BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — Basketball is so revered at Indiana University that visitors speak about it in hushed tones.
I walked through the main entrance of Assembly Hall to get a glimpse of one of the world's most prestigious basketball courts. The lower-level doors were all locked, and a trip past the Hall of Fame plaques, trophies and signed jerseys yielded nothing.
Four hours remained until kickoff of the Indiana-Missouri football game. But no basketball fan can visit Bloomington without paying his respects at church.
That's what Assembly Hall resembles, anyway: some sort of nondenominational, new-millennium church. Beset with limestone, it is an unassuming piece of American sports history. And the corridors do not teem with much personality, either.
Then, somebody appeared.
He had rings around his eyes and yellowing teeth, but his message was pure.
"Up here," he said with a wave of his hand toward an open stairwell.
Several flights of stairs later, the man led me through a final set of doors marked "Balcony." Then another man wearing traditional crimson with the "IU" trident logo took over.
The arena with a capacity of nearly 18,000 was dead silent, save for a few bouncing basketballs on the court. The Hoosiers were holding court.
With me was a handful of awed fans. We carefully gazed down from our corner perch. We whispered without really knowing why.
I peered over the railing to take in the setting. The court where three national championship teams played seemed like it was a million miles beneath me.
The white outline of the state of Indiana trapped a small red trident at midcourt. A large, mostly unadorned wall towered above the action on the north side. The legendary wooden bleachers were rolled up against the walls, ready to crawl back into place for the bouncing feet of college-age men and women come November.
I had never felt such awe for the game of basketball. I don't remember how long I stayed there, but it wasn't long enough.