If you are up on your Johnson County history, you know all about Tom and Dick Van Arsdale.
Or do you?
Sure, you know they were high school basketball stars who had All-American careers at Indiana University before playing 11-year careers in the NBA.
But did you know that, in addition to being identical twins, they put up nearly identical numbers throughout their basketball careers? Or that each had a 37-inch vertical leap? Or that when they played organized ball for the first time, they started on the fifth-grade but finished on the eighth-grade team?
Did you know they were outstanding tennis players who, at age 12, flipped a coin to determine which sibling would play in the championship match of a Greenwood city tournament because they didn’t want to play against each other?
If you want to know more, visit a new exhibit that opens today at the Johnson County Museum of History in Franklin, “Hometown Heroes: Tom and Dick Van Arsdale.”
Created by the Greenwood Public Library, the exhibit — which debuts with a special reception from 6 to 8 tonight — will be part of the museum’s permanent collection. The Van Arsdales will be on hand from 6 to 7 p.m. to greet visitors and sign autographs.
Greenwood natives who played for Manual High School in Indianapolis, the Van Arsdales, 69, have lived in Phoenix since retiring from the NBA in 1977. Recently retired from successful post-basketball business careers (they co-owned Van Arsdale Properties Inc. in Phoenix, which Tom’s son Chris now operates), the exceptionally close-knit brothers spend much of their leisure time traveling, fly fishing and performing volunteer work in their community and church.
But long before they became businessmen, the Van Arsdales were two of the world’s best basketball players of their generation. In high school, they were co-Mr. Basketball winners. In college, they were All-Americans. In the NBA, they were three-time All-Stars.
In Johnson County, they are sources of immense community pride, whom the museum plans to permanently honor with the free exhibit, which is open during regular operating hours.
“Reaching out to other areas of the county is something we’re really working on, not just being a Franklin institution,” museum director Brenna Cundiff said. “We are the Johnson County museum. We worked pretty closely with the (Greenwood) library.
“They did a great job.”
Featuring an array of photos, memorabilia, newspaper and magazine clippings, interactive stations (compare your vertical leap and hand- and foot-size to theirs), and tips from the Van Arsdales on everything from shooting free throws to dunking, the exhibit is a step-by-step chronicle of their youth in Greenwood through the end of their distinguished NBA careers.
Born and raised in Greenwood, the Van Arsdales were the only children of the late Raymond and Hilda Van Arsdale. Both parents were teachers at Manual. That’s why the siblings played basketball there after junior high.
The exhibit provides a detailed account of their story, including several fun facts, such as:
The Van Arsdales first played competitive basketball on their fifth-grade team. They were so good, they were promoted to the eighth-grade team by the end of the year.
At age 12, they entered a Greenwood city tennis tournament and were both undefeated in singles heading into the championship match. Loath to compete against each other, they flipped a coin to determine who would represent “the Van Arsdales” in the title match. Tom won the toss and the match, and both were awarded a trophy.
Both had 719 career rebounds at IU, where Tom scored 1,252 points and Dick 1,240.
At the conclusion of their college careers in 1965, then-coach Branch McCracken — who led IU to NCAA championships in 1940 and 1953 — said the following: “Dick and Tom Van Arsdale were the two most competitive high school basketball players I’d ever seen. Convincing them to come to Indiana University was my greatest achievement. Coaching them was one of my greatest pleasures.”
Tom and Dick entered the NBA in 1966 — Tom with the Detroit Pistons, Dick with the New York Knicks — and were named to the All-Rookie First Team. Tom would go on to play for the Cincinnati Royals, Kansas City/Omaha Kings, Philadelphia 76ers, Atlanta Hawks and Phoenix Suns. Dick would become the first player ever signed by the Suns (1968) and played the rest of his career in Phoenix.
Teammates in Phoenix for their final professional season in 1977, the Van Arsdales averaged double figures throughout their careers.
Dick, who later served as the Suns vice president and was briefly their head coach, finished with 15,079 career points. Tom totaled 14,232.