Antelope Valley Press

Loyola Chicago basketball pioneer Harkness dies

- By JOHN MARSHALL AP Basketball Writer

Jerry Harkness was inspired by Jackie Robinson to take up the game of basketball. He ended up becoming a civil rights trailblaze­r in his own right.

Following a path paved by Major League Baseball’s first Black player, Harkness led Loyola Chicago to a barrier-breaking national championsh­ip in basketball in 1963 and a was pioneer well after his playing career.

The school announced Harkness died Tuesday morning at 81 after a long life of breaking through boundaries and one big Game of Change.

“All of us at Loyola have heavy hearts today,” Loyola coach Drew Valentine said in a statement. “Jerry was a true trail blazer not only in basketball, but in so many different walks of life, and the impact he made was immeasurab­le.”

A two-time All-American at Loyola, Harkness was part of the 1963 team that won a national championsh­ip with four Black starters and played in what became known as the Game of Change.

State laws prohibited Mississipp­i State from playing integrated teams, but the Maroons — now Bulldogs — slipped out of town under cover of darkness to play Loyola in East Lansing, Michigan, in the opening round of the Mid-East regionals. Harkness shook hands with Mississipp­i State captain Joe Dan Gold before the game in an iconic moment.

“Boy, the flashbulbs. I couldn’t believe,” Harkness recalled in 2018. “I just couldn’t understand . ... I was shocked. I looked him in his eyes. He didn’t smile; I tried to smile at him. I could tell he was there, he was happy to play us and he was happy to be there. He had on his game face. I was shocked with the bulbs and I went back to the huddle in kind of a

daze, a little.

“I thought, boy, this is more than a game. This is history.”

Loyola went to work, winning by 10. Afterward, the Maroons spoke about the basketball, not the moment.

“They were perfect gentlemen — just like any other team we played,” said Gold, the Mississipp­i State cap

tain who died in 2011. “They beat us on the offensive backboards. They just had too many big men for us and they won it by taking all those rebounds.”

The Ramblers went on to beat reigning champion Cincinnati in overtime for the school’s only national championsh­ip.

Harkness, Ron Miller, Vic Rouse and Les Hunter — white guard John Egan was the other starter — received death threats mailed to their dorm and endured taunts from fans in Houston during their title run. Texas Western won a national championsh­ip with five Black starters three years later, beating an all-white Kentucky team coached by Adolph Rupp.

The death threats, Harkness once recalled, came after Loyola opened the NCAA tourney by beating Tennessee Tech by 69 a few miles from their Chicago campus. It put the Ramblers into the matchup against Mississipp­i State and that led to some ugly letters from Ku Klux Klan members, calling them names and saying they had no right to play, arriving at their dorm on Sheridan Road.

Harkness got two of those letters, some were sent to other teammates. Coach George Ireland wound up taking them, dismissing the threats as junk.

“I was all right about it after we got over that,” Harkness said. “In a couple days, we were on our way to Michigan so I felt all right at that time.”

Harkness played one season with the NBA’s New York Knicks after being drafted in the second round and two more with the ABA’s Indiana Pacers. He went on to a successful career in business and broadcasti­ng, becoming the first Black spokesman for Quaker Oats.

 ?? ZBIGNIEW BZDAK/CHICAGO TRIBUNE VIA AP ?? Former Loyola NCAA college basketball star Jerry Harkness poses at his home in Indianapol­is on March 7, 2018. Harkness, who led Loyola Chicago to a barrier-breaking national basketball championsh­ip and a was civil rights pioneer, has died. He was 81. The school announced Harkness passed away Tuesday morning.
ZBIGNIEW BZDAK/CHICAGO TRIBUNE VIA AP Former Loyola NCAA college basketball star Jerry Harkness poses at his home in Indianapol­is on March 7, 2018. Harkness, who led Loyola Chicago to a barrier-breaking national basketball championsh­ip and a was civil rights pioneer, has died. He was 81. The school announced Harkness passed away Tuesday morning.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States