As Texas Western's all-black starting five prepared to take on
Adolph Rupp's all-white Kentucky team in the 1966 NCAA
basketball championship game in College Park, Md., Harry
Flournoy and his Miners teammates knew they had a chance to
change the face of the sport. They knew that no team with five
black starters had ever won an NCAA title; they also knew that
the legendary Rupp, who was going for his fifth national
championship, refused to recruit black players. A few hours
before tip-off, a visibly upset Miners coach Don Haskins told
his players he'd just heard Rupp vow that "no five blacks are
going to beat Kentucky." "From that point on," Flournoy says,
"Kentucky had as much chance of winning that game as a snowball
had of surviving in hell."
Texas Western (now UTEP), led by the disruptive defense of
Willie Worsley and the scoring of Bobby Joe Hill, who finished
with 20 points, grabbed the lead midway through the first half
and won 72-65. Though he scored just two points in six minutes
before twisting his left knee, Flournoy, a 6'5" forward, was
shown on the cover of the next week's SI grabbing one of his two
rebounds, from Wildcats All-America Pat Riley. "Kentucky was
playing for a commemorative wristwatch and the right to say they
were national champions," says Flournoy, who averaged 8.3 points
and 10.7 rebounds that season. "We were out to prove that it
didn't matter what color a person's skin was."
Flournoy had already experienced racism on the court at Emerson
High, the predominantly white high school he attended in Gary,
Ind. "All the best players on the team were black, but there was
this unspoken rule that no more than three blacks could play at
once," says Flournoy. "It was a bad situation, but that's the
way things were in those days."
These days Flournoy, now 54, is a sales representative for a
bakery based in Los Angeles and lives in Lakewood, Calif., with
his wife, Yvette. He no longer plays basketball, but he follows
UTEP and the local college teams on TV and, every now and then,
especially during March Madness, reflects on what he and his
teammates accomplished. "I wonder what college ball might be
like if we hadn't won that game," says Flournoy. "A lot of
people don't realize what it was like for black players. But now
I see so many players disrespecting the game--trash talking,
mouthing off to officials and coaches, and showboating.
Sometimes I can't even watch because they are undoing things we
worked so hard for."
COLOR PHOTO: JAMES DRAKE [Cover of March 28, 1966 Sports Illustrated featuring Harry Flournoy]
COLOR PHOTO: DARRELL MIHO [Harry Flournoy]
Haskins told his players that Rupp had said, "No five blacks are
going to beat Kentucky."