SWISH BLOG: Sports + arts

13 great moments in Indiana “SpArts” History

In Indiana, sports and arts have always made great teammates. As proof, here’s a highlight reel of some of the Hoosier state’s best sports and arts crossovers.

Yes, It’s Regulation

“Free Basket,” the site-specific sculpture installed in 2010 at Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park: 100 Acres, at Newfields, was inspired by Indy’s relationship to sport. Cuban art collective Los Carpinteros designed and built this international-dimensions court with steel tubing meant to evoke bouncing balls. Try to play a game of 21 on it. We dare you.

The World’s Largest Pop Art Painting

Madison Square Garden might be “the mecca of basketball,” but from 1968 to 1988 the Milwaukee Bucks literally played in the Milwaukee Exposition, Convention Center and Arena—MECCA. 

Six years later, Hoosier pop artist Robert Indiana was commissioned to turn the Bucks court into a piece of functional art. He did, and that bold work gave the Bucks one of the most distinctive home court characters in the league until they moved to a new facility after the 1988 season. It’s hard not to draw a line from today’s adventurous court designs straight back to Indiana’s “masterwork.”

Breaking Barriers

This spring, Converse will release a special edition shoe to honor Crispus Attucks’ 1955 Indiana High School Boys Basketball championship. The Flying Tigers, led by all-time great Oscar Robertson, were the first all-black high school to win the state tournament. The sneaker is part of Converse’s Breaking Down Barriers line that celebrates athletes who helped desegregate sports.

This Took Longer Than 9 Seconds

Reginald “Reggie” Wayne Miller may have been born in Riverside, Calif., but he’s one of us now. The skinny sharpshooter from UCLA played his entire 18-year career in Indianapolis, stars in every great Pacers memory that millennial Hoosiers have and retired as the career leader in 3-point field goals in a state that was ahead of the curve when it came to idolizing pure shooters. If you don’t chant, “Reggie! Reggie!,” every time you pass Pam Bliss’ 60-foot mural, well, you can go on home to wherever you came from.

The Public Collection

Herron School of Art and Design graduate Rachel M. Simon is an artist, community leader and investor. She’s also the daughter of Pacers owner Herb Simon and the founder of The Public Collection, “a public art and literacy project consisting of artist-designed book share stations, developed to increase access to books and art.”

The Irsay Collection

There’s no salary cap for NFL team owners’ hobbies. If there were, Colts owner Jim Irsay might have to divest himself of one of his dozens of guitars or pieces of pop culture ephemera. But, no, there’s no cap or luxury tax, so if he wants to drop almost $4 million on the Fender Stratocaster David Gilmour used when recording, "The Dark Side of the Moon,” "Wish You Were Here,” "Animals,” and "The Wall,” with Pink Floyd, he can do that. Irsay might be best known in art circles as the owner of Jack Kerouac’s “On The Road” manuscript but he’s built a museum-quality private collection of guitars.

I Keep My Unis Like Flo-Jo

There is one correct answer to the question, “What is the best Pacers uniform of all time?” and that answer is: the Flo-Jos.

Florence Griffith Joyner was a record-setting sprinter, Olympic gold medalist, unbothered sports fashion icon, legendary jersey designer. You can learn more about how she came to design the perfect Pacers kit here but suffice to say, that Reggie mural referenced above? He’s wearing the Flo Jo. Joyner died in 1998 at the age of 38. Rest in power, Flo-Jo.

Welcome Race Fans

Emblazoned on banners of various sizes and materials and hung from fences and porches and awnings, the words, “Welcome Race Fans” might as well be the unofficial motto of the city of Indianapolis. In 2016, the Arts Council partnered with the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to commission original art featuring those three words. More than 50 artists have participated since and this year, five artists will create a version of the signs using GIFs.

Omaha, Omaha

In October 2017, Peyton Manning appeared in uniform at Lucas Oil Stadium one final time. For all time, actually. That was when a bronze statue of the Colts great was unveiled. Designed and constructed by Ryan Feeney, Martin Kuntz and Sean Neal, #18’s feet are set and his laser rocket arm is cocked to throw a pass that will never be caught.

He’s Got Legs, Does He Know How To Use Them?

One of the most striking pieces of public art in central Indiana occupies one downtown’s best locations: the middle of Georgia St. where it intersects with Meridian.

“Wooden’s Legacy,” a sculpture by Jeffrey Rouse, depicts Hall, Indiana-born, Martinsville and Purdue alum John Wooden kneeling, surrounded by players. Well, the disembodied legs of players. But if you look closely, you’ll notice each is wearing basketball shoes and socks that bear inscriptions represented in the “Wizard of Westwood’s” storied career.

XLVI Murals

Not sure how many cities can say this, but the most noticeable lasting impact of Indianapolis hosting the NFL’s final game of the 2011-12 season is the murals. The Arts Council collaborated with the City of Indianapolis to launch 46 for XLVI, a public art project that commissioned huge works to cover typically underutilized surfaces.

Smits, Beaming

You could say that Rik Smits worked with steel and glass throughout his 10-year NBA career, all with the Indiana Pacers. So it was fitting that in 1995 he made an appearance at the start of construction of the Artsgarden, a seven-story tall steel and glass event space that straddles the intersection of Washington and Illinois Streets and connects Circle Center Mall to the three surrounding blocks. In his blue and gold warm-up suit, he signed the first steel beam before it was hoisted into place by crane. The beam and Smits were both exactly 7 feet, 4 inches tall. 

“I Cannot Forget The People Who Love Me”

There’s this movie Hoosiers love, we can’t remember the name, but it’s about a plucky small-school basketball team that rallies together to win the state championship. One theory posits that the collective obsession with the movie speaks to unresolved grief over the breakdown of small towns as good manufacturing and agricultural jobs disappeared. Released in 2014, “Medora” forces the viewer to look at small town Indiana as it exists now and struggle with how the kids on the worst high school basketball team in the state might be able to notch some wins in their lives off the court.

— Story by Neal Taflinger

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