A sign outside of the old Men’s Gymnasium on 7th Street tells his story.
A towering statute in the south lobby of Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall serves as a reminder of his larger than life significance.
Now, an entire building, an iconic building in the history of IU basketball, will bear his name.
IU President Michael McRobbie recommended to the school’s Board of Trustees on Friday that the facility formerly known as the Ira Wildermuth Intramural Center be renamed after iconic IU basketball legend Bill Garrett.
The Board of Trustees unanimously approved the recommendation. This is the transcript of their formal approval:
The Trustees of Indiana University do hereby approve the naming of the Intramural Center on the IU Bloomington Campus as the William Leon Garrett Fieldhouse. Appropriate signage will be placed on the building to honor this great alumnus of Indiana University and one of its true courageous leaders in the integration and acceptance of African Americans in basketball at both the collegiate and professional level.
The William Leon Garrett Fieldhouse was the home of the IU basketball program from 1928 to 1960.
Garrett left IU as the program’s all-time leading scorer while playing in the building that will now bear his name.
But it wasn’t an easy path to stardom in Bloomington.
Garrett was born in 1929 in Shelbyville, Indiana. Garrett led Shelbyville to the Indiana state championship in 1947, and he was named Mr. Basketball. Shelbyville knocked off Terre Haute Garfield and star center Clyde Lovellette in the state championship game. The gym at Shelbyville is named the William L. Garrett Memorial Gymnasium.
After completing high school Garrett went to Indiana. Prior to his arrival in Bloomington, there was a “gentleman’s agreement” barring non-whites from playing major college basketball, including at school’s from the Big Ten. Garrett and IU chose to break the agreement and he became the first African-American basketball player in the Big Ten conference.
Garrett led the Hoosiers in scoring and rebounding each year from 1949 to 1951. Indiana was ranked No. 2 nationally in the 1950-51 season and Garret was named as IU’s most valuable player and selected as an All-American.
The Boston Celtics drafted Garrett, making him the third African American ever selected by an NBA team. Due to being called to serve in the US Army, Garrett never played in the NBA. Upon the completion of his service he signed a contract with the Harlem Globetrotters, playing with them for three years.
Garrett taught and coached basketball in Indianapolis at Wood High School and at Crispus Attucks High School, where he led the team to a state championship in 1959. He was assistant dean for student services at IUPUI at the time of his death in 1974.
In 2017, a historical marker in honor of Garrett was unveiled outside of the intramural center with his family in attendance.
Naming the intramural center after Garrett formally closes an ugly chapter in the building’s history.
Formerly known as the Ira Wildermuth Intramural Center, the IU Board of Trustees approved a name change in 2018. That move by the Board followed the uncovering of various documents that revealed racist views held by Wildermuth, who was once an IU trustee.
Also known by many as the “HPER” due to its affiliation with the School of Health, Physical Education and Recreation, the recreational facility has been called the Intramural Center since 2018.
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