The story of Crawford Gym

The story of Crawford Gym

LOUISVILLE, KY - It's a nondescript, older building on the booming University of Louisville campus. The only features that stand out are the domed roof and concrete basketball out front.

When you walk in the doors of Matthew H. Crawford Gym, it's like going back in time. The old, worn down wooden bleachers are still there. All three rows. The fans are still blowing. There is still no air conditioning.

The baskets are still in place and for the men who laced it up on the shiny, wooden courts, it's a place they'll never forget.

"We would be there playing and 500 or 600 people watching a pickup game," Darrell Griffith, the Cards all-time leading scorer remembers. "You want to get your name on the board, and get you a good team. It might be two or three games, and you might not get back up, because there was that much talent." Griffith was the National Player of the Year in 1980 and led UofL to the 1980 National Championship. He was also the 1981 NBA Rookie of the Year.

"Everybody in there, peeking in, tight. It was a show, man," Billy Thompson said. He was a starter on the Cards 1986 National Championship team. "The Crawford Gym atmosphere, it was high, it was like a championship game."

Jerry Eaves remembers the heat. "Sweaty, tremendous heat. Your total body was like you just got out of the swimming pool, completely drenched. Warmest place in the summer that I can ever remember." Eaves was also a starter on the 1980 National Championship team and played four seasons in the NBA.

"It was a sweat box," Phil Bond remembers. He was a starting guard on UofL's 1975 Final Four team. "What a lot of people don't realize is, during the off season, we had the Kentucky Colonels in town. We had several guys, Butch Beard, Jim Price, Wes Unseld, would come back from the NBA. We had guys coming back from Europe. When you played in Crawford Gym, it was competitive."

"There was no air conditioning, shirts and skins, but we had some of the best pickup games in country," Milt Wagner said. Wagner was also a starter on the 1986 team.

"I can remember the first day, walking into the gym, hot, sweaty and you step in there and you see people lined all up around the court," former Cards center Felton Spencer said. He was the #6 pick in the 1990 NBA Draft.

"That was one of the only places where kids could go to play," former UofL head coach Denny Crum said. "It's got a great legacy. We won two National Championships playing and practicing in Crawford Gym."

The no frills gym served as the practice home of UofL basketball until the Student Activities Center opened. There is also a pool in the building, which only added to the humidity. The current Cards practice in the state of the art YUM! Center on campus.

During the summer, players from all over the area would flock to the gym for the best pickup games in the region. UofL players, UK players, current and former, along with Kentucky Colonel's ABA stars would battle it out through the night.

"It raised the level of competition because people could come in and watch you play," Eaves added. "All your peers, friends, guys from the street, were watching you."

Robbie Valentine was also a member of the 1986 title team. "Games didn't start until 9 p.m. because the gym was a little bit cooler. So we went from 9 p.m. to almost midnight, 1 a.m., with the gym packed full of people."

"It was just a real good way to evaluate your talent and to elevate your talent," Griffith said.

That concrete basketball out front features the hand prints of the 1980 National Championship team, with faded name plates, only a few of which can be read.

The story of Crawford Gym airs Tuesday night on WAVE 3 News at 11.

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