INDIANAPOLIS - Bobby Plump settled in at a table in the family restaurant and began spinning the tale of his childhood, the one everyone loves. The one he loves.
As fans in nearby seats stopped eating and leaned in close to hear the details, Plump patiently described his buzzer-beating jumper in the 1954 Indiana state championship game. The shot that led to “Hoosiers” and the shot that has thrust him, willingly, into a role as Indiana’s ambassador for its beloved basketball and his alma mater, Butler.
The 73-year-old Plump smiles often, occasionally bellowing in laughter at details as he describes Milan High’s historic win over Muncie Central as though it happened yesterday. He takes about five minutes to describe 18 seconds. Patrons young and old nod in approval.
People have been waiting in line at “Plump’s Last Shot” all week to talk with the owner, to get his autograph, hear his voice. And Plump? He may have been waiting all his life for this — who wouldn’t love a chance to relive a glorious piece of your past?
“I’ve been weary after these things,” Plump says. “It’s so much fun, and I enjoy it, but I tell you what. It does make you tired.”
He’s made numerous appearances, including some at Hinkle Fieldhouse (site of that 1954 game), and his interview schedule has been daunting. He’s opened his restaurant three hours early. Plump said Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels has invited Plump and his eight living Milan teammates to watch Saturday’s game with him in a suite at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Everyone remembers Plump’s famous high school shot. More and more are remembering that he was a star at Butler, which is in the Final Four and will play Michigan State on Saturday night.
Plump was an all-conference guard and is in the school’s athletic hall of fame. He remains close to the program and likes the fact that people can tie Butler and the man who made the dream shot.
As Plump addressed his patient fans Thursday, he starts a conversation with Dick Kuchen, former coach at California and Yale. Tall and sophisticated, Kuchen’s eyes sparkle like a small child’s as he talks to Plump.
“Every summer I ran a basketball camp, and the movie I ran for every camper that came in there was ’Hoosiers,”’ he said. “I just think it’s a great story, and he wears it well.”
Bob Brown of Danbury, Conn., isn’t a Butler fan — he backs Kansas — but he’ll cheer for the Bulldogs. He brought his two sons to the restaurant.
“When we decided to come to the Final Four, we said, ’We’ve got to come to Plump’s Last Shot,”’ he said. “They like the whole story of Milan High School and of course, the movie. It’s just great history.”
Plump said real parallels between Butler and Milan are few. He said Butler is a much better team and faces higher stakes.
“These kids are playing on an international stage,” he said. “The pressure on them is much greater than us, and the only comparison is that we both had pretty good ballclubs.”
Another difference is that Butler is the oddsmakers’ favorite against the Spartans.
“I’m a little disappointed in the bookies,” he said. “Butler’s always an underdog and they made them the favorite,” he said. “I’m superstitious. I wish they would have made them at least a one- or two-point dog.”
Plump says the Bulldogs can win it all if they play they way they have throughout the NCAA tournament.
“I definitely think they can win it,” he said. “If they have 80 minutes in them similar to the last two games, I truly believe we’ll be celebrating a championship here.”
As he continues, he’s interrupted.
“Sorry, but these people have been waiting for a long time,” the employee tells Plump.
So has Plump.
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