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Why Does Indiana Wear Candy-Striped Pants?

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Of all the traditions at tradition-rich Indiana, none is as perpetually front-and-center as the Hoosiers’ candy-striped warm-up pants.

Prior to each game, IU players take the court sporting these blasts from the past and wear them throughout their warm-ups and whenever they’re on the bench until they’re summoned to play. Of all the program’s hallmarks, it is these pants that are listed first in the “Traditions” section of Indiana basketball’s Wikipedia page.

And Indiana’s reemergence as a national basketball power after lean years throughout the 2000s has put college hoops’ most famous warm-ups back in the spotlight. But very few people have asked about the origin of the distinctive pants because they’ve been a part of Indiana hoops as far back as most people can remember.

“As well as I know Bob [Knight] and as many conversations as we’ve had, I’ve never thought to ask him the whys of the striped pants,” said Bob Hammel - who co-wrote a new book with Knight called “The Power of Negative Thinking” - in an e-mail exchange with Lost Lettermen. “I just never thought about it, because they were … there. Not trying to parallel any roles here, now, but asking why seemed sort of like asking God why the sky is blue.”

So what was the genesis of the pants?

Bobby Knight’s 1971–1972 squad (below) was the first to play in Assembly Hall and the first team to rock the IU candy-striped warm-ups. There was nothing particularly loud about them in comparison to the fashion at the time, which was dominated by geometric-patterned attire most visibly - and famously - seen on glam rock musicians.

They were, however, unique in the college basketball world.

“I just liked them,” Knight told Hammel earlier this week in classic Bob Knight fashion. “They were different.”

The look was already familiar in the Hoosier State, as the IU basketball team had already turned striped tube socks into a fashion statement. But it should be noted that the pants themselves were not original. The Harlem Globetrotters made candy-striped shorts popular decades before Knight brought the pants version to Bloomington.

Whether Knight actually got the idea from the Globetrotters is unclear.

“The pants just happened,” Hammel said. “This was before the rest of us got to know Bob Knight well enough to think how wildly out of character it was for a man so conservative and stodgy in his basketball styling.”

Knight’s opting for something different couldn’t have been more perfectly timed. In 1971, college basketball was entering a new era where, for the first time, it was a viable television property. (The highly-rated “Game of the Century” between UCLA and Houston had taken place three seasons before.) For TV audiences, those candy striped warm-ups were a calling card.

“Indiana University has been on ... more than any other Big Ten institution as far as being on CBS or ESPN on a nationwide basis,” IU assistant director of event management Kit Klingelhoffer told the Tom Crean Show in 2011. “When people saw Indiana play, they recognized those candy-striped uniforms.”

Soon, they became an iconic part of an Indiana program partially defined by fashion. While Oregon has left its impression of the college sports landscape with bold, fashion-forward choices, Indiana has always been happy with occupying a niche at the other end of the spectrum.

This is a program that has made minimal changes to its jerseys — famously lacking nameplates on the back — and led for many years by Knight, whose red knit sweater (one that wouldn’t look out of place on your grandfather) became a part of his persona over the years.

Once Indiana settles on a look it likes and has success with that look, they stick with it. Fittingly, those who didn’t embrace that tradition haven’t lasted long with IU.

“The IU coaches who would have dared – and no doubt preferred—to change them have been moved on,” Hammel said. “Tom Crean, who embraces every stitch of glory-days Hoosier tradition, wouldn’t think of it.”

Just consider how engrained the pants have become not only within the hoops program but throughout the university and the state of Indiana in general. Other Hoosiers athletics teams have also started sporting the warm-ups and they can now be found in campus stores after a change to Adidas’ licensing agreement. Hammel adds that he’s seen Indiana high schools sport their own versions of the candy-striped pants but with their school colors in place of IU’s crimson and cream, as in-state recruits dream of wearing the originals one day.

This look from a bygone era in fashion isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. It’s now engrained in Indiana’s identity as a basketball program. And now that the Hoosiers find themselves back near the top of the college basketball world, these candy-striped pants look as sweet as ever.

Photo Credit: Brian Spurlock/USA Today Sports

 
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