
Though Market Street Arena was demolished in 2001, Indiana is still teeming with the legends and landmarks of basketball. Nine of the ten largest high school gyms in the country are in Indiana, including the New Castle Chrysler Fieldhouse, the largest high school gym in the world. Names such as Larry Bird, Bobby Knight, and Oscar Robertson are known around the world. Indiana has sent more high school players to college teams than all but one other state, yet the hype surrounding high school basketball in Indiana is unparalleled.
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