WHEN IT WAS OVER WE GOT THE
watch and all but it wasn't really that big a deal.
What did it mean, what did we win?
Now I look at it on TV with all the pain and all the
joy and hype. So much has changed....
But now I know what we won.
ALL I EVER WANTED TO DO WAS DANCE.
Pat Riley, Kentucky '67, Hollywood forever, his glorious clothes matched only by his looks, is still dancing. Willie Cager, Texas Western '69, in a sweatshirt and windbreaker, his head cocked from an awful stroke that nearly killed him five years ago, can barely walk. Yet 25 years ago Cager's team won and Riley's team lost a college basketball game that changed the sport forever. And maybe changed a nation as well.
Oh, nobody knew it back then. Nobody realized the significance of the NCAA championship game in College Park, Md., on March 19, 1966, in which Texas Western, playing black men exclusively—five starters plus two reserves—defeated Kentucky, suiting up only whites, 72-65. Would the amazing racial transformation of basketball, of college athletics, of all sport, have happened if dust-blown, independent, absolutely unheard-of Texas Western hadn't shocked traditional, blue-blooded, four-time NCAA champion Kentucky? Certainly. Just as humanity would have lifted off without the Wright brothers and rocked around the clock without Bill Haley.
But to everything there is a season...turn, turn, turn. An all-black team had never played an all-white team in the NCAA title game, much less beaten one. And it would never happen again...turn, turn, turn. Curiously, in the explosive mid-'60s, black-white was for the op-ed pages. In Games 'R' Us, college basketball, folks wore the phrase "color blind" on their cardigan sleeves. Black-white? Following the '66 championship game, Don (the Bear) Haskins, the 36-year-old white coach who masterminded the El Paso-based Miners to the title, met the small press contingent covering the game for a full 10 minutes, and black-white never came up.
"A landmark game?" said Tommy Kron, one of the Kentucky guards in '66, just the other day. "Nobody looked on it as that important. If it was, it was luck. Just a happenstance."
"That part [black-white] never crossed our minds," says former Texas Western guard Orsten Artis.
"Just business," adds Artis's backcourt mate, Bobby Joe Hill. "We weren't on a crusade."
Color-blind or blind fools?
Revisionist historians maintain that black development in basketball, from the touring professional New York Rens in the 1920s and '30s through the glory years of the Harlem Globetrotters in the '40s and the college stardom of Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Elgin Baylor and Oscar Robertson in the '50s, had already reached a crescendo by the mid-'60s. The University of Cincinnati started four black players on its 1962 championship squad; Loyola of Chicago started four when it won the title a year later. But never had anyone gone for the big five. And never, but never, five against five. "TWC...TWC?" Kentucky coach Adolph Rupp supposedly said, spitting out the initials of Texas Western College after his most harrowing defeat. "What's that stand for, Two White Coaches?"
The story may be apocryphal. Rupp's feelings, however, were always simmering right there for all the world to know. In public, Rupp usually was a charming p.r. rogue, brimming with diplomacy and psychology; regrettably, his politics leaned more toward the KKK. "I always wondered if there would have been all this interest if Texas Western had beaten Duke [Kentucky's NCAA semifinal victim] instead of us," says Larry Conley, a Wildcat starter in '65-66.
Hardly. This was Texas Western and this was Rupp. Every Quixote needs his windmill. Against the Miners in '66, the Man in the Brown Suit was twirling round and round in a gale.
Soul and Inspiration
—RIGHTEOUS BROTHERS, 1966
It had been 12 years since the Supreme Court ruled in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that racial segregation in public schools was unconstitutional. But only four years earlier, in 1962, SEC champion Mississippi State had refused an invitation to the NCAA tournament because the school had a policy against playing integrated teams. In '63, Bulldog coach Babe McCarthy, defying an edict from the Mississippi legislature, had sneaked his team out of the state to play—and lose to—Loyola of Chicago in the Mideast semifinal.
The sociopolitical atmosphere during the 1965-66 season, virtually midway between the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr., was charged with turmoil and change. President Lyndon Johnson ordered his generals to win the war in Vietnam within two years. Muhammad AH refused induction into the Armed Forces. Congress passed the first Voting Rights Act, despite bitter opposition from Southern congressmen. It had been three years since James Meredith had enrolled at Mississippi with the help of the National Guard. And sizable numbers of black athletes had begun to claim scholarships at schools outside the South. But in several major conferences, including the ACC, SEC and SWC, not a single varsity basketball player was black. In Lexington, Ky., the tenor of the time was manifest the previous summer when the publisher of the Lexington Herald-Leader, Fred Wachs, a drinking buddy of Rupp's, had refused to print a word about the riots in the Watts section of Los Angeles, for fear that local blacks would get ideas. "OF Fred couldn't comprehend blacks might have access to a TV," says a fellow Kentuckian.
A couple of years earlier Rupp, under pressure from Kentucky president John Oswald to recruit minority players, had attained much publicity while recruiting a black center named Westley Unseld, who instead chose his hometown school, Louisville. Years later Unseld would tell friends that Rupp made a single visit to his house, during which Rupp made it plain to Unseld's parents—Westley wasn't even home—that he didn't want to be there. In a 1979 book entitled Adolph Rupp As I Knew Him, the Baron's longtime assistant, Harry Lancaster, revealed his boss's recruiting agenda more fully. Returning to his office after yet another meeting with Oswald, Rupp told Lancaster, "Harry, that sonofabitch is ordering me to get some niggers in here. What am I going to do?"
Apparently, though, Rupp could sec the forest for the trees. Midway through the 1965-66 season he halted practice and gathered his undefeated Rupp's Runts—no starter was taller than 6'5"—around him. He told them about the college basketball poll he'd seen in that morning's newspaper. "Boys," Rupp said in his scratchy Kansas twang, "when you go home tonight, I want you to look long and hard at these rankings. One. Two. Three. Kentucky, Duke, Vanderbilt. All from the South. And all white. Read it and remember. You'll never see it happen again."
The old man was right on the mark. A week after Texas Western had won the championship, Kentucky held its postseason team banquet. The master of ceremonies, Lexington Herald-Leader sports editor Billy Thompson, said: "At least we're still the Number One white team in the country."
Hold On (I'm Coming)
—SAM AND DAVE, 1966
One year after the '66 NCAA championship, Texas Western became the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP). Haskins, now 61 and weighing more than 250 pounds, remains the school's basketball coach. He denies that he was any kind of emancipator. "I don't think I had my head in the sand or anything," he says. "I just never heard the word quota around here. So I played my best players, who happened to be black."
Because of the '66 title game, for a long time much of America thought Texas Western/UTEP was a black school. "But they must not have looked at our bench," says Hill.
Indeed, one of the Miners' most valuable reserves was white—a muscular 6'4" forward named Jerry Armstrong, who came off the bench in the NCAA semifinals to guard Utah's Jerry Chambers when none of the black Miners could. Chambers, the Most Outstanding Player of that final four (before it was called the Final Four), scored 38 points, but few against Armstrong. "My black guys were only able to win the championship because their white teammate got 'em there," says Haskins.
Come the next day and the championship game—the semis and finals were then played on Friday and Saturday nights—Haskins heard that Rupp had promised "no five blacks are going to beat Kentucky." According to two of Texas Western's starters, Artis and Harry Flournoy, Haskins repeated to them what Rupp had said and told them that the game was all up to them. As it turned out, only the black Miners would play, but Haskins denies he was trying to make a statement. Against small, quick Kentucky, he saw no role for Armstrong. As a result, the Texas Western box score for the title game reads like the cast of some fantasy cartoon show, Damon Runyon Meets Sesame Street in Strawberry Trivia Fields Forever. Remember? Tyrone Bobby Joe (Slop) Hill, Orsten (Little O) Artis, Willie (Iron Head) Worsley, Harry (the Cricket) Flournoy, Nevil (the Shadow) Shed, Willie (Scoops) Cager and the one and still only David (Big Daddy D) Lattin.
When these Miners gathered in El Paso for a 25th-anniversary reunion on March 2, Haskins finally acknowledged their uniqueness. An ornery, rawhide slab of a man, Haskins almost, but not quite, broke down. "You guys got a lot of black kids scholarships around this country," he said. "You can be proud of that. I guess you helped change the world a little bit."
Haskins hadn't even seen a black basketball player until he was a senior at Oklahoma A&M in the early '50s, playing under Henry Iba. The Bear grew up on the other side of the tracks from the black community in Enid, Okla., and coached in the mostly white Texas cow towns of Benjamin, Hedley and Dumas. When he drove onto the Texas Western campus to start his first head coaching job, in 1961, a black guard named Nolan Richardson was waiting to unload Haskins's U-Haul for him.
Richardson, now the coach at Arkansas, played three years for Haskins, as did Jim (Bad News) Barnes, who became an All-America at Texas Western (and a '64 Olympian) and led the Miners to the NCAA tournament in 1963 and '64. Those teams set the foundation for Haskins's recruitment of the '65-66 Miners from the far reaches of urban America: Cager, Shed and Worsley from New York City; Artis and Flournoy from Gary, Ind.; Lattin from Houston; and Hill from Detroit. Most of this team played together in the 1964-65 season, at the end of which the Miners wound up in the NIT. But not until the following winter, when the hulking, glowering sophomore, Lattin, joined the varsity, did Texas Western really begin to click.
With Artis, Hill and Worsley rotating in the backcourt, the Miners had astounding quickness and a tenacious defense. However, Haskins hardly ever allowed them to run, preferring a deliberate, Iba-style protect-the-ball attack. Flournoy, though just 6'5", was a ferocious boardman who averaged 10.7 rebounds over three seasons. In Texas Western's greatest escape of its championship season, a one-point double-overtime victory over Kansas in the finals of the Midwest Regional, Flournoy blocked a dunk attempt by the Jayhawks' 6'11" All-America, Walt Wesley, and called Wesley "a sissy."
Against Kentucky, an injured Flournoy played only the first six minutes—"just enough to make the cover of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED," he says. He was pictured snatching a rebound from Riley. With Lattin and Shed up front as well, the Miners led the nation in rebounding. Then there was their man-to-man defense. Texas Western simply did not allow teams to do what they wanted.
"First you had to get by Bobby Joe and Orsten out front," says Shed, describing the Miners' fortifications. "Then you got to Flo and me, the Shadow. After that you met the Man [Lattin]. If anyone drove the lane on us, we'd knock his lights out. For the brave ones it used to get cloudy in there real fast."
Shed still talks as mean as the Miners looked and played 25 years ago, when the only thing scarier than Lattin's Sonny Liston-like countenance was Haskins himself. His discipline. His stare. His screaming. The day before the NCAA semifinals, during the open-to-the-world practice sessions at Maryland's Cole Field House, the national media got its first real look at Texas Western, this renegade band from the badlands that arrived at the final four with a 26-1 record—same as famous, proud old Kentucky—but theretofore had been mostly an intriguing rumor. It was not a pretty sight. Haskins browbeat his charges as some fishwife would her drunken bum of a spouse. "You ever seen a lazier bunch?" he roared at any bystander who would listen.
And the things he roared at his team. "Fine, Hill!" he screamed after one particular stream of invective. "Keep acting nonchalant. If your brains were dynamite, this place would be blown apart."
Then he yanked a sneering, insouciant Hill off the floor and sat him down for the duration of the workout. It was an impressive display of who's-in-charge, made especially chilling by the withering of the objects of his scorn, those menacing, mean-streets-hardened "Negro" (as the description went then) players.
"How can you talk to these black guys like that?" one shocked coach asked Haskins afterward.
"Same way I do white guys," said Haskins.
Respectful under the stern eye of their coach—well, they did call him Fats behind his back—the Miners never failed to project a, uh, thorny appearance to the world. "Anybody who saw us must have thought we were some savagely dunking street gang," says Shed. "But Coach always had us under control. He had to so we could strategize."
Contrary to their image, the Miners had had only one nasty physical confrontation all season, against Cincinnati in the semifinals of the Midwest Regional in Lubbock, Texas. Shed, who was 6'8" but barely 185 pounds, responded to an elbowing by throwing a wild left hook at Don Rolfes. The Shadow was ejected from the game. When he sought a seat on the bench, Haskins banished him from the floor. When Shed tried to wait out the game in the locker room, Haskins wouldn't let him in there, either. So Shed did what any self-respecting Bronx homeboy would do: He slunk off to a pay phone and called his momma, collect. She reamed him out worse than Haskins had.
—THE TROGGS, 1966
Before recruiting bureaus, summer camps, all-star games and ESPN, it was difficult to tell just how capable anybody—player or team—was who beat up on the likes of Eastern New Mexico, Pan American and South Dakota. But Texas Western was the goods. Worsley, Cager and Shed were all veterans of New York's inner-city competition. The 5'6" Worsley had been named MVP of a schoolboy championship game played before 18,000 fans in the old Madison Square Garden. Cager, a 6'5" swing-man for the Miners, didn't play ball in high school, but he had a near legendary tenure on the city's playgrounds, where he mastered the style that earned him his nickname, Scoops.
His Texas Western teammates still talk about the play Cager pulled off at Colorado State in their championship season. He tricked everybody in the arena with a stop-spin-reverse-and-twirl move. "Nobody knew what had happened, least of all us," recalls Shed. "Cager had the whole crowd surging one way, then the other. That night Scoops invented the wave. Too bad his shot finally hit nothing but air."
While Flournoy was merely a good rebounder in high school, his Gary compatriot, Artis, was a highly sought 6'1" guard. UCLA, among others, sent a letter of inquiry. The imposing 6'7", 240-pound Lattin was a star at Houston's Worthing High—the first high school All-America from Texas—with, unfortunately, two strikes against him: a shaved head and an agent. Haskins, however, turned down any deal, so Lattin joined four friends at Tennessee State, where he spent one unhappy quarter before returning home and enrolling at Texas Western in early '64.
In later years Rupp would intimate that Big Daddy D had transferred to Texas Western from the Tennessee state penitentiary. Alas, the Baron was only two-thirds correct; it was Tennessee State University. At any rate, after a couple of months of speech classes at Texas Western, Lattin was the DJ on his own campus radio show, The Big Daddy Jazz Session.
That was about the time Haskins figured he had a worthy successor to his previous muscleman center, Barnes. "Only man to make Bad News cower," Haskins used to say of Lattin. Haskins had watched with alternating horror and fascination during one of Lattin's first informal workouts. "David was perturbed about something," says Haskins. "So he just took off, stepping on one of my guys' heads, smashing another one, dunking the ball, ripping the rim off its hinges and cutting his own arm something fierce. I ran in, stopped the game and drove him and a couple of other guys to the hospital."
After spending several journeyman years with NBA and ABA teams as well as the Globetrotters, Lattin works in Houston as a p.r. executive, drives a Mercedes and a Porsche and wears enough Armani to incur the kidding of his still awestruck former teammates. "Hey, D! No Jacuzzis, no limos! How you gonna survive the weekend?" shouted Hill as an immaculate, double-breasted Lattin registered, oh so fashionably late, for the Miner reunion.
Now, as then, the leader of the Miners—their spirit, their soul and, says Shed, their "steering wheel"—is Hill, a brash, coarse, fearless character from the Highland Park section of Detroit, whom Haskins found at Burlington (Iowa) Junior College and almost broke before letting him have his head. The 5'10" Hill had a tendency to put on weight, and when he showed up for the first time in El Paso, he had ballooned to 210 pounds. "What the hell?" said Haskins. "You can't even scrimmage in that shape!"
"Where's the gym?" snarled the porcine Hill, who proceeded to waste all the veteran guards Haskins had, just as he would embarrass opposing teams throughout Texas Western's championship season. Haskins calls the lefthanded Hill the fiercest competitor he ever coached, "every bit as good" as Nate Archibald and Tim Hardaway, Miner guards who went on to NBA stardom.
Hill led his teammates on the court, in the card games, at the parties. He was the only Miner to stand up to Lattin. Behind 20 points to New Mexico one night with 14 minutes left, Hill challenged Lattin, who was being dominated by the Lobos' powerful center, Mel (Slim) Daniels, another old Detroit acquaintance of Hill's. "Dammit, D, start checking Slim or I'll do it for you," said Hill. "Turkey couldn't beat me in high school, can't beat me now." Texas Western ended up winning in overtime.
Hill wouldn't back down before Haskins, either. One night Haskins caught Hill in the middle of a smoke-filled dorm-room poker game with his feet propped up around a jug of wine. "You're comin' with me," a furious Haskins said, grabbing Hill by the shirt.
"Hey, not now!" said Hill. "I got a——pat [hand]!"
Subsequently, Haskins forced Hill to run suicide sprints until he could barely stand up. "I tried to get Bobby Joe to quit," says Haskins. "But it's kinda hard to run off a thoroughbred."
Hill's entire game was based on his ability at the defensive end—to disrupt an offense, shake down the handlers, steal the ball. Nobody kept defensive stats in those days, but Hill may have had as many as eight steals a game. "Don't worry about taking it away from these guys," Haskins told his players at the start of the Kentucky game. He looked at Hill. "Because you can't."
Hill shrugged and snapped right back. "How many you want me to take from 'em?" he asked.
19th Nervous Breakdown
—THE ROLLING STONES, 1966
In the 1965-66 season, Texas Western brushed off nine weak opponents before realizing how good it could be in a game against Iowa in the finals of the Miners' own Sun Carnival tournament. Before the game, Iowa coach Ralph Miller told Haskins he didn't think the fourth-ranked Hawkeyes would be challenged until halfway through the Big Ten season. Moments later, Texas Western jumped out to a 28-4 lead before cruising to an 86-68 victory and a foothold in the national rankings.
Across one time zone, Kentucky had made a statement in only its third game of the season, against another highly regarded Big Ten team, Illinois, in Champaign. The Wildcats had a nucleus of seniors (Conley and Kron) and juniors (Riley and Louie Dampier) back from the unit that had won 15 of 25 games the previous season, Rupp's worst record until then. The question mark was at center. But against Illinois, 6'5" sophomore Thad Jaracz broke loose for 32 points, the Wildcats won 86-68, and Kentucky's destiny seemed set.
As Rupp's Runts—reputed to be his favorite team of all time—rolled to the top of the charts, Rupp made the cover of SI, and the players were photographed for TIME strolling the Kentucky campus in all their letterman-jacket splendor. "It was the most exciting time of my life," says Riley.
Meanwhile, in El Paso, Haskins was shaking his fists and popping stomach pills in frustration over a group of players he thought had grown complacent. "I don't know if it's that easy to coach a great team," he says. "I don't think it is. They get to knowing how great they are, and they won't listen to you. These guys could guard people like nobody I ever saw, but they 'bout drove me crazy because they played down all the time."
Over a stretch of five games in February, the Miners were taken to overtime twice and won the others by two, two and four points, respectively. "I swear, we were always just messin' around," says Haskins. The Miners' bad habits caught up with them in the regular-season finale at Seattle. Kentucky's undefeated streak had been snapped at 23 by Tennessee earlier that same day, but with a chance to get the No. 1 ranking, the Miners lost 74-72. "We must have shot seven times at the end to tie that sucker," says Hill. "All layups, too. Nothing would go down. We were still shooting layups when the gun went off. Lattin's still shootin' 'em today."
Haskins was furious at Hill for continuing to take the ball to the basket when it was obvious the hometown refs were not giving the visitors any calls. Afterward, Haskins imposed a rare curfew and checked the team's hotel beds—twice. The second time, the only player tucked in was Shed, who had not made the getaway cars to a late party and was shaking in his street clothes under the covers as he feigned surprise to Haskins over his teammates' absence.
The next morning on the plane from Seattle to the Midwest Regional in Wichita, Haskins kept sending his assistant, Moe Iba (Henry's son), to the players' seats to make sure they couldn't fall asleep. Because Hill had defied him both during and after the game in Seattle, Haskins didn't start him in the first-round game against Oklahoma City the next day. But the high-scoring Chiefs had the nation's leading rebounder, James (Weasel) Ware, and sharpshooter Jerry Lee Wells. Moreover, Haskins knew that before the game Wells had insulted Hill in the hotel lobby, calling him "a little chump."
Hill sat while Oklahoma City built a 20-9 lead. When Haskins finally sent him in, he simply took over. He got in his teammates' faces, Lattin dominated the Weasel, and Texas Western won 89-74. "Fats puts me in late. Then he takes me out with seven minutes to go," says Hill. "Never enough time. Man, I wanted to punish those dudes."
While Kentucky had a rather easy time in the Mideast Regional, getting a bye and then beating Dayton and Michigan, the Miners survived a couple of dramatic struggles in the Midwest. After Shed got kicked out of that semifinal game against Cincinnati, Cager came on to scoop and save Texas Western, which won 78-76 in OT. Then, against Kansas in the regional final, with the score tied 71-71 at the end of the first overtime period, both Artis and Hill forced Jayhawk future All-America Jo Jo White to the left sideline as White angled for the winning shot. The ball went in anyway. "Judge!" Lattin screamed at Hill. Daddy D called everybody Judge. "I don't believe it! You let the guy shoot that? You didn't smack him in the head?"
"Chill, Judge!" Hill said. Hill called Lattin Judge. "The game's not over. We're still alive." Sure enough, White had stepped out of bounds. Although his shot remains one of the most controversial in NCAA tournament history, a film shows trailing official Rudy Marich, in perfect position, signaling White's foot on the line as White lifts off for the shot. "Jo Jo still insists I pushed him out," says Hill, laughing. "But I don't think his free throws would count now." Texas Western beat Kansas 81-80 in double overtime to qualify for the national semifinals.
I Fought the Law
—THE BOBBY FULLER FOUR, 1966
A few hours before the national championship game, Haskins and Moe Iba went out for a sandwich. As they walked back to their hotel, Haskins asked Iba, "You think they'll let us win it?"
Says Haskins now, "I knew who we were. I knew who Kentucky was and what it represented."
Haskins had told the national media that he felt proud just to be on the same floor with Rupp. He said the Baron would probably get a lot more chances to win a championship but that for Haskins this was probably "once in a lifetime." In other words, Haskins said all the right things.
Privately, Haskins was irked that when Rupp was asked if this was his best Kentucky team, he said it would be if the team won on Saturday night. Rupp, however, sounded as if he meant when, not if. "I played for the best coach who ever lived," says Haskins of Henry Iba. "I wasn't intimidated by Adolph Rupp."
No, the intimidation would emanate from Texas Western. As was their wont, the Miners were ridiculously confident. "This was just business," says Hill. "Cincy was better than Kentucky. So was Kansas. There was no chance we would lose this game." In his heart and soul, Haskins believed the same thing.
Lore has it that Lattin spent the entire warmup period glaring at the Wildcat players. "Not true," Big Daddy says, smiling. Flournoy insists that upon taking the floor for the opening jump ball, Lattin went up to Kentucky's Jaracz and said, "First chance I get, I'm gonna break your neck." Big Daddy D laughs again. "I'm not that mean," he says.
Characteristically—he admits to having done it all season—Riley stole the opening tip by quick-jumping, but the ref caught him and Texas Western got the ball. It would be the last time Kentucky had a chance to control anything all night. Haskins had told Lattin that at the first opportunity he should take the ball to the hole—forget about charging or traveling or a turnover or anything—and throw down a dunk as hard as he could. Send a message. Make Kentucky know this wasn't going to be a picnic. "I didn't think they had seen many guys who could dunk it like David," says Haskins.
"We hadn't," the Wildcats' Conley says. "I was backing down the lane with my man when David went up. Pat tried to contest him, but it was fairly awesome."
Actually, Lattin had already created terror at the other end, on Kentucky's first possession, by stuffing Riley's shot and being whistled for a foul. Then, the second time Texas Western had the ball, Big Daddy made his dunk. He took a no-look, sidewinding pass from Hill through the Wildcats' 1-3-1 trap zone and—Arrggghhh, whomp!—jammed on Riley. "Intense," says Riley. "Daddy D was telling me to forget about this one."
Midway through the half Lattin slam-dunked again to put Texas Western ahead 16-11. "We were bouncing off Lattin like he was Charles Barkley," recalls Riley. "I also remember Willie Cager slashing through our whole team for another dunk. After that we knew it was going to be a long night. The margin was seven points, but it was a lot worse than that."
With all the potential for jawing and pointing and woofing and all kinds of other ugly stuff (yeah, black-white stuff), the fact that the game was played without incident speaks volumes for the class and attitude and style of both sides—with the exception of Rupp, who in a halftime locker room tirade referred to the Miners as "coons." "There is always an underlying feeling when black guys play against whites," says Worsley. "It's about proving yourself. It's more macho than racial. But if we went into that game thinking, 'Let's get the crackers' or some such nonsense, we'd have really hurt our cause."
"I think there was a streak of arrogance in both teams that night," says Riley. "But we competed the way we both were taught—hard, fair, cleanly. We had respect for one another. I'll always remember the game as the ultimate of what sportsmanship and character are all about."
Recently, after looking at the grainy, high-camera-angle tape of the final, representatives of both teams agreed that for such a momentous occasion, the game was slow, tedious, almost flat. Conley was still suffering from the flu. Flournoy reinjured a knee diving for a loose ball, came out of the game early and never returned. After Hill stole the ball on consecutive Kentucky possessions and converted both steals into layups—"How many you want me to take from 'em?"—the game turned inexorably toward Texas Western. Many people who were there remember this sequence as occurring late in the game. In fact, Hill made his famous steals with a little more than 10 minutes gone in the first half. The championship never seemed to come alive after that.
As the Miners were leaving the court at intermission with a 31-28 lead, a woman from Kentucky ran up to Texas Western substitute guard Dave Palacio ("our Spanish-American friend," says Shed) and pleaded. "She said, 'Please don't beat us,' " Palacio recalls. "I guess she chose me because she was embarrassed to ask the black players."
To offset Kentucky's quickness, Haskins started Worsley instead of Shed in a three-guard set and played him the entire 40 minutes. As a result the Baron wasted valuable time having his players try to force the ball to the 6'3" Conley so that he could shoot over the smaller (by nine inches) Worsley. "Willie knocked my arm a couple of times, and my shots barely reached the rim," says Conley. "I told Steve Honzo [the referee], 'Hey, I'm not that bad a shot.' But there was no call. Adolph got tired of me missing, and we went back to the regular stuff. But Texas Western just swallowed up everything we did."
At the end, as Cager dribbled out the clock, Lattin felt strangely subdued. Only Shed and Worsley, the sophisticated guys from Gotham, let it all out, Shed lifting his little homeboy up to cut the net. Looking at pictures of their celebration recently, Shed was stunned at that scene. "I didn't even carry my wife across the threshold!" he said. "But sure enough, there it is—I had Willie Worsley sitting on top of my head."
What Becomes of the Brokenhearted
—JIMMY RUFFIN, 1966
As the hate mail piled up in trash cans outside Haskins's office in the months following the game, he realized he had unleashed something very ugly in America. Thousands of letters, mostly from the South, chastised him as a "nigger lover." At the same time, correspondence flooded in from angry blacks accusing Haskins of being an "exploiter."
"That next year was about the toughest and saddest time of my life," says Haskins. "We had death threats in Dallas in a game against SMU. A guy called me up and said he'd shoot me 'if the niggers step on the floor.' Scared? Sure, we were all scared. A lot of days I wished we had finished second. Obviously, nobody thought five [actually, seven] blacks could win a national championship."
At least, not fairly.
In a 1975 interview in the Louisville Courier-Journal, Rupp said that his "alltime favorite team" had lost the '66 NCAA final to a "bunch of crooks." He revealed a pathological side of his sorrow. He said that his biggest career disappointment was "not winning in '66 and finding out Texas Western had all those ineligible players...one was on parole from Tennessee State Prison. Two had been kicked out of a junior college in Iowa. Texas Western was suspended by the NCAA for three years after that."
A year later, James Michener published his book Sports in America, in which he devoted three pages to the Miners and called their NCAA championship "one of the most wretched episodes in the history of American sport."
Michener described Texas Western as "five tough New York playground types" who had been "conscripted" to play in Texas, "a bunch of loose-jointed ragamuffins ready for a brawl...hopelessly outclassed...furious young men who had come to wrestle the ball away, flood the forecourt with shooters, and keep throwing the basketball toward the basket until it went in."
Drawing on an eight-year-old SI series on the black athlete in America, Michener also wrote that none of Texas Western's black players had graduated (which was true in 1968, when the SI article appeared) and that they had been used as "poorly paid gladiators" and then "tossed aside when their eligibility was exhausted."
Tell It Like It Is
—AARON NEVILLE, 1966
•Texas Western was not placed on probation after its championship season, nor had it been before, nor has it been since. (The university is currently being investigated for alleged violations over the last couple of seasons.)
•Nine of the 12 Miners on the championship team graduated, compared with 10 of the 14 Kentucky players. Three of the seven black Miners received degrees from Texas Western/UTEP, and a fourth, Worsley, graduated from the State University of New York.
•Lattin is a public-relations executive for Tarrant Distributors in Houston.
•Shed is the head of intramurals at Texas-San Antonio.
•Flournoy is a sales rep for Entenmann's Oroweat in Hawthorne, Calif.
•Cager, who has recovered from his stroke but walks with a limp, is director of the Each One, Teach One foundation for underprivileged children in El Paso.
•Artis is a detective in the Gary, Ind., police department.
•Worsley is deputy executive director of the Edwin Gould Academy for emotionally disturbed children in Chestnut Ridge, N.Y.
•Hill is a senior buyer for El Paso Natural Gas.
Time Won't Let Me
—THE OUTSIDERS, 1966
Yes, it will.
It took awhile, but a few years ago Riley finally realized what the 1966 championship game had wrought. "When he came to the Lakers, Bob McAdoo told me how much the game meant, how it changed everything, how it opened up the world for black kids in the South," says Riley. "I guess I never really thought of it that way, that we were such a big part of history. The loss remains. I've never felt emptier. It was the worst night of my basketball life, but I'm proud to have taken part in something that changed so many other people's lives.
"It's not that the Miners have allowed me to forget, either," continues Riley, chuckling. "For years I had to see these guys coming out of the crowd to say hello at the pro games. One night it was Daddy D in Vegas. Then in San Antonio here came Shed, Shadow Shed. Then at the Forum one night it was Harry Flournoy! They're like ghosts haunting me wherever I go." Riley laughs. "Later I realized it was Harry's brother."
Paint It Black
—THE ROLLING STONES, 1966
Five years after College Park, a 7'1" black player named Tom Payne suited up for Rupp and Kentucky. Seven years after College Park, Alabama-George Wallace, governor—started five black players. In the 1980s, 82 of the 100 starters in the NCAA championship game were black. Indeed, from 1982 through '85, only one first-stringer on a national champion was white, Matt Doherty of North Carolina. Twenty-five years after College Park, 19 of the 20 starters on the four top-seeded teams in the 1991 tournament—UNLV, Ohio State, Arkansas and North Carolina—are black. The lone white player is Pete Chilcutt of North Carolina.
The point of these numbers, the best moral of all, is that after Texas Western rose to the cusp of a revolution, the denouement was so swift and total that it was hardly noticed. Now college basketball is all Harry's brothers.
In SI's cover photo, Flournoy beat Riley to a rebound as Jaracz (55) and Worsley (24) looked on.
Hill is the Miners' ringleader today (right), just as he was in '66 (opposite, with Kron).
[See caption above.]
Lattin, now a Houston businessman (above), sent Riley (also 42) an "intense" message.
[See caption above.]
Haskins (during the title game, top, and today) says that he was not intimidated by Rupp (with ball after losing).
[See caption above.]
Smooth in '66, Riley was slick at a '91 Wildcat reunion (top).
Worsley, who cut down the net in '66, put his signature on the game again at a '91 reunion.