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The unlikely Miami Heat fan who lives in Celtics’ Brad Stevens’ old Indianapolis house

Author Dan Wakefield watches — from the house Celtics coach Brad Stevens once rented — as his Miami Heat take a 3-1 series lead over the Celtics Wednesday. Photo by Jake Query.

Written by: Dana Hunsinger Benbow, Indianapolis Star

INDIANAPOLIS — Dan Wakefield sits in his living room, actually, a lot of the time he stands, paces and then drops to his knees when a bucket falls in for the Miami Heat. Sometimes, he has to lean on the mantle over his fireplace when the game gets too intense.

He wears a Miami jersey or T-shirt, eats pizza, drinks Coke Zero and is cheering as fiercely as anyone for the Heat to cream the Celtics in the Eastern Conference Finals.

And he’s doing it inside Celtics coach Brad Stevens’ old house.

Wakefield, 88, took his usual spot Wednesday inside his home on Northview Avenue as the Heat took a 3-1 lead, much to his delight. He’s been rooting for the team since 1995 when he moved to Miami to teach at Florida International University’s graduate writing program.

The author of five novels and 11 nonfiction books, Wakefield is an Indianapolis native and acclaimed writer. He was one of Kurt Vonnegut’s best friends and went to high school with Richard Lugar.

His best-selling book, “Going All The Way,” about coming of age in Indianapolis was made into a movie. So was Wakefield’s 1973 novel, “Starting Over,” starring Burt Reynolds. 

But his wordsmithing, Wakefield said, only began because he loved basketball and was too slow to play. 

So, he started writing about the sport. And then he made a career of writing, leaving Indianapolis for 57 years, and spending nearly 15 of those in Miami through the team’s heyday in the late 1990s into the 2000s…

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Going All The Way (again) at The Red Key Tavern

Red Key Tavern

On Tuesday afternoon, August 18, we held a “socially distanced book signing” outside on the patio of The Red Key Tavern for the 50th anniversary of my novel Going All The Way. Twelve people signed up on my website to come at fifteen minute intervals from 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. My friend John Myers (a veteran of Korea) served as “Sergeant at Arms.” What a fine and appropriate way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the novel!

This is part of a history that began during Christmas vacation of 1954, my senior year at Columbia. My Shortridge history teacher and friend, Dorothy Peterson, called me to say that Ted Steeg was home from Korea and he wanted to go to Columbia on the G.I. bill and would like to talk to me. Ted was in the Class of ’48 at Shortridge, two years ahead of me; he had been a star fullback for The Blue Devils and was elected ”Uglyman” – the most popular boy in the senior class. He went on to play for Wabash, and was a “Little [small college] All-American” as a defensive back. I had been a sports columnist and editor of The Shortidge Daily Echo two years after Ted graduated, and I was friendly with the jocks in my own class, so I felt socially qualified to hang out with Steeg. He called me and suggested we meet at The Red Key.

Like several other friends who had been in Korea, especially those who’d spent time in Japan, Ted had changed. The former football star/frat boy had started thinking outside the box. He was asking questions, of himself and of me (as well as of Indianapolis, America, and the world.) We sat at the end of the bar and talked and played the juke box and drank our beers and had a few more. Ted said he was going to start the M.A. in Literature program at Columbia in the spring semester, and he asked if he could stay with me when he got to New York. I explained I was living off campus in a basement apartment on West 77th street with only a single bed, a table and a chair, but he was welcome to stay on the concrete floor. One freezing night in February there was a knock at my door and I opened it to see Ted. He had a knapsack on his back, and he was holding a sleeping bag in one hand and a suitcase in the other. Our legend—our lifelong friendship—began.

50 Years of GATW
Buy Going All The Way at Amazon, Nook, or the App Store.

That meeting was given a fictionalized version in the novel when “Sonny” and “Gunner” meet on the train back to Indianapolis after their time in the service. It was fictionalized for film in the 1997 movie in the same two seats at the end of the bar in the Red Key with Ben Affleck as “Gunner” and Jeremy Davies as “Sonny.” When Gunner wants another beer he says “Hit me again, Russ,” in tribute to the late Russ Settle, the founder and owner of The Red Key Tavern. Russ is not seen in the movie but he actually served that beer—in “real life” in ’54 as well as in the movie in ‘97. The Red Key is now owned and operated by Russ’s son Jim, usually the bartender, aided by Jim’s wife Dolly (who makes the legendary chili and potato salad in their respective seasons) and his daughter Leslie, who is either behind the bar or waitressing or both, with the welcoming spirit that seems to be built into the place.

My super website and social media experts, SuperPixel, arranged for fifteen minute time slots for each signing, and eleven people signed up—two were not able to make it, but two others arrived by accident, so everything worked out. It rained that morning but the sun came out in the afternoon and the day was fair and fine. My friend Susan Neville, who is Indiana’s finest writer, was the first guest to have her copy of Going All The Way signed. I had asked Susan to bring her own new book, The Town of Whispering Dolls, a powerful and entrancing collection of stories that won the Catherine Doctorow Prize for the “Best Book of Innovative Fiction in 2019.” [That’s a national award.] I got so excited about Susan’s book that I read one of my favorite passages to the next guests, after I signed their copy of my novel.

Everyone who came was a winner, but the prize must go to the man who came directly from the hospital where he had just had his pacemaker replaced. He pulled up his t-shirt to show us the new bandage.

For $25, everyone got the novel, the author’s signature, and a beer from The Red Key. All proceeds went to The Red Key Tavern, which we think should be the first step in its being declared a Historic Monument.

Our bargain deal reminded me of an ad for the William H. Block department store touting one of its own bargains. It was written by an advertising copywriter for the store named Phoebe Hurty, who in 1938 hired Kurt Vonnegut to write about Block’s clothes for teenagers in The Shortridge Daily Echo. Vonnegut dedicated his novel Breakfast of Champions to Phoebe Hurty, and he quoted her work that he most admired:

“She wrote this ad for an end-of-the-summer sale on straw hats: ‘For prices like this, you can run them through your horses and put them on your roses.’”

Vonnegut felt he would never be as gracious in prose as Phoebe Hurty. I am not about to try.

Read Kurt Vonnegut’s review of Going All The Way here.

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My feature on WTHR about Emmett Till and today’s attitudes

I was featured on WTHR for my coverage of the Emmett Till murder trial 65 years ago. From the story:

INDIANAPOLIS — As he watched video of George Floyd’s murder and the weeks of nationwide protests that followed, Dan Wakefield couldn’t help but think of another murder, one that happened nearly 65 years ago in Mississippi.

Emmett Till, 14, an African-American teen, was visiting the south from Chicago and staying with relatives when was killed by two White men. The men had accused Till of whistling at a White woman.

“They took him away and he was found two or three days later at the bottom of the Tallahatchie River with a 50-pound cotton gin fan tied around his neck,” said Wakefield, 88.

Read the full story and watch the video at WTHR.

You can read my full original piece on the trial at The Nation.

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Dan Wakefield

Dan Wakefield