INDIANAPOLIS -- Just about everybody disagrees with me on this (and I don't blame them), but I'm all for putting events in one place and keeping them there forever. For instance, I'm all for having the Super Bowl in New Orleans every year. Sure, I know, the Super Bowl brings all sorts of revenue to various cities across the country. But I think the Super Bowl is just a better event in New Orleans.
I'm all for having the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach every year, and the British Open at St. Andrews every year (though this would mean Tiger would probably end up with 73 major championships). I'm certainly for having the Pro Bowl in Hawaii every year -- there was no reason to change that. I'm all for having the national championship football game at the Rose Bowl ever year. Opening Day should always be in Cincinnati.
And, I would be perfectly happy to have the Final Four here in Indianapolis every year.
This is not to say I'm in love with Indianapolis. It is a very nice city ... but certainly other Final Four locales like San Antonio and Minneapolis and St. Louis and St. Petersburg have their charms too.*
*Do you know what city has hosted the most Final Fours? If you said, "Kansas City," you are both (1) right and (2) probably from Kansas City. But it's true, there have been 10 Final Fours in Kansas City, though the last one (both figuratively and literally) was in 1988.
No, what I think makes Indianapolis the perfect Final Four locale is ... well, it's Indiana. And yes, I buy into all the Indiana basketball stuff -- the Hoosiers poster of the sneakers outside with Indiana farmland in the background is enough to get me to tear up a little bit. This Final Four -- with little Butler playing in its hometown in some sort of Hoosiers remake while Bob Huggins leads his impossibly tough West Virginia team against irrepressible Duke -- is something close to perfect. It should only happen here.
Yes, I do buy in. Not so long ago, I went on a basketball tour of the great state of Indiana. The main reason was Lisa. Well, there were other reasons too, of course -- like the story of Milan High (and the not entirely dissimilar movie "Hoosiers" that it sparked), the story of Larry Bird in French Lick shooting baskets in driving rainstorms on the court behind his high school, the story of Oscar Robertson in Indianapolis learning the game by shooting worn and flat tennis balls at a basket in the projects where he lived, the story of a young John Wooden making free throw after free throw in Martinsville.
There are just magical sports places. You think about just some of the baseball players from Alabama: Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Ozzie Smith, Billy Williams, Willie McCovey, Don Sutton and Early Wynn, among others.
Or think about the quarterbacks from Pennsylvania -- how could one state give us Joe Montana, John Unitas, Dan Marino, Joe Namath, Jim Kelly, Johnny Lujack, Babe Parilli, George Blanda and, hey, Matt Ryan and Matt Schaub?
Kansas's wide open spaces stimulated more than its share of long distance runners. The texas humidity has given us plenty of hard throwing right-handed pitchers. A lot of great running backs learned their relentless styles in Georgia. And, of course. Florida and California -- being big and vast and so full of sunshine -- give us a whole lot of everything.
Indiana is just one of many places that takes pride in its hoops -- North Carolina, Kentucky, Kansas, New York City. But, yeah, I do believe there is something a little bit different about Indiana. Lisa was a reporter at a newspaper where I once worked, and she would play basketball with us sometimes. She was pretty good -- but what really stood out about her game was that she had the perfect jump shot form. Textbook perfect. Left foot forward. Elbow straight and close to the body. Hand under the ball. Wrist flick at the end. She wasn't especially quick or tall. But if she was open, she did not miss.
"Where did you learn to shoot like that?" we would ask her.
"I'm from Indiana," was her simple response.
So, my impression of Indiana was a whole state of little boys and girls wearing black Chuck Taylor Sneakers, bouncing warped basketballs on gravel driveways, and shooting perfect jump shots, time after time, against backboards with cracking white paint. I had to see if it was true. And so I drove the state -- from Milan to French Lick, from Indianapolis to Martinsville, from Bloomington to West Lafayette. And I found that my impression was not too far off from reality.
OK, maybe there wasn't a basketball on every driveway. But there were plenty. Maybe every kid doesn't have the perfect shot. But a lot of them do. You look at Butler's Gordon Hayward, a 6-foot-9 sophomore from a place in Indiana called Brownsburg, and he leads the team in scoring, rebounding, blocks, is third in assists and he shoots 82 percent from the free throw line. That's Indiana basketball.
Yes, maybe there is something about the autumn and winter hours here that push people to shoot baskets until the sun has gone down and you can't even see the rim and net anymore, you can only hear the ball clank or swish. Maybe there is something about the Midwestern stubbornness that makes people in the state practice shooting until, by gosh, they get it right. Maybe there is something about the Indiana courts where a young Larry Bird and Oscar Robertson and John Wooden and Kent Benson and Rick Mount and Steve Alford and Glenn Robinson and Damon Bailey, desperate to find some way they could be great, would spend countless hours perfecting their games.
Like, I say: There are a lot of great basketball places. But there is something about this place that, cliché as it sounds, cuts to the heart of the game. Once after a pickup game, I asked my friend Lisa if everyone in Indiana could make free throws. She thought about it for a second and said: "Well, everybody I know."