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Pickup hoops at an airport? What’s behind the NBA All-Star ‘court’ at Indianapolis International

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Editor’s note: This is part of a series of stories about NBA All-Star Weekend by students in an IU Media School sports reporting class. Read the rest of the stories on our website. 

INDIANAPOLIS — Two elementary-aged girls, accompanied by their fathers, had just gotten off their flight when they glared at each other and asked, “Why is there a basketball court?” 

It’s a fair question. A basketball court smack dab in the middle of the Indianapolis International Airport pre-security plaza is odd, especially when it’s just for show. But as the saying goes “In 49 other states, it’s just basketball. This is Indiana.” 

Despite the age-old saying, the city of Indianapolis hasn’t hosted an NBA All-Star Game since 1985. It was scheduled to host the 2021 All-Star game, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was moved to Atlanta, Georgia, forcing Indianapolis to wait until the winter of 2024. So, to hype up the long-awaited celebration of one of the state’s greatest pastimes, a replica court was one of the first items on the pre-weekend checklist.  

The eye-catching court provides countless photo and video opportunities for travelers as they arrive in Indy or prepare to go through security. And although shooting basketballs is prohibited — as there’s a clear sheet above each rim — many can’t help but go through the motions of shooting a 3-pointer.  

However, on Feb. 9, WNBA Hall of Famer and former Indiana Fever forward Tamika Catchings was the exception, as she made a half-court shot.  

Catchings said via LinkedIn shooting a shot at her home city’s airport was amongst the many amazing things she’s been able to do in her career.  

RelatedNo. 14 Indiana women’s basketball defeats Wisconsin 68-54, Scalia sets program’s 3-point record The Hoosiers improved to 21-3 overall and 12-2 in Big Ten play.

In 2018, Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett appointed Catchings to the Indianapolis Airport Authority Board, which is behind the plaza’s look. 

The court, coupled with a standup merchandise market behind the south-end basket, is entirely regulation size. The vinyl sticker floor spans 94 feet long and 50 feet wide and mocks what the actual floor will look like at Gainbridge Fieldhouse from Friday to Sunday. 

The court and the Spalding hoop stanchion decal are All-Star themed, including a game clock above the south basket that reads “20:24.” According to Stephanie McFarland, Indianapolis Airport Authority spokesperson, the court’s vinyl decal took 10 hours to print and 20 hours to install, which took over three nights. To top it all off, airport staff and employees sport white NBA All-Star lanyards to hang their badges and name tags around their necks.  

Once travelers go down the escalators from the plaza to get their luggage, they are greeted by larger-than-life images of All-Stars like Tyrese Haliburton, Stephen Curry and Jayson Tatum on the bag carousels.  

“Indy loves the game of basketball, and everyone is excited to host NBA All-Star,” Mario Rodriguez, executive director of the Indianapolis Airport Authority, said in an email statement. “The Indiana Pacers and the whole team at Pacers Sports and Entertainment are leading the charge with the Indianapolis community beside them to make this a memorable experience for all. The airport is proud to partner alongside them in this meaningful event for the city and state.”  

It’s a necessary weekend for Indianapolis and its basketball community. The city has been deprived of an NBA event of this magnitude since the Pacers were in back-to-back Eastern Conference Finals in 2013 and 2014.  

The NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament Final Four has been in Indianapolis eight times since 1980. So, while the love of the sport at the college level is there, the NBA community in the Circle City has been starving for a way to celebrate their fandom. 

RelatedIndiana basketball plagued by turnovers, embarrassed by No. 2 Purdue for second time Both of the Hoosiers’ losses to the Boilermakers were by at least 20 points.

“It wasn’t just our love for the game that landed All-Star here; it was our collaborative community mindset and long resume of hosting hundreds of national and international sporting events, among so many other significant conventions and events,” McFarland said in an email. 

The Indianapolis International Airport typically alters its look when the city hosts a big event. IndyCars broke onto the scene in late spring before the Indianapolis 500 with checkered stickers to resemble a finish line on the plaza floor. When Indianapolis held the 2022 College Football Playoff championship game, the airport welcomed Alabama and Georgia fans with their team's logos and mascots as they arrived.  

The court was a viral social media sensation when installed in mid-January. Fans said if the court was playable, people would miss their flights just to get a quick pickup game in.  

“Hoosier Hospitality” is what McFarland called it.  

“The community and its leaders rally around big events, like NBA All-Star, and the Indianapolis International Airport is among the first to welcome fans,” she said in the email. 

For fans who are out of state and flying in for the All-Star weekend, the court is the first thing they see after they get off the flight.  

“Pickup? Let’s go,” one flight attendant said to his flight crew as they ended their afternoons. 

“We’re the real All-Stars. I’ll cook you,” another responded.  

The All-Star weekend celebration may start with the court in the airport plaza, but it follows travelers on their journey downtown to Gainbridge Fieldhouse. 

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