Being a supporter of the Indiana Hoosiers means appreciating the smaller details -- the ones that go unnoticed by other fans. Finer points such as the basketball team’s trademark candy-striped warm-up pants or the long-standing tradition that player numbers aren’t retired. Gazing into the rafters of Assembly Hall, you’ll see no memorialization for Isiah Thomas’ individual accomplishments, but you will see the banner that commemorates the national championship team that he was a part of, and in a lot of ways, that nails Hoosier fandom on the whole.
The basketball program in Bloomington was born in 1900, a year after the school joined the Big Ten Conference. In 1924, three seasons after becoming the university’s first All-American, Everett Dean was named head coach. A year later, he’d guide IU to its first-ever Big Ten championship. However, Dean’s accomplishments were soon overshadowed by the work of his replacement, Branch McCracken. Over the course of 24 years at the university, McCracken would deliver the first four 20-win seasons in Hoosier history while also leading IU to national championship wins in 1940 and ‘53. A two-time recipient of the National Coach of the Year award, McCracken was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1960, and in 1971, Indiana opened the doors to Branch McCracken Court at Assembly Hall.
For Hoosiers faithful, the 1971-72 season not only saw the birth of a hallowed coliseum, but it also marks the beginning of bench boss Bob Knight’s reign on the hardwood. In just his second season, “The General” led Indiana to the Big Ten title and guided them to an appearance in the Final Four. Conference championships would follow in each of the next three seasons, but it’s the ‘75-76 campaign that is most fondly remembered not just in the hearts of fans, but in the NCAA record books as well. Powered by All-Americans Scott May and Quinn Buckner, IU posted a perfect record of 32-0 and captured the NCAA tournament crown. In 1981, Knight and the Hoosiers would cut down the nets as national champs yet again, and six years later, guard Keith Smart’s buzzer beater would give “The General” his third NCAA title.
While Knight would step down as head coach following the 1999-2000 season, Hoosiers fans would soon welcome the return of another Bloomington legend, Martha the Mop Lady. The star of a classic local commercial, Martha and her celebrated pipes came back to Assembly Hall in 2010 to fire up the crowd once more with her spirited rendition of the school’s rallying cry.
The word “dynasty” often gets tossed around when discussing the all-time great programs in college basketball history, but that descriptor sells the Hoosiers short. Put simply, Indiana hoops is an institution, one that dominates headlines and day-to-day conversations. Championships are expected, but even in down years, folks would never dream of turning their backs on the boys in Cream and Crimson.