I rarely make postings of articles or op-eds from the NYT, figuring many of my readers see the paper each and every day. But, with a growing number of readers coming from outside the NYC area and an even more impressive readership group coming from outside of these United States, I will re-think that and post some of the very good stuff from the paper of record (losses).
Here's an interesting piece that my father-in-law suggested for posting:
May 16, 2009
Treasures Lost to Time
By BOB HERBERT
Shaquille O’Neal, already a basketball legend, was speaking in his soft, husky voice about men with names like Woody Sauldsberry, Cleo Hill and Ben Jobe.
“Some of these guys, I’d never heard of in my life,” he said. “So I guarantee you the younger players have never heard of them.”
Dan Klores’s stunning four-hour documentary film, “Black Magic,” which will receive a Peabody Award on Monday, opens with a scene from America in 1944 that will seem for some people as ancient and backward as the Middle Ages.
It was a Sunday morning in March in Durham, N.C. A team of white basketball players from the Duke University Medical School who had bragged that they were the best players in the state had agreed to play an illegal game against an equally proud team from the North Carolina College for Negroes.
There is no way to overstate the danger of such a meeting. Black people in Durham were not even supposed to look too closely at white people. Some would step off the sidewalk into the street as a white person approached. For these two teams to play a basketball game was considered improper contact of the highest order.
As the white players walked toward the North Carolina College gym, they pulled their jackets over their heads. The game was to be kept as secret as a meeting of criminal conspirators, which is what the participants actually were. In addition to the coaches and the players, there were two referees and a timekeeper. No spectators. No cheerleaders. Just two teams going at it in an otherwise empty (and securely locked) gym.
North Carolina College won 88-44, but the participants needed very little urging to keep their lips sealed. The fact that the game was played was kept secret from the public for half a century.
Klores’s film is about the many great players and coaches from the nation’s historically black colleges and universities who fought their way through tremendous obstacles, racism chief among them, to make outstanding contributions to the game of basketball. Men like Ben Jobe, a brilliant coach whose fast-breaking, high-scoring teams won more than 500 games. (“I didn’t know how to lose,” he said.) And Cleo Hill, a scoring wizard at Winston Salem State Teachers College who was viewed by many as the best college player in the country in the late 1950s and early ’60s.
“We’re talking about absolutely phenomenal players and coaches,” said Klores, who directed “Black Magic,” which was televised last year by ESPN.
I don’t have room to list even a handful of the astonishing basketball feats pulled off by the world-class talent at those colleges and universities. But for some odd reason, despite the undisputed greatness of so many players and coaches, they have not been welcomed into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.
Players and coaches from black colleges who excelled in the National Basketball Association have made it to the hall (which is not run by the N.B.A.). But those blacks from earlier years who were denied a full opportunity to display their talents because of their color deserve recognition, as well.
The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., opened its doors to the greatest players of the old Negro leagues. What’s wrong with basketball? With very, very few exceptions, those doors at the Basketball Hall of Fame have remained closed.
Hall officials, including the president of the board of directors, Mannie Jackson, who is black, have said that they would establish a commission to look at this issue, but nothing has happened yet.
Fran Judkins, the hall’s director of development, told me that she felt “anyone who had made an inroad in basketball should probably be considered.” But I’ve detected no real enthusiasm at the hall for doing the right thing by these most deserving athletes and innovators, which is a shame. They played in an era in which signs on a general store could read, “No Negro or Ape allowed in building,” and when the N.C.A.A. would not let black colleges compete in its tournament.
They are growing old now, and many have already passed on. They are in danger of being completely forgotten.
The list of famous basketball names joining with Klores in the clamor for the hall to reach out aggressively to the greatest names from this fast-receding era is growing: Shaquille O’Neal, Earl “The Pearl” Monroe (who was a producer of “Black Magic”), Willis Reed and Julius Erving, among others.
“I just think it’s an injustice that those who really deserve a shot at being in the Hall of Fame are not getting it,” said Monroe, who played for historically black Winston Salem State University. “We’re watching all that knowledge and history leave us. And the longer we wait on this, the less history we’ll have to go back to.”