Harvard NCAA trip sparks memory of segregated La.
By JIM ENGSTER
Tiger Rag Featured Columnist
Harvard University is an unlikely entity to receive nationwide attention for its basketball program, but the Crimson has recently been in the spotlight for producing New York Knicks sensation Jeremy Lin and for making the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 66 years.
Bill Pennington of the New York Times notes that Harvard entered the field of 68 trying to advance to the Final Four in New Orleans where the school abandoned a planned trip more than 55 years ago due to racial segregation.
Harvard was slated to appear in a tournament in New Orleans, but could not bring Bob Bowman, the team’s center and its only black member. In mid-July of 1956, the Louisiana Legislature voted to bar interracial athletic contests, including dancing and playing cards. The anti-mixing law also ordered segregated seating at athletic events.
Many obstacles to integration have been overcome in the past five and one-half decades in Louisiana with LSU fielding a football team in which nearly three-quarters of the members are African American. But in LSU’s BCS game against Alabama, the number of black Golden Girls equaled the number of points the Tigers scored against the Crimson Tide.
A drive through LSU’s Fraternity and Sorority Row leaves the impression that miles remain to be traveled to erase the vestiges of 1956.
Remembering March of 1972
As Dale Brown observes the 40th anniversary of his hiring, there will be few acknowledgements of the significance of Thursday, March 23, 1972. Brown was a long-shot candidate and captured the heart of Athletic Director Carl Maddox, who after first meeting the peripatetic North Dakotan exclaimed, “Is this guy for real?”
As Brown prepared to journey to a place that embraced him like no other, Edwin Edwards was on the brink of taking the oath as Louisiana governor, LSU football was a few months from featuring its first African-American varsity athlete and Tiger basketball was flatter than the plains of Brown’s native North Dakota.
Brown spent 15 years as a basketball gypsy-toiling at two schools in North Dakota, as head coach of high schools in Berkeley and Palm Springs and as top assistant at Utah State (1966-71) and at Washington State (1971-72).
In Gary Smith’s memorable 1986 profile of Brown in Sports Illustrated, Brown recalled his days as a prep coach. “He remembers one rainy day, driving his 14 and 15 year olds to an away game in school bus, when the flap of the windshield wipers became a repetitive chant: ‘Dale Brown, you’re a failure.’”
Brown was 30 when he was plucked from the California prep ranks by Utah State’s LaDell Andersen in 1966, and he was 35 when passed over as head coach at USU as Andersen left to become head coach of the Utah Stars of the ABA in 1971. When Dale and his wife arrived at the LSU campus for the first time forty March’s ago, Vonnie Brown remarked, “It is a little Gingerbread land.”
Brown enticed recruits like Rudy Macklin, John Williams, Ricky Blanton, Chris Jackson, Stanley Roberts, Greg Cook, Ethan Martin, Al Green and Shaquille O’Neal to join him in TigerTown. Collectively, they hail from nine different states.
The most significant player was O’Neal, the giant from San Antonio who became an NBA great and an iconic pop culture figure. Shaquille was born the month Brown was hired at LSU in March of 1972. Brown penned a letter to his most famous pupil shortly after his 21st birthday. Here are excerpts.
June 1, 1993
Congratulations on a great rookie year in the NBA. I was so proud of you and especially in the manner that you conducted yourself.
I shall never forget the first meeting in the mountains of West Germany when you were only 13 years old. You have grown not only in stature, but in talent from that day when you were cut from the high school team when they told you were too clumsy and to try soccer.
Now, being constantly in the spotlight, you must be alert to all the pressures it brings. Coach John Wooden knew how to handle fame better than anyone I’ve ever known. He said, “The Coach must recognize that his profession places him in the public eye and he will at times receive both unjustifiable criticism and undeserved praise, and you must not be unduly affected by either.” Live by this creed, Shaquille, and you’ll never lose that contagious smile of yours.
Stay away from distractions because concentration is imperative for ultimate success. It is a supreme art that few ever master.
Be a good listener. One of the most consistent qualities of those that are labeled as extraordinary athletes is they have been coachable. There have been very few exceptions.
Be careful of the parasites who for selfish motives want you as their friend. Yes, some will even have visions of the dollar bills floating around. Trust, but never cease to be vigilant. Hold onto that school boy spirit that touched me so strongly when we met eight years ago-a spirit with its natural grace, easy dignity, and the blossoming buds of a genius on the court.
Make your dignity as tall as your body. Never, ever drop it or sell it or become complimented out of it. Respect others, even the most humble, and remember that above all else, you are a member of a group called mankind.
Be a role model. A lot of kids have absolutely no one in whom to turn, and what you do and say will be more than mere words or actions for the game plan that is their life.
Affect mankind. Affect your fellow man, and always for the good. Shaquille, leave a legacy beyond trophies and statistics because, and I hate to say this, but your time will also pass and the glory you enjoy will only be a memory.
So, be your brother’s keeper. Lift him up when he has fallen; bandage him when he is wounded.
In body, he may not be as big as you, but in spirit, he is.
Well, that’s my advice to you, Shaquille. Your really don’t need it. You are what you are: a good man, full of love.
Jim Engster is the president of Tiger Rag and Louisiana Radio Network. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.