By CLIFF BRUNT
Robbie Hummel’s legacy could be wrapped up in the overwhelming response to a simple Twitpic taken with a Blackberry on a random November night.
Hummel missed two free throws late on Nov. 14, 2011 against High Point, and Purdue needed to hold off a desperation 3-pointer at the buzzer to win. That didn’t sit well with Hummel, so he went to work.
He started shooting free throws. First, he shot with Anthony Johnson, demonstrating exactly how a youngster should work.
Then, he shot alone. For a long time.
And he kept making them. Swish after swish.
I was on deadline writing for The Associated Press, so as I watched Hummel out of the corner of my eye at about 11:10 p.m., I thought to myself, ‘I hope he’s still shooting when I’m done with this.’
My buddy, Jim Johnson, took a couple shots of it first before I finished my story. I took only five photos, trying to get just the right one. I ended up with this: Robbie shooting free throws.
The one I got had all the elements I wanted, and more. The place was completely empty. The score was still on the scoreboard. He had a music player at his feet. Banners hung in the rafters above him. The ball was in his hands and he was focused and ready. It was perfect. I put hashtag “leadership” on the photo, hit the button and couldn’t believe what happened next.
Within 90 minutes, the photo had been viewed 4,000 times. The number reached 7,000 the second day and 8,000 the third. By the end of the week, it had hit 10,000. One year later, the photo has been viewed well over 12,000 times.
I saw the numbers spike, in total awe both of Hummel and of social media. Even Hummel was blown away when told about it.
Here’s what I think it all means. The photo exemplified everything people already believed about Robbie. Hard work. Determination. Winner. Leadership, indeed.
People in Indiana are suckers for a guy who will shoot free throws in an empty gym at 11:20 p.m. He was already a hero, this was simply another small step towards immortality. One die-hard Indiana fan said, “Whoever you root for, how can you not appreciate this photo, taken about two hours after the game ended.”
Of all the work I’ve done covering Purdue the past seven years, I’ve never been asked more about a single thing than about that photo. A photographer was kind enough to tell me how it could have been done better, but the extreme amateur nature of the shot, in my opinion, made it more authentic.
An impressive senior season that saw him win the Lowe’s Senior Class award and that dynamic first half against Kansas sealed his legacy.
One other circumstance offered a look at where Hummel stands in Indiana lore. He recently was booed by a pro-Indiana Hoosiers crowd when he was shown on the big screen at a Pacers-Orlando game. One fan questioned how anyone could possibly boo Robbie Hummel, but as one IU fan astutely put it, “It’s Indiana.” True, but they don’t boo unless you’re special. It’s the kind of respect money can’t buy. Hummel should take a bow – as pro wrestler Triple H often has said, when he’s the bad guy and the fans boo, it all sounds like cheers.
For the record, I’ve only had one Twitpic approach that level of views – a pic of Drew Brees playing an XBox game against a girl during Super Bowl week that got more than 10,000. I’ve been looking for my next “Hummel” photo the past year. I might be looking for a long, long time.
Note: The author covered Purdue basketball for the AP for seven years and still covers the Boilermakers as a freelancer for the AP.
Follow Cliff Brunt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/cliffbrunt_isl