Basketball is never too far from the minds of Indiana residents.
But when the calendar turns to March, that roundball obsession ratchets up a notch. The games, players and rivalries defining Hoosier high school basketball have lived on for generations.
And over the next week, people have the chance to vote for the most impactful of the state’s basketball traditions.
“We wanted to get some healthy conversation going, and nothing gets people going in the state like basketball,” said Danny Lopez, vice president of external relations and corporate communications for Pacers Sports & Entertainment.
As Indianapolis prepares to host the 2024 NBA All-Star Game, organizers have unveiled an intersection of basketball, art and culture they’ve invited everyone to take part in. Hoosier Historia is an arts program letting people take a nostalgic look back at the state’s hoops heritage.
Through March 23, people can go online to vote for the most important basketball memories in Indiana history from a curated slate of 50 players, places and moments. Among the options are two Johnson County-focused memories — the Franklin Wonder Five and George Crowe, the state’s first Mr. Basketball.
The final 24 selections will be the inspirations for artworks displayed throughout downtown during the All-Star Weekend from Feb. 16 to 18.
“We have an irrational obsession with high school basketball. It defines our childhoods and their experiences growing up. Everyone can remember being in the gym for some big shot or unforgettable player,” Lopez said. “We thought this was something to connect people in 92 counties to All-Star in a different way.”
Hoosier Historia was unveiled in late 2022 as a collaboration between the NBA All-Star 2024 Host Committee, the Indy Arts Council and the Capital Improvements Board. The art project was envisioned as a way to implement the arts community into the All-Star festivities, while making sure the people statewide could take part in the experiences surrounding the game.
The host committee has planned a number of initiatives in the lead-up to the game, including awarding grants for 24 Legacy Projects throughout the state. Grant recipients had to display ways the projects would leave a sustainable, lasting impact on local communities.
More than $1.2 million was invested across the state, with projects impacting more than 100,000 Indiana children.
Hoosier Historia was another include people in the All-Star Game experience, Lopez said.
”All Star Weekend will have something for everybody. It will be a really fun experience and we want people from all over the state to come downtown,” he said. “But we also realize that not everyone will be able to do that. We wanted to be sure people felt connected to the game and the experience in some meaningful way.”
Organizers put together a subcommittee to look at the breadth of Indiana high school basketball history, tasked with the unenviable responsibility of narrowing it down to 50 people, places and moments. The group consisted of former Indiana High School Athletic Association officials, coaches, players and journalists who have spent decades covering boys and girls state basketball tournaments in Indiana.
They pored over different moments before winnowing down their list to 50.
“We knew that ultimately, the credibility of the thing hinged on who participated in it,” Lopez said. “We weren’t going to create that internally; we wanted to have voices who have lived through these experiences.”
Some of the choices were no brainers — the Milan Miracle, or Crispus Attucks becoming the first Black team to win a state championship anywhere in the country. Legendary coaches and players such as John Wooden, Larry Bird and Oscar Robertson were recognized.
But the choices also include stories that may be famous in the communities where they happen, but not everyone knows about.
Among those are Johnson County’s two entries.
The Franklin Wonder Five were the first of only two teams in Indiana history to win three consecutive state championships, which they did from 1920 to 1922. They went on to all play for Franklin College, where they had one undefeated season and won two state collegiate championships.
In 1939, George Crowe of Franklin High School became the very first Mr. Basketball in state history. Crowe, who was Black, attended what is now the University of Indianapolis and served in the U.S. Army in World War II before going on to play 14 years of professional baseball, including stops in the minor leagues and the Negro League before playing several seasons in Major League Baseball.
People are able to go onto the Hoosier Historia website and vote as many times as they want for their favorite memories. The final 24 selections, which will be announced on March 24, will be used as inspiration for artists around the state to create sculptures that will be displayed downtown during NBA All-Star 2024.
The contest is fun, and a way to fall down the rabbit hole of basketball history, Lopez said. But organizers also hope that it sparks some curiosity about little-known Hoosier heritage.
“When you get on there and read through the stories, I think everyone is going to learn something,” Lopez said. “There are things on there that you may not know, or you thought you knew. Hopefully, it’s something fun that prompts you to do more research.”
AT A GLANCE
What: In advance of NBA All-Star 2024, which will be held in Indianapolis, the statewide arts partnership between the host committee, Indy Arts Council and the Capital Improvement Board gives Hoosiers in every county the chance to vote for the top 24 players, places, and moments in Indiana high school basketball history. The top choices will be represented in artwork throughout All Star Weekend.
When: Voting lasts through March 23
How to vote: Go to nba.com/pacers/nba-all-star-2024-indianapolis/hoosier-historia