Wilkerson wants 1976 IU team remembered for more than winning games

May 29, 2013
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Five years ago, former Indiana University basketball player and Anderson native Bobby Wilkerson had a vision.

He wanted to launch a business capitalizing on the 1976 IU basketball team he started on.

Wilkerson wanted to license a line of products—retro jerseys, etched glassware, T-shirts and more—commemorating the national championship team, the last undefeated NCAA men’s Division I team.

It would be a business opportunity for Wilkerson and his teammates to be sure. But he wanted it to be something more.

Wilkerson, who owns a Maryland-based drinking water bottling company, wanted to use the business venture to do something his coach, Bob Knight, had taught him.

“The one thing we all learned from Coach Knight was to give back to the community and never forget those less fortunate,” Wilkerson said. “Bob Knight did a lot for people and for charities. He did a lot people don’t know about, and will probably never know about. His example left a lasting impression on me.”

It was such an impression that in 2008, Wilkerson sat down with IU alums Scott May, Kent Benson, Quinn Buckner and Mike Woodson at May’s Bloomington house. Over lunch, he explained his idea. May, Benson and Buckner were also on the 1976 team. Woodson, now coach of the New York Knicks, starred for IU in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

“They immediately embraced the idea,” Wilkerson said. “They told me to go for it.”

When the economy tanked, Wilkerson put his plans on hold. But last year, when Wilkerson’s older brother, John, died of a terminal illness, he said his vision returned—along with a message from God.

“God put it in my heart and in my spirit,” Wilkerson explained. “I knew it was time. It was time to start this venture. It was time to pull this team together again. It was time to pull them together to help others.”

Dana Curish, executive director of Susan G. Komen Central Indiana, calls Wilkerson’s initiative “a blessing.”

“He just called us out of the blue and volunteered to help, to make us part of this. He said he wanted to help and to give something back to this community,” Curish said. “Those are rare phone calls. Those are the types of phone calls we like. We feel very fortunate to be a part of this.”

Wilkerson and Benson held a press conference Wednesday on the IUPUI campus to unveil the initiative. Wilkerson and Benson were flanked by several of their former Hoosier teammates, including Wayne Radford, Tom Abernathy and Scott Eells.

Wilkerson has no doubt his new venture will pay off—and not just for himself and his 12 teammates.

“I learned a long time ago that this team can do anything it puts its mind to if it works together,” Wilkerson said. “We know from 1976, there’s nothing we can’t achieve together.”

Wilkerson got the blessing of all his teammates—and Knight—for the project. Wilkerson even included the family of former teammate Mark Haymore, who died in 2004, in the initiative. This year, Wilkerson officially formed the 32 and 0 Undefeated College Basketball Champions Foundation Inc.

Benson, along with Wilkerson, agreed to co-chair the organization, which will be based in central Indiana. Wilkerson also secured a license from IU to make and sell the products.

In addition to Susan G. Komen Central Indiana, part of the proceeds will benefit the Hoosier Oncology Group, Macon Mentor Academy and Help Indiana Vets. Wilkerson said a percentage of each sale will go to the four charities, depending on the price of the item. He declined to give specific percentages that will be awarded to the charities.

Wilkerson insists the monetary donations are just the beginning to his—and his teammates’—community involvement.

“It’s not just about raising money; it’s about being active in the community,” Wilkerson said. “It’s also about an initiative where this team and its supporters can come together to do something great, do something that really matters to others. And you know, we’re all just one step away from needing help.”

Part of the plan is to partner with more not-for-profits in central Indiana and also charities in the hometowns of each of the former players on that 1976 team.

In many ways, Wilkerson’s timing couldn’t be better—and not just because there are more charitable causes than ever that need help. The resurgence of the IU program in the last two years under Coach Tom Crean has rekindled the fire of the Hoosier fan base.

On top of that, the 1976 Hoosiers in April at the Final Four were honored as the greatest college basketball team ever. Many area fans still fondly remember that magical run and will be willing to fuel Wilkerson’s dream by purchasing commemorative items.

The 32 and 0 items are scheduled to go on sale Thursday at 32and0.com.

  • Great Team
    The Undefeated Indiana Hoosier National Championship run was amazing. The 32and0 foundation is also amazing with the same Leadership. We are blessed to be a part of their team.
  • So proud of you all!
    I know Bob was so proud of you all when you played at Indiana University. He must be even prouder now. Since Bob died of brain cancer after only five months last year , I want to help however I can. Please let me know where I can send donations or purchase products.
  • iU Great Legacy
    This is a great opportunity to show the players of the future to learn from legends of the past on who to give back to the program that gave so much

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  1. I had read earlier this spring that Noodles & Co was going to open in the Fishers Marketplace (which is SR 37 and 131st St, not 141st St, just FYI). Any word on that? Also, do you happen to know what is being built in Carmel at Pennsylvania and Old Meridian? May just be an office building but I'm not sure.

  2. I'm sorry, but you are flat out wrong. There are few tracks in the world with the history of IMS and probably NO OTHER as widely known and recognized. I don't care what you think about the stat of Indy Car racing, these are pretty hard things to dispute.

  3. Also wondering if there is an update on the Brockway Pub-Danny Boy restaurant/taproom that was planned for the village as well?

  4. Why does the majority get to trample on the rights of the minority? You do realize that banning gay marriage does not rid the world of gay people, right? They are still going to be around and they are still going to continue to exist. The best way to get it all out of the spotlight? LEGALIZE IT! If gay marriage is legal, they will get to stop trying to push for it and you will get to stop seeing it all over the news. Why do Christians get to decide what is moral?? Why do you get to push your religion on others? How would legalizing gay marriage expose their lifestyle to your children? By the way, their lifestyle is going to continue whether gay marriage is legalized or not. It's been legal in Canada for quite a while now and they seem to be doing just fine. What about actual rules handed down by God? What about not working on Sundays? What about obeying your parents? What about adultery? These are in the 10 Commandments, the most important of God's rules. Yet they are all perfectly legal. What about divorce? Only God is allowed to dissolve a marriage so why don't you work hard to get divorce banned? Why do you get to pick and choose the parts of the Bible you care about?

  5. Look at the bright side. With the new Lowe's call center, that means 1000 jobs at $10 bucks an hour. IMS has to be drooling over all that disposable income. If those employees can save all their extra money after bills, in five years they can go to the race LIVE. Can you say attendance boost?