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Basketball Hall of Fame Ignores Its True Pioneers

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The retired college basketball coach Bobby Knight may have been the single biggest bully and self absorbed bore in the history of the game, in spite of his incredible winning percentage... but, he remains a shrewd political operator who knows how to repay a debt. The evidence of this is no more glaring than at Friday's Hall of Fame induction ceremonies. It is there, in Springfield, Massachusetts, where Dr. James Naismith invented the sport that ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale, an absolutely wonderful enthusiast, cheerleader and energetic lover of the sport, will be inducted. C'mon. This entry, organized by the rude and obnoxious Knight, who now works alongside his lifelong defender Vitale, and is treated as if he is the "Pope in a Broadcast Booth' is an insult to the selection process and more importantly, to the dozens of men and women, coaches, players and contributors from our nation's Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU)who deserve the same recognition. This systematic policy of exclusion is offensive but unfortunately consistent with a segregationist mentality that HBCU players and coaches, and students, writers, thinkers, teachers endured for years. It's a bad, bad joke. And Vitale, by all accounts a decent man, goes in because Knight lobbied for him as if he were Jack Abramoff to Bush a few years ago. At the same time, coaches who have won 500, 600, 700, even 800 games in their careers are NEVER even subjects of discussion. Add to this, the fact that players who led their teams to three consecutive national championships such as Dick Barnett, Travis Grant and Elmore Smith, players who scored 3,000, 4,000 points in their careers are never considered. Now, we have reason to use Vitale's special induction day gift as a wake up call.

Vitale walks in as a 'contributor'. He was a decent player and lousy coach. 'Contributor' is a code word however that maligned the great black coach John McLendon, whose Tennessee State teams won three national titles (1957-59)in a row, whose efforts to integrate the NCAA and NAIA tourneys proved to be successful, who won more than 500 career games, who revolutionalized the fast break, who taught the game in at least 80 different countries, who was the first black man ever to coach a professional hoops team...and at an integrated college in the 1960s. McLendon, the mentor to hundreds, if not thousands of coaches and players, including Clarence 'BigHouse' Gaines is in the Hall under this bogus title -- 'contributor'. In February, I spoke to two white executives from the Hall of Fame at the NBA All-Star weekend. They were well meaning young men, but they had the nerve to tell me 'that McLendon wanted it this way'. Let me tell you something; ask his widow, daughter, players, coaches and friends if this is actually true? I did...and they give you the laugh of decades old anguish...the shrug of the shoulder which says, 'what do you expect?' I expect, under the new leadership of Mannie Jackson, the Hall will ACT and to steal from Spike 'do the right thing'. Jackson is black. He has been around the block. He was a great player at University of Illinois when black players were rare at 'majority schools'. I also spoke to him months ago. He told me that I am correct, and that he intended to address this system of exclusion along with Dr Richard Lapcheck. Ok Mannie, when?

Some other major points: isn't it startling that baseball, a sport/business generally considered less progressive than hoops has on TWO separate occasions opened its' Hall of Fame to the Negro Leaguers. The Springfield power brokers are blinded to anything other than the status quo. Secondly, four or five stand up individuals who each head or influence notable entities have now banded together in unity and written to Mannie Jackson 'asking that he open the selection discussion to include HBCU alums'. Paul Hewitt, head of the Black Coaches and Administrators, Greg Lee, head of the National Association of Black Journalists Sports Task Force, and the Assistant Sports Editor of the Boston Globe, Tom Hoover and Len Elmore, past and present officials of the NBA Retired Players Association, and my pal and one of the producers of my film, 'Black Magic, Earl Monroe, a Hall of Famer, who also embraced other African American Hall of Famers to jump abroad such as David Thompson, Tiny Archibald, Earl Lloyd, Willis Reed and Julius Erving.

Let's now be specific... HBCU were created in the late 19th century because black people thirsted for education, and 'majority schools' said not here with us. Basketball grew, so by the 1930s, you had wonderful teams, teachers, players and coaches. ALL lived in a segregated society since 95 percent of these schools were below the Mason Dixon line. McLendon learned the game from Naismith himself while a grad student at the University of Kansas. He was not allowed to play on the team, and even when he swam in the university pool, they emptied the water when he got out before the white students got back in. Going to a HBCU was the only option till the mid 1950s. White media didn't report on the games. As a result, if you wanted info, you got it from the Negro press or word of mouth. In the late '30s and mid '40s, some black coaches had their teams play white schools in 'secret' because race mixing was against the law. No fans, press, only refs and scorekeepers. Out of this system, GREATNESS blossomed. Guys like John Chaney, in the Hall as a coach from Temple scored 3,000 points at Bethune Cookman, Bob Hopkins 3500 at Grambling, Doc Turman pulled 25 rebounds per game at Clark, Bob McCollough lit it up at Benedict, Cleo Hill electrified all at Winston Salem, Dick Barnett burned 30ppg for three season and won three national titles at Tennessee State, his 1959/60 team even beat the Olympic squad led by Oscar, West, Bellamy, Dischinger, Imhoff, etc., Jack Defares at Winston, later Bob Love, Bob Dandridge, Travis Grant, Marvin Webster, Zelmo Beatty, Charles Ooakley, Woody Sauldsbury ripped opponents, period and absolute. I am leaving out dozens of other notable men...and women such as Miriam Samuels who rang up 3800 points in three years at Claflin.

This situation is even more egregious when it comes to the exclusion of the wonderful, wonderful coaches because they are dying, old, ill or have passed. Current members of the Hall of Fame include coaches and players from Brazil, Italy, Russia, what was Yugoslavia, including the 1972 Soviet duo of Gomelsky and Belov who Hank Iba essentially gave the Olympic Gold Medal too by idiotically slowing it down throughout the tournament. So, while Belov, Gomelsky, Kremir Cosic, Drazen Dalipapic, Antonio Diaz Miguel, et al rest in Springfield, Jerry Johnson who won more than 800 games as the coach at Lemoyne Owens, Cal Irwin, Dave Whitney, Ben Jobe, Bobby Vaughn, Dave Robbins, Fred Hobdy, Frank Martin, Talmadge Hill, Vann Pettaway, Lucious Mitchell, Nelson Brownlee, Ed Adams are unfortunately either passed over or passed on ... but all forgotten. What they needed now becomes obvious, a lobbyist such as Bobby Knight. If one looks at the records and accomplishments of these men, once again I am omitting many other deserved individuals, you'll be SHOCKED...national titles, 700, 600, 500 wins. They had to coach numerous sports at the same time. They had no budgets, 'recruited together' to save dough...that's right 'together' in the same car, and were every bit the teacher and father figure as their white brethren. Lastly, the category of 'contributor' where guys like Danny Biasone, who invented the 24-second clock sit, and Vitale now rests, excludes black journalists such as Howie Evans, a player and a coach first, but the sports editor of the Amsterdam News for 50 years. A reporter who would not be given credentials to sit in the press box until the late 1960s, and Dr EB Henderson, a Harvard educated thinker and activist who integrated the YMCA system and who created the PSAL amongst many other notable things. And Sonny Hill, the Philadelphian, who played at Central State and has given his life to urban youths nationwide.

Life is politics; you don't know that you are naïve. What's the difference between Vitale and Billy Packer who for years brought the game to millions behind the mike at NBC and CBS? A lobbyist and a smile is the answer. Truth is Packer was a better player and coach than Vitale, but he wasn't a bubbly type, and he wasn't comfortable doing on air ESPN stunts with the student body. Everyone I speak to says, 'oh yeah, that's right'...so help out already and open the doors.