This past March I was watching ESPN and a documentary came on that really caught my eye. It was called “Black Magic” and it was a timeline of black in collegiate and professional basketball. Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets was the host of the two-hour event while Wynton Marsalis and Samuel L. Jackson narrated the film. As I sat and looked at the TV, I was amazed at all the things that I had never known about basketball’s racist past.
The main point that caught my attention and held it was the section dedicated to integration and its effect on black college sports.
During the 1950’s and 60’s the country was in a state of turmoil about the Constitutional rule of “separate but equal”. But the one plane that seemed to be the equalizer for the races was sports.
The NCAA and the then fledgling NBA allowed blacks to play but there was always an unspoken rule that blacks were not to ever enter the ranks. For years, blacks that wanted to play basketball flocked to perennial black college powerhouses.
The main two schools being North Carolina A&T University and Winston-Salem State University that were both headed by coaches that expected the most out of any player that touched the floor. Clarence “Big House” Gaines and John McClendon took recruiting trips together to the ghetto’s of the north to find that “diamond in the rough” player. They usually struck gold and found the future of NBA.
Earl “The Pearl” Monroe was the talk of all the Philly playgrounds when Big House found him. People even went so far as to call him “Black Jesus” because his game was just that flawless. At Winston-Salem, he developed his game to beast status and readied himself for his days as a Washington Bullet.
Willis Reed, who was a standout at West Side High in Lillie, Louisiana, came to Grambling to hone his skills because he was not given the opportunity to go to another school. Bob Love, who was an amazing player at Southern University, is another example of historically Black universities developing the talent of young Black athletes. None of these players had the chance to play at big schools but made the most of their times at their respective schools to get to the NBA.
I gave you that little basketball history lesson to bring you to my whole point of writing this article. The so-called fabulous phenomenon called “integration”. It was looked at as the chance for Blacks to break into the world of major collegiate athletics and prove that they could hang.
You could even say that the big schools were not letting Black players begin to play because they thought it was a good idea, but they had seen what the all black squad from Texas Western had done to the Kansas team. Many of them also saw that it would not be long before the game was completely overrun by Blacks that played the game at a faster pace than many of the White players.
Now if you did not already know, I firmly believe that integration hurt the caliber of historically black university basketball and other areas of the black community. It is not that I don’t appreciate all those who came before me and sacrificed their very beings for me to be able to go to any school, sit on any park bench, and walk through the front door of any establishment and not have anyone tell me that I could not but things changed after communities were “meshed”.
I think our athletic programs would not be in the state that they are in and have been for quite sometime. Schools like Grambling, Southern, Winston-Salem State and North Carolina A&T, all fell behind as a result of not having much to offer recruits whereas schools like Kansas and Kentucky can afford to give scholarships to every player on the team even if they do not get minutes.
Imagine if players like Bill Russell, Oscar Robertson, Elgin Baylor, and Wilt Chamberlain had all attended black colleges. The benefits that could have been reaped by the universities for the future would have done tremendous things in reference to the alumni base that would have been there.
I’m not one to say that change was not a good thing but at what cost to our foundering programs.