I didn’t get to know Jimmy Rayl until well after his playing career ended. I saw him play a few games for the Pacers and must have watched a few of his games at IU on television, but that was it.
After becoming a sportswriter I had occasion to call him now and then for help with a story, such as the one on this website when the Big Ten introduced a three-point shot. I talked with him more often when I began researching my book (“Reborn”) on the formation and early seasons of the Pacers.
Jimmy had the kind of personality that drew you in. Although a temperamental player who clashed with coaches, he had a gentle, humble demeanor in later years. He also had a great sense of humor and generous nature, as people such as Matt Painter would confirm. I was impressed with the number of people who made it a point to visit with him at his home. I was one of them. Wish I had done it more often.
I was flattered to be invited to speak at his funeral service in Kokomo, where his name remains legendary after all these years.
From Kokomo High School to Indiana University to the Indiana Pacers, Jimmy Rayl embodied Hoosier Hysteria as well as anyone. For him, basketball was much more than a game to be played. It was a passion, and like any love interest it would return anger and agony to go with the joy.
Rayl, who passed away on Jan. 20, 2019 at age 77, was one of the greatest long-range shooters in the state’s basketball history, a threat from beyond 30 feet long before the three-point shot revolutionized the game. He also was one of the skinniest, weighing just 145 pounds as a 6-foot-3 guard at IU. He was dubbed The Splendid Splinter by state sportswriters, a nickname originally attached to baseball star Ted Williams but equally appropriate for Rayl.
As a high school player he was the forerunner to guards of similar playing style and skin tone, such as Ron Bonham, Rick Mount, Billy Shepherd and Steve Alford, guys who would let it fly without conscience and with uncanny accuracy. He was a colorful player in a colorful era of Hoosier Hysteria, seemingly fictional in his persona and accomplishments.
Tagged with: Branch McCracken, Darnell Hillman, Jerry Harkness, Jimmy Rayl, Matt Painter, Tom Bolyard