WASHINGTON -- A Division
I college basketball program is not the sort of enterprise easily
confused with a seminary or a seminar on ethics. But according
to what is currently America's most popular movie, 40 years ago
one such program became a nation-shaking, history-shaping moral
force. The movie, although not too noble to palter with facts,
is no more parsimonious with the truth than movies often are when
turning history into entertainment.
``Glory Road'' celebrates
the 1965-66 basketball team of Texas Western College (which in
1967 became the University of Texas, El Paso). The Miners included
seven black players, most recruited far from mining country --
the South Bronx, Gary, Ind., and other mostly urban places. The
drama was that five of them started the 1966 NCAA championship
game that Texas Western won, beating an all-white University of
Kentucky team, 72-65.
The game was not
quite, as the movie insists, David against Goliath. Granted, the
Kentucky Wildcats, then college basketball's aristocrats, were
college basketball's winningest team in the 1940s and '50s. But
Texas Western had lost only one game and was ranked third in the
nation as the tournament began.
racial dimension looks much larger in retrospect than it did then.
In the movie, a Texas Western official urges coach Don Haskins
to abide by an unwritten rule: play one black at home and two
on the road -- three if behind. And another white character scoffs
at the idea that blacks might be ``the future'' of basketball.
But Ron Rapoport of the Chicago Sun-Times notes:
before the game that supposedly changed basketball, the undefeated
1955-56 University of San Francisco team won the NCAA championship
with a team that played four blacks -- Bill Russell, K.C. Jones,
Hal Perry and Gene Brown. In 1958 the coaches' All-American team
was all black -- Wilt Chamberlain of Kansas, Oscar Robertson of
Cincinnati, Bob Boozer of Kansas State, Guy Rodgers of Temple
and Elgin Baylor of Seattle. In 1962, the University of Cincinnati
started four black players when it won the NCAA championship,
and Loyola University of Chicago started four when it won in 1963.
Frank Deford, a distinguished writer, covered the Texas Western-Kentucky
game for Sports Illustrated and did not mention the fact
of five black starters. Neither did The New York Times
nor The Washington Post. Already the ascendancy of blacks
in basketball was such that the four best players in the NBA were
Chamberlain, Russell, Baylor and Robertson.
In the movie, Haskins
tells his team the day before the game that he will play only
black players the next night -- he used all seven -- in order
to make a social statement. But former Georgetown coach John Thompson,
a black man famous for his bluntness, minced no words when talking
to Eddie Einhorn for a book, ``How March Became Madness,'' a history
of the NCAA tournament, that Einhorn is publishing next month
(with Rapoport's collaboration). Thompson told Einhorn that Haskins
said his only goal was to win, so he played his best players.
of the movie scene where the players' motel rooms are trashed
and racist epithets are painted on the walls? One of the players,
Nevil Shed, recently told Sporting News columnist Dave
Kindred, ``Could have happened.'' Kindred calls that Shed's way
of handling ``the fiction.''
the movie shows Haskins emphasizing basketball fundamentals and
telling the players that ``showboating is nothing but insecurity,''
the movie also makes much of the black players successfully seeking
his permission for the more flamboyant style of play they learned
on city asphalt. This much is true: Between 1967 and 1976 the
NCAA banned dunk shots, even during warm-ups. What do you suppose
that was about?
In his just-published
``At Canaan's Edge: America in the King Years, 1965-68,'' Taylor
Branch writes that when in 1950 Kentucky lost to City College
of New York's integrated team, Kentucky's Legislature flew the
flag at the capitol at half-staff. Two months after the 1966 championship
game, a black player received an athletic scholarship from one
of Kentucky's Southeastern Conference rivals, Vanderbilt. Kentucky's
coach, Adolph Rupp, was born in 1901 and probably was not much
different than his peers in his time and place. According to Branch,
Rupp complained of incessant calls from his university president:
``That son-of-a-bitch wants me to get some n------ in here. What
am I gonna do?'' But Kentucky had no black professor until 1965.
When Rupp retired
in 1972 his team was all white. Today Kentucky has a black coach,
Tubby Smith, whose 15-man team includes 10 blacks. They play in
2006, Washington Post Writers Group