In the 1966 NCAA Basketball Championship, Texas Western faced off against the perennial-powerhouse University of Kentucky. Texas Western was the underdog by far. Coach Don Haskins was no match for the great Adolph Rupp and neither was the team he coached. Haskins made it to the championship game by way of integrating his team; thus, he decided to play that very game with only African Americans to send a statement to America.
Up until that monumental game, no team had ever started all blacks in any game, nevertheless, a championship game. Many Americans did not believe Blacks were capable of playing fundamental basketball. Blacks, however, would resort to their “native impulses.” In present day this is coined as “street ball.” When asked to comment on the style of the Texas Western African-American stars, Rod Hundley said, “They can do everything with the basketball but sign it.” No matter the outcome of the game, this was a large step in the Civil Rights Movement. These players had experienced the physical and mental brutality that discrimination and racism put forth. The basketball court, however, offered these players something the outside world could not: fair playing ground. It was merely a game of competing talents. In any sport, the score on both sides begins at zero. The individual or team that brings their best that game is going to win. For Texas Western, this was their chance to prove that African Americans could indeed be equal, or even better, than Whites.
As history shows, Texas Western won the game. While this was a powerful statement to the sports’ world, it was even more powerful to the outside world. Five Blacks from a down-and-out school seized five Whites coached by one of the greatest of all time from one of the most prestigious basketball programs ever. Although these players were not sitting-in, taking freedom rides, or marching down streets, they demolished an ideology. None of the Texas Western players went on to become big names in the N.B.A. They did, however, find success off the court with well-to-do jobs after college. That is the beauty of it. Not only did these players beat Kentucky, but they did it by uniting and playing as a team. Pat Riley, the Kentucky all star, went on to say that Texas Western was more motivated. And why not? Unlike Kentucky, they were not participating in a mere basketball game, rather a battle for their rights and the rights of their families and friends.
That 1966 NCAA Basketball Championship game will forever be remembered. For once, Blacks were able to faceoff with against opponents without any hidden rules or consequences. When given the chance, they prevailed and were able to call themselves champions.