VIRDEN-- Arthur Ehrat admits he is not much of a basketball fan. He saw his first basketball when he was 10 years-old. There is a signed mini-basketball from Dick Vitale and family photos in the living room. One would be forgiven for not immediately grasping the sport's history around the house.
In fact, the hoops junkie of the house is Arthur's wife, Mary. They will watch mostly Illinois or Ohio State basketball games.
"I do not know who is playing guard or forward hardly," said the retired grain elevator manager. "She knows a lot more about basketball than I do."
But would you believe that in a town of approximately 3,500 people, lives the inventor of the modern basketball rim? Arthur Ehrat is officially recognized as the man behind the breakaway rim.
It all started from a small house project. Ehrat's nephew, Randy Albrecht (who is currently the basketball coach at Meramac Community College in St. Louis), asked for a favor.
"He said, 'we need a better rim.'"
In the 1960's, the NCAA outlawed dunking because players were breaking backboards, or hurting themselves, on slam dunks. The rims were stiff and had no give when a player would try to throw one down.
So Ehrat, who did not own any basketball equipment, went to a local store and bought a 20-dollar basketball rim. He still has the first rim in the house.
""This is my first rim for me to look at to think how I can make it flex with a slam dunk so they don't break the backboard," he shows off.
After studying his new purchase, he experimented with a variety of hinges and magnets. Albrecht would show him more rims, taping over the sharp metal loops that hold the net together (so his uncle would not cut his fingers). Eventually, Ehrat looked to a piece of tractor equipment for help.
"This is a John Deere field cultivator spring. So when it comes down, it would compress (itself) and reset itself when it let loose."
Ehrat brought it to St. Louis for Albrecht to examine his "Rebounder Rim." The Virden native's creation made its debut on basketball's biggest stage: 1978 Final Four in St. Louis.
But the better story from that year came at Forest Park Community College. Ehrat put up two of his prototype rims at a small event. It just so happens legendary coaches Bob Knight, Dean Smith and John Wooden were in attendance. The rim did not make a good initial impression on one of them.
"I was kind of looking around to see how things were going. And John Wooden says, 'they have to take both rims down. They are both broken.'"
Obviously, Coach Wooden eventually figured it out.
In 1982, the government approved Ehrat's patent application for the moveable rim. Patent no. 4365802, which was granted on December 28th, 1982, was for "Deformation-preventing swing-able mount for basketball goals."
Long name, but an even longer battle. Both Arthur and Mary Ehrat admitted the legal battles to protect their property were long and drawn out.
"We needed a lot of patience," she said.
The patent expired in 1999. While Ehrat will not divulge how much he made from it, he said it was enough to put five kids through college, help them buy a car with some money left over.
If you want to look for one of Ehart's rims, there is one in the Smithsonian. If you cannot get to Washington D.C., Ehrat says most of the rims are built from the same foundation that he started with decades ago.
While he has been a huge part of basketball history, the slam dunk's unexpected savior still is not as interested in the game as you may think. But when he is watching a game, he looks for only one thing.
"I look for the slam dunks"