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More Than Just A Ball Game

Jan 8, 2008
If someone were to tell you that basketball was created for white athletes and black players were both unable to understand the game or play well you would not only think that person is a racist, you would think they were absolutely insane. The thought that any race would be unable to play a sport is based on racial stereotypes and not founded in any sort of educational or real-life understanding.

However, in the 1960s, college basketball was dominated by such thoughts. Teams had black players on the roster, but usually only played one or two per game. All this changed in 1966, when small Texas Western College from El Paso, Texas won an NCAA championship. What made that team so special? Don Haskins, coach of Texas Western, started five black players and used them throughout the game. His all-black team managing to beat powerhouse Kentucky, changed the game of basketball forever.

Race relations

Don Haskins continually maintains that he did not look for five black players, but looked for five good players to start his basketball team in the NCAA championship. It was a marker in time, because previously no team had ever played an all-black starting lineup in a championship game. In fact, only earlier that year Don Haskins was the first to play on all-black starting lineup ever. The game marked a turn in time as people began to understand basketball was about athletic discipline and prowess, not the color of one's skin. It took a few years for other colleges to catch up, but soon many colleges were recruiting from both black high schools and white high schools. Integration made its way through college basketball when Texas Western showed sports had no race.

Disciplined defense

One thing that distinguished Haskin's coaching from other colleges was his stress on discipline and defense. When you look at a film of the 1966 championship game, you think that it would be exciting and full of offense. In fact, one of the stereotypes of black players was what they had no patience or control to manage the game and had to be balanced out with white players to keep focus. Not only was that categorically untrue, but Haskin's emphasis was not on scoring as many points as you can before the buzzer. The team went on to the court to play a defensive game. His five-man defense kept most opponents down to a limited number of points scored against them. Texas Western's wins were never high-scoring games, but his defense changed the way that NCAA basketball teams played the game.

Independence

Years later, Texas Western College went on to become the University of Texas at El Paso and incorporated into the Texas university system. In 1966 Texas Western was an independent college of the mines. It certainly should have been no match for a powerhouse basketball program like Kentucky. The win helped all small schools to realize that a basketball program was worth investing in. Although the conventional wisdom of the time was the big schools like Kentucky, Duke and Indiana have a lock on basketball success, small independent colleges with dedicated coaches and good players would be able to make the grade.

Once, basketball was a sport dominated by white coaches, white athletes and outdated racist ideas. The pivot point in that road was in 1966 when coach Don Haskins and the Texas Western miners played what many consider to be the Emancipation Proclamation of basketball and the most important game ever played
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