Rembert Explains America: A Failed Day of Sports in Indiana (With Bonus Racism)Rembert Browne/Grantland
All I wanted to do was write about sports. I swear.
Sitting in a hotel lobby in Indianapolis, pretending to be waiting for a meeting, but secretly attempting to nap in the corner, I searched this trip’s e-mail account for Indiana-related ideas. I didn’t have a plan until the following evening, so this gap seemed prime for following a lead and hoping for the best.
The first e-mail I came across was from a man named Mark Cline. It stood out, because a month earlier I’d written a piece about a man named Mark Cline. Was my guy M.C. keeping up with my shenanigans? I couldn’t believe he was still —
Different Mark Cline.
That would have been a bummer, had the e-mail not been filled with so much Nap Town passion.
First, you’ve got to go to Hoosier Gym in Knightstown. This is where they filmed the epic home court scenes for the Hickory Huskers and the town hasn’t changed a thing. Knightstown is a 40-minute drive east from Indianapolis on old Highway 40, which is Midwest bucolic beauty at its finest. After walking the court and jacking up a few shots, it should be back to Indianapolis to walk Hinkle Fieldhouse. Home of the Butler Bulldogs, where they shot the final championship scene in Hoosiers, where the real-life inspiration for the movie (The 54 Milan Miracle) actually happened, and flat out one of the best college basketball venues in the country. To finish up the day, I could set up a sit down with the real life Jimmy Chitwood — Bobby Plump — at his dive bar in Broad Ripple where he will talk your ear off and keep you smiling the entire time. A good man with great stories.
Mark Cline: The Sequel had blessed me with a full day’s schedule. All I had to do was stay in the Indianapolis area and follow his instructions. This was great. Suddenly feeling the searing side-eye from the hotel front desk attendant, I ceased loitering and got a room.
The following morning, I checked out and headed to Knightstown. This would be a rare day full of sports, and I was thrilled. As I made my way closer to the Knightstown exit, however, signs began to pop up for an attraction only a few miles beyond Knightstown: the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame.
I’d been to this attraction before, and it was such a good time that it felt only right to give it a second run on this day, the sports day.
Passing Knightstown, I drove to New Castle. Before making it to the Hall of Fame, though, an important treasure presented itself:
In addition to being an inn named after the New Castle–bred Hoosier turned NBA player turned UCLA head coach, there’s nothing better than the message advertising the amenities.
That “W” is an M, the “I” is upside down (trust me), the “N” is flipped, the “B” is upside down; it’s unclear who the target audience is, a passerby, Steve Alford, or a king bed; and the rate is $150 too cheap.
THE STEVE ALFORD ALL-AMERICAN INN HAS TWO HOOPS AND IF YOU MISS A SHOT THE BASKETBALL WILL ROLL INTO A STEAK ‘N SHAKE.
If I didn’t have all these sports plans, I would have called it a night at 11:15 a.m. Especially because this was also on the premises.
This place was a theme park. A Steve Alford theme park. I wanted to stay, but sports day had many stops, so I continued on to the Hall of Fame.
The first thing you see upon pulling into the parking lot.
Who knew New Castle, Indiana, was the moonbounce-size footwear capital of “40 minutes outside Indianapolis.” But where did these shoes come from?
“I really don’t know, it’s been here forever,” the woman at the front desk of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame alerted me. “They changed the Steve Alford shoe to UCLA recently, though. Used to be a New Mexico shoe.”
Leave it to the Steve Alford All-American Inn to keep it current. They were about to get a phenomenal “I didn’t stay here, but …” Yelp review.
Walking into the Hall of Fame, I had one goal: to find some facts that proved how superior Indiana was to the rest of the country with regard to basketball.
A few I remembered from my earlier visit a year before.
And this guy:
And this guy:
And this guy:
All was going according to the sports plan, until a paralyzing distraction presented itself. One corner of the downstairs area is dedicated to the Indiana Basketball Silver Anniversary Team. When I attended last year, the notable face on this team was Rick Fox.
Classic hi-res Rick. Looking like a tanned, grizzled Anderson Cooper. Just fantastic.
Fast-forward a year and Fox was nowhere to be found. His Silver Anniversary had come and gone. The notable face from this year’s class:
Leave it to a heavily pixelated, jewelry-dripping Shawn Kemp to make you forget your original intentions for being present in the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame. Suddenly, sports were no longer the focal point. Instead, a topic in which I’ve developed a much larger sense of false-confident expertise.
The next hour was about nothing but the construction of a fantasy outfit out of the impeccable clothing memorabilia that dominates the Hall of Fame. Like this versatile, Fall/Winter ’29 John Wooden beanie.
Or this purple-stained, denim-and-wool Magic City Bear Cats letterman jacket.
Or, most supremely, this “on the go” Roosevelt Rough Riders Ride or Die Weekender:
The contents of the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame make it hard to focus on sports. The fashion sensory overload is too much. I had to leave. Because this day was about sports.
I left and drove to Knightstown, home of the legendary Hoosier Gym. Only a few minutes from my destination, excited to get this trip back on track, and another distraction presented itself.
“Stop & look.” I had time for that. “Pace, get comfortable, and drop racks” not so much, so I’m glad the sign didn’t say that.
Walking into the yard sale, I gave myself five minutes to do a walk-through, and then it was back to sports. Even though the sale was more of a “here’s what I found” than a “here’s what you want,” there was little junk to be found here, so I felt the need to pick through every item. Because there certainly was a gem somewhere.
After 20 minutes, I did not find that gem.
On the 21st minute, I found that gem.
That couldn’t be —
And just like that, the yard sale was the only thing that mattered in Knightstown. For another 30 minutes, I sifted through every corner of the sale. Finally blacking back in, I purchased my 200-piece Punky Brewster puzzle and went on my way.
Despite the temptations that Central Indiana had to offer, nothing would stop me from completing every bullet point on that Indiana sports checklist.
Ten minutes later, three full hours into this trip, I finally fulfilled the first line of the instructions:
First, you’ve got to go to Hoosier Gym in Knightstown.
I was delighted, upon entry, to learn that it was a functional gym, with people shooting around and hanging in the bleachers. The room certainly had an aura, a sacred one, but also was begging you to run around for a while and miss some shots.
After doing just that and then walking into the lobby, a sort of mini-museum, to look for an employee who could answer some questions about the gym, I became fixated on one collection of photos.
In comparison to everything else around it, these images were the least important. But they were easily my favorite.
The LeBron and Carmelo Hoosier Gym corner.
And just like that, another rabbit hole.
That stretch limo, sure why not:
The look that man is giving Carmelo’s braids, sure why not:
The honey mustard do-rag, sure why not:
The “let’s take this picture and then go to Outback in LeBron’s stretch limo” pose, sure why not:
At this point, I’d completely forgotten what movie made this gym famous. All I cared about was pictures of Carmelo Anthony in Indiana.
In an attempt to reverse my rapidly declining interest in the history of the Hoosier Gym, I found an employee. He came out of a room in the lobby, a room containing jerseys.
After picking out my own special no. 15 Chitwood jersey, the man asked me if I had any other questions. I thanked him and told him I was fine. My feelings on this place had peaked, and if I started asking serious questions, there was no direction for the experience to go but south. So I left.
It was now three o’clock and, despite my failure to actually learn anything about the Hoosier Gym as well as an Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame trip turned garment analysis, I still had two other stops, both in Indianapolis: Butler University’s Hinkle Fieldhouse and the bar owned by the real Jimmy Chitwood, Bobby Plump.
There was still hope. Sports hope.
To outline what happened next, it’s best to know up front that I failed. I never made it to either location, because 10 minutes after leaving the gym, I found the establishment I’d been seeking out for two months on the road, a place that explains some of the past, present, and potential future of this country.
The perfect antique shop.
The wonderful thing about antique shops, especially those in rural areas, is that the contents tell stories. The items made their way to said shop somehow, usually through purchases made by the owner or donations from the community. And if you spend enough time in one of these stores, and the items are old enough, you can begin to get a sense of the area’s history, and understand why someone would own such things, and then also given them away.
Stepping into the National Trail Antique Mall, just outside of Knightstown, I knew I’d be there for a while.
I was supposed to find this place. The rich tradition of Indiana basketball led me to this place. I couldn’t leave until every item had been inspected.
By the time I left, every item was, in fact, inspected. And many of them were now mine.
For three hours, I was the Central Indiana tchotchke equivalent of Buzz Bissinger in a Gucci store.
I spent $183. On 54 items. It was a lack of restraint I’d only shown at Taco Bell after 2:30 a.m., and I couldn’t have been more proud.
There were two aspects of this antique store that added to its mystique. One, everything was organized in an admirable and frighteningly obsessive manner.
Oh look, the cans section:
Hello there, California Raisins section:
AHHHHHH HANDS SECTION AHHHHHHHH:
And two, it’s always nice to remember how horrible a place America was — overtly — between the years of “the beginning of America” and “1979.”
This antique store provided every reminder. And because I’ve long felt it was my civic duty to buy the most horrible of things, just to get them off the streets, I now own them all.
Let’s press pause on the 45 for a second and focus on the sticky note.
“Ku Klux Klan Record.”
My heart skipped a beat, and then another seven beats, upon seeing this written out, almost in a cheerful way, because of an e-mail I’d received a month earlier:
Look forward to reading about your adventures and don’t go through Elwood, Indiana (they still have regular Klan rallies and that’s not a joke.) Enjoy your trip!
Where was Elwood, in relation to this Klan record in my hands?
My heart was no longer skipping beats. It had graduated to back handsprings.
And then there was the record, by a “Johnny Rebel.”
Johnny Rebel is a man who is still alive and has dedicated his life to hating black people. It’s his job. His occupation. His passion. His disgust is made clear by the name of his song on the record, “In Coon Town.” It doesn’t feel great to know this was mass-produced, purchased by someone, given away, and then resold in this store.
But I can’t pretend like it’s not an antique.
Shocked, I flipped it over, forgetting that there would be a different song on that side.
When I saw this, I nearly spat out the water I was drinking.
Johnny Rebel would hate me. When things are that absurdly bigoted, sometimes all you can do is shake your head and laugh, because it’s mind-boggling that someone would expend that much energy into hating someone else.
What happened, Johnny Rebel? Why did you dedicate your life to hating me? Why have you allowed my existence to occupy so much of your brain space and, in turn, pay your rent?
Other questions: Who is Sue and why did she write her name on this record? Was it because Johnny Rebel records were hot commodities at the time and she wanted to make sure hers didn’t get confused with someone else is “Still Looking for a Handout”?
Also, if you were wondering if Johnny Rebel’s fan website was hosted by www.Aryan88.com, yes it is.
And if you thought the name Johnny Rebel sounded familiar, because of songs such as “N----- In-Law,” “Move Them N-----s North,” and (assumedly, due to popular demand) “Move Them N-----s North 2,” it’s because those are also his songs.
What I can’t explain, however, is why he has an MTV artists page.
That I just don’t know.
Apologies for the American history digression, but the takeaway from all of this is that it’s now mine.
It’s more than just Johnny Rebel hate in the antique store, though. Some of these buttons aren’t the nicest:
Neither are these pennants:
And this Life ad could be better if it, say, said something completely different:
This article is a not-fun doozy:
Neither is this one:
Not everything in the antique store that I purchased was cringe-worthy, however. For instance, there’s nothing wrong with the Janet Jackson “Velvet Rope Tour” booklet.
“Hey guys, let’s do the car shot” — Janet:
“Hey guys, take five, I’m going to play solitaire.” — Janet:
“Hey guys, get your hands ready, you know what to do” — Janet:
“Hey Janet, you’re complex” — Janet:
Same goes for the item located not 3 feet from the Klan record:
A diverse, complicated, beautiful, troubled nation, this is. Thank you, National Trail Antique Mall, for reminding me of these self-evident truths.
And sorry, sports. Next time. I’ll try harder, I promise.