Think “Hoosiers” and Hinkle Fieldhouse and what the movie meant to renewed respect for the historic Indianapolis basketball arena that opened in 1928.
If Hollywood ever makes a basketball movie called “Quakers” with scenes from the Palestra, you’ll understand what the historic Philadelphia hoop shrine means to college basketball. It opened in 1927 and was known in its glory days as the Cathedral of Basketball.
As any basketball fan should know, the penultimate scene in “Hoosiers” was Jimmy Chitwood’s game-winning basket to lift fictional Hickory High to the 1954 Indiana state high school basketball title at Hinkle.
The Palestra, home to the Ivy League’s Penn and known, can gain new attention this season if Michigan State plays Penn State on Jan. 7 at the Palestra, as has been reported by Mlive.com. The schools haven’t released their 2016-17 Big Ten schedules or confirmed the report.
But such a game makes sense for both schools and coaches.
Michigan State Coach Tom Izzo has an appreciation for history and unique venues. Penn State Coach Pat Chambers wants to create a recruiting pipeline to the high school talent found in Philadelphia that frequently exits the state.
Penn State and Michigan State are only scheduled to play once this season with Penn State the home team. The Nittany Lions averaged only 6,910 fans per game last season, so they’re not giving up a big home crowd to play at the 8,722-seat Palestra (it was built as a 10,000-seat arena famed for seats close to the court).
Izzo mentioned his desire to sometime play a game at the Palestra for history’s sake at the 2014 Big Ten media days. He had responded to a question about the Spartans’ reputation for unique venues.
“They all tell me I’ve got to get to the Palestra,” Izzo said in a quote that appeared in the Detroit Free Press. “One of these years, I’m gonna be dumb enough to do it.”
In 2011, Michigan State played North Carolina on the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier docked in San Diego. In 2012, Michigan State and Connecticut played at Ramstein Air Base in Germany. In 2003, Michigan State played Kentucky in what the Spartans dubbed a “BasketBowl”, played before 78,129 fans at newly opened Ford Field. The success of the game increased the trend of football domes as sits NCAA Regionals in addition to Final Fours.
But Izzo’s appreciation for history was demonstrated in the 2012-13 season when the Spartans moved a non-conference home game from Breslin Center across campus to the school’s former home arena, Jenison Fieldhouse.
The Spartans hosted Tuskegee, a HBCU school, to recognize the 50th anniversary of the “Game of Change.” It was an NCAA Regional game played at Jenison between segregated all-white Mississippi State and a Loyola of Chicago, a team with four black starters that went on to win the national title.
Mississippi State had been prohibited by state law from playing integrated teams, but the Bulldogs surreptitiously left the state to defy the order.
Penn State’s campus is 190 miles from Philadelphia and not an easy drive into the countryside of central Pennsylvania. Chambers bringing his team to fans in Philadelphia allows him to invite recruits to conveniently see the Nittany Lions play.
A kid can’t grow up in Philadelphia playing basketball without learning about the Palestra.
When it opened in 1927, it was considered the largest arena in the nation. In addition to Penn, it was home to Villanova, Temple, Saint Joseph’s and La Salle and hosted the Philadelphia Big 5 Tournament.
It also has hosted more NCAA Tournament games than any other venue, although not since 1984. The game’s increased popularity demanded larger and more modern arenas as venues.
But it has enough history to appeal to Michigan State and Izzo and a location to attract Penn State and Chambers.