Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Dressing the part

Dave Haugh of the Chicago Tribune (and a fellow Ball State grad) stuck this landing before I could get to it. If you want to honor the life force of Indiana, why not pick something real?

Instead the Indiana Pacers went Hollywood, to loud hosannas from every quarter. And I get it. I do. Like Haugh, who grew up in a small Indiana town himself, "Hoosiers" gets me every time, no matter how often I watch it. I can quote Coach Dale chapter and verse. I can diagram the picket fence and run it at ya. And I'd have benched Rade, too, the little goober.

It's quite simply one of the two or three best sports movies ever made, and I'm not just saying that because I grew up in Indiana listening to Hilliard Gates (brought to you, of course, by Peter Eckrich and Sons). OK, so maybe that is why I'm saying it, a little. It's still true, dammit.

And so when the Pacers unveiled special Hickory Husker uniforms they'll wear on occasion to honor both the 30th anniversary of the film's release and Indiana's enduring love affair with high school buckets, I immediately wanted to run out and buy one. And I wondered aloud if, when the Pacers wear them, head coach Frank Vogel will be compelled to wear Shooter's gettin'-married suit. It is, after all, a humdinger.

But Haugh's right. If you're gonna honor basketball in Indiana, why not break out throwback 1954 Milan unis -- the real team upon which "Hoosiers" is based, and whose story remains, for better or worse, the seminal Indiana basketball fable?

That question has an obvious answer, and you see it every time you walk into a McDonald's these days and immediately get assaulted by Minions. Corporate tie-ins are the grease for the wheel in America now. And so McDonald's promotes the "Minions" movie, and the Pacers promote the 30th anniversary of "Hoosiers," and so on, and so on.

The problem in the latter instance, if you're the Pacers, is you're not so much honoring your state's history as obscuring it. Out-of-staters are already under the impression Hickory actually exists, and Jimmy Chitwood is the greatest player in Indiana high school basketball history. And didn't he go on to Butler to play for Brad Stevens, spurning the entreaties of Coach K and Coach Cal?

You see what I'm getting at. Jimmy Chitwood didn't exist, but Oscar Robertson and Rick Mount and Damon Bailey did. And they were better than Hollywood could ever have imagined. So why not honor them?

Milan's the obvious choice for that, but I've got another one. It's the state champions who came after Milan, the state champions who were the most transformative in Indiana high school basketball history. And -- bonus -- they were from Indianapolis.

How awesome would it be for the Pacers, instead of Hickory unis, to take the floor some night wearing throwback Crispus Attucks unis? The team of Oscar and Willie Merriweather and Sheddrick Mitchell and Ray Crowe? The team that made Indiana high school basketball ecumenical by becoming the first all-black school to win the Indiana state championship 60 years ago?

The corporate tie-ins might suffer a bit. But if you're gonna honor history, honor history, not fiction.

Heck. I bet even Jimmy Chitwood would be cool with that.  

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