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Why Is Indiana So Passionate About Basketball?

Explaining Hysteria and the Hoosier State’s Obsession with Roundball

While Hoosier Hysteria isn’t a recognized medical condition, everyone in Indiana knows what it means. It’s a passion for the game of basketball in the Hoosier State, starting with a heavy interest in the state’s famous high school tournament. The term originated at the turn of the 20th century as the game spread across Indiana’s big cities to its small farming towns.

The birth of Indiana’s passion for basketball can be traced to the game’s inventor himself: Dr. James Naismith. Though he invented the sport in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1891, basketball’s inventor noticed how quickly the sport had caught on in Indiana.

Naismith came to Indiana in 1925 to see Indiana’s popular high school tournament. Shortly after, he wrote: “While the game was invented in Massachusetts, basketball really had its origin in Indiana, which remains the center of the sport.”

The Birth of Basketball Culture in Indiana

While on a YMCA teaching trip in 1891, a young reverend named Nicholas McCay fell in love with the game while watching Naismith teach it to YMCA instructors. McCay brought the game back to his hometown of Crawfordsville, Indiana. Within a year, young men across the state were playing basketball and became passionate about the new game. By 1911, Indiana’s high school basketball tournament was born.

Hoosier Hysteria Reaches Fever Pitch

The high school tournament, which crowned a single state champion for 86 years, became a statewide craze. In 1928, Butler University built what was the biggest basketball gym in the nation: Butler (now Hinkle) Fieldhouse. A key reason behind the gym’s creation was to house the state basketball tournament.

As the passion for the game spread throughout the state, a basketball goal of some kind would hang all over, from the small towns to the big cities and in every park in Indiana.

Hoosier Hysteria’s most famous story came in 1954 when tiny Milan High School won the state tournament on a last-second shot in Butler Fieldhouse. The Milan Miracle was immortalized in the movie Hoosiers and is a large part of Indiana basketball lore.

Today, the high school game that instilled basketball passion into Indiana natives lives on. Of the top 15 largest high school basketball gyms in the country, 13 are located in Indiana. And many remain full of passionate fans whenever the local team is playing.

Indiana’s Basketball Legends

Many of basketball’s iconic figures came from Indiana, which undoubtedly ignited the state’s passion for the sport. Below are just a few of the sport’s giants who made their name in the Hoosier State:

  • Larry Bird: One of the game’s all-time greats, Bird grew up in a small town called French Lick and famously led Indiana State University to the 1979 NCAA championship game. He would later serve as head coach and president of the Indiana Pacers.
  • John Wooden: Perhaps the college game’s most famous coach, Wooden won 11 national championships and built some of college basketball’s all-time great teams at UCLA. But he got his start as a young player growing up in Martinsville before attending Purdue University. Additionally, he got his coaching start at Indiana State.
  • Oscar Robertson: Another of the game’s all-time great collegiate and professional players, Robertson grew up in Indianapolis and led Crispus Attucks High School to state championships in 1955 and 1956. Those teams are famous for being the first all-black teams in the nation to win their state’s title.
  • Bob Knight: Known as The General, Knight grew up in Ohio but became famous during his successful 29-year run as head coach of Indiana University. Knight coached the Hoosiers to 3 national championships and he retired as college basketball’s all-time leader in wins.
  • Tony Hinkle: Why is a basketball orange? Because Tony Hinkle thought it was a better color than brown. The hall of famer Hinkle coached basketball for 41 seasons at Butler University and even coached the Great Lakes Navy team during World War II.

The list of Indiana basketball legends is a long one, and today the professional game is infused with Indiana talent. In 2018, 19 Indiana-born basketball players spent time on an NBA roster.

Passion At The Collegiate Level

Over the years, Hoosier Hysteria also became an epidemic at the school’s colleges and universities. Indiana University and Purdue University are historically among the top basketball schools in the Big Ten Conference. The two Indiana schools have combined for 45 Big Ten titles and Indiana University gained prominence by winning 5 national championships.

Butler University, for decades under Hinkle and a list of successful modern coaches, also has a long and proud basketball heritage. In 2010 and 2011, the Butler Bulldogs captured the nation’s attention by advancing to the NCAA championship game.

Indiana State, of course, made its 1979 run with Bird after serving as a launching pad for Wooden’s coaching career. ISU’s conference rival Evansville has a proud tradition featuring alum Jerry Sloan, who made the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame after a legendary career playing for the Chicago Bulls and coaching the Utah Jazz.

In the northwest corner of the state, Valparaiso University gained prominence when Bryce Drew made a miraculous 3-point shot in 1998. Taylor University, a small school in east central Indiana, has a unique basketball tradition called Silent Night every December.

Indiana universities big and small have made basketball a part of their identity.

Passion For The Game Lives On

To this day, you’ll see a basketball goal cemented in every driveway and hanging from every barn across Indiana. That made the Hoosier State an ideal place for American Eagle Goals to set up shop and pass along that passion to future generations.

AE offers three types of basketball goals, suitable for all ages and skill levels. American made and built to last, AE’s goals are helping young players hone their game and to keep that passion for basketball in Indiana alive.

Contact us today for a high-quality and affordable basketball goal so the next chapter of Hoosier Hysteria can be written.

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