Bobby Plump drove a jump shot home with three seconds remaining and — just like that — the “Mighty Men” of Milan became high school champions of this state. Muncie Central was vanquished. The score was 32-30.
And the game, well, it was one of the greatest this state tourney ever has seen and the Butler Fieldhouse was a madhouse as the final gun sounded last night.
— IndyStar, March 21, 1954.
The greatest shot to ever fall in Indiana high school basketball history. It’s been written about time and time again. There is scratchy game reel from that night 62 years ago. There is the memory of that magical moment etched in shy and awkward teenage boys, now 80-year-old men.
But there is no photograph. There is no photo anywhere of Bobby Plump taking that shot.
Photographers were focused on the basket — the ball, seemingly in slow motion, arcing toward the net. They captured the ball falling through the hoop, the helpless Muncie Central players squatted down to try to grab a rebound that didn’t come.
But there is no photo of Plump.
People have asked Plump plenty of times. Asked to see a photo of him taking the jump shot that — put simply — set the course for the rest of Plump’s life. The shot that caught the attention of filmmakers who turned the game (and a largely fictional backstory) into the most popular basketball movie ever made, “Hoosiers.”
The shot that eventually turned him into a household name — around the world. Just this month, he has received three letters from kids in Paris asking for his autograph.
But Plump didn’t have a photo to show them. Even the front page of the newspaper that Sunday after the Saturday night game had the photo of the ball falling through the basket. A tiny, square headshot of Plump accompanied the article so people could see who this kid was.
Then, years later, Plump thought he had found the picture. It had run in the Cincinnati Post newspaper (Milan was 54 miles from the city) two days after the state final. It was a huge photograph of Plump jumping in the air, shooting in the exact spot where he launched the game-winning shot. Someone sent it to him in the mail.
Plump finally had the photo. Until he didn’t.
That takeaway happened about eight months ago, when Plump showed the Cincinnati Post photo to a Milan teammate, Roger Schroder. Schroder looked a little sad, uncomfortable with what he was about to say.
“He said, ‘Bob, that’s not the final shot,’ ” Plump recalled, sitting on the deck of his Plump’s Last Shot restaurant in Broad Ripple. “‘There’s Engle.’ “
Bob Engle was on the court in the photo. That meant this wasn’t the stunning climax of the game. This was the first quarter. Engle had back problems that game and played only four minutes, in the first quarter.
Once again, Plump was left with nothing. He thought, as he had a million times before: “Surely someone got a picture of the shot,” Plump said.
“But there is no picture of the final shot.”
He showed up at his restaurant Sunday afternoon, a beautiful sunny day, to celebrate his 80th birthday. And as more than 500 friends and family streamed through to offer well-wishes, hugs, kisses and laughs, perhaps the greatest gift Plump could ever be given arrived on the deck.
Plump could hardly believe his eyes.
There he was, in the flesh, making that jump shot. A painstaking recreation of his game-winning shot, painted by an artist.
“Oh, I thought that was marvelous,” Plump said. “Isn’t that amazing?”
Yes, it is amazing, said Graham Honaker, a board member of the Milan Museum — “that the most incredible shot in Indiana basketball lore was never truly captured with a camera.”
The idea to create the next best thing was born earlier this summer, after Plump realized the Cincinnati Post photo wasn’t the photo. Plump’s daughter Kelli called Honaker to tell him about the 80th birthday party.
What could the museum do for the man who is its main attraction?
Honaker contacted artist Anthony Padgett and together they went to work. Padgett spent much of the summer studying old photographs, talking to people from Milan to get details on uniform color and hair color and reviewing film of the game in 1954. He restaged the shot in Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Meanwhile, Honaker worked with the board and several other donors to raise $5,000 for the painting. The lead donor, Tom Kohlmeier, is a Milan native who was 3 years old in 1954. Another donor’s father taught Plump at Butler.
Other donations came in from across the country, places like Maine, New York and North Carolina. Several who donated had never met Plump, but they loved the idea of capturing the history, Honaker said.
The frame holding the painting has an audio button that plays the radio broadcast of the final seconds of the Milan-Muncie Central game.
Of course, Plump doesn’t need that. He has that moment forever in his memory bank. He also knows exactly how that shot came to be.
His mom died when he was 5. Plump still remembers waking up and seeing his dad carrying her body down the stairs. He still remembers the funeral inside his Pierceville home — his mother lying in the casket and him kissing her cold cheek goodbye.
Plump, the youngest of six kids, needed a distraction and as he grew, that distraction became basketball.
His father worked at a pump factory and one day, he found some spare wood at that factory. He concocted a backboard, bought a net and a basketball and gave it to Plump in fourth grade.
“That was the best Christmas gift I ever had,” Plump said.
He spent most of his days shooting around, free throws, layups and the popular longer shots — the two-hand set shot, the one-hand push shot, a move that included lifting one knee while he shot.
But then one afternoon as a freshman, Plump was sitting in the gym of Milan High watching the varsity basketball practice. He always was there, but this day he noticed Bill Gorman, who wasn’t even a varsity starter. Plump became intrigued.
“I saw this guy shooting a jump shot,” Plump said. “The jump shot was not in vogue at that time. But I remember sitting up there watching that day and thinking, ‘You know what? I could get a jump shot off and it would be quicker and harder to defend than standing still.’ “
Plump started practicing that jump shot. Over and over and over. Milan coach Herman Grinstead noticed.
“Mr. Grinstead came up to me and said, ‘Bob, if you will practice that over the summer, if you get that perfected, you might be able to play on the varsity,’ ” Plump said. “And I thought, ‘Holy mackerel. I can get a varsity uniform?’ I thought my life would be complete.”
By March 20, 1954, the senior star Plump had perfected that jump shot. He was the only guy of the final four teams who used it.
That jump shot is the one that turned Butler Fieldhouse into a madhouse that night as the final gun sounded.
And that jump shot was never to be seen again. Until now.
Follow IndyStar reporter Dana Benbow on Twitter: @DanaBenbow.