The 1966 Texas Western ( now known as The University of Texas at El Paso -UTEP)- Kentucky NCAA Championship. Certainly the most significant game ever played in the history of basketball. Simply because of the segregated nature of basketball in the south during the sixties. This game and this game alone served to remove the barriers and unwritten rules that college coaches observed in the failure to sign the black athletes to a four year scholarship in the segregated south . After this game, the barriers were lifted and southern schools began in earnest to recruit the black athlete.
Adolph Rupp, The head basketball coach at the University of Kentucky, went to great lengths to refrain from diligently recruiting black basketball players. He did recruit Wes Unseld a graduate of Louisville Seneca High School and he also recruited Butch Beard from Breckenridge County High School in Kentucky, but both players felt that Kentucky would not be a welcoming environment and they chose to attend the University of Louisville. Rupp did pay a visit to Ron King in his home in 1969. King along with Otto Petty led Louisville Central to the 1969 Kentucky State Championship. The same year King was named Kentucky’s Mr. Basketball. King decided to attend Florida State, where Hugh Durham, a Louisville native was the head coach.
Adolph Rupp won 4 national Championships at Kentucky during his career. He wanted to win just one more championship before he retired and 1966, he felt this was his year to do it. Rupp had a team, featuring five undersized players, led by Pat Riley, current Miami GM, Louie Dampier, Tommy Kron, Thad Jarez and Larry Conley. They were known as Rupp’s Runts( no player was over 6’5 inches tall) and they terrorized the Southeastern Conference. They were a great team and they played an exciting brand of basketball.
Texas Western had one of the best point guards ever in Bobby Joe Hill from Detroit. Don Haskins recruited five black players and he promoted that he would flaunt it doing warm ups. He would encourage his players to dunk to create intimidation. Haskins was a con-man, and a pool shark, he transferred those characteristic to the basketball floor.
A white basketball player on Texas Western team, said he grew up hating opposing white players, because of the despicable things that they said to the Texas Western’s black players. Pat Forde, a reporter for the Louisville Courier Journal, said they brought a street game with them. It started with Don Haskins’ Texas Western team.
Kentucky won a number one ranking by beating nearly everyone, with a unrelenting defense and fast break offense, Rupp’ s team was a well oiled team. Texas Western survived Kansas by one point in double overtime. The other semifinal game over shadowed the Texas Western-Kansas game. The general consensus was that the Kentucky – Duke winner would be the national champions. Texas Western was furious. They wanted to beat Kentucky not because they had the possibility of being the first all black team. They wanted to beat them because they were being overlooked.
Haskins made a crucial strategic decision prior to the game. He played three guards to keep up with Kentucky’s speed. Haskins, rolled out five black players to start the NCAA championship game. Just understand there was an unwritten rule by white college basketball coaches in the south; never start five black players at one time. Haskins did it. It was on. One undefeated team in Kentucky and one once defeated team in Texas Western.
Haskins was a gambler and he would do anything possible to win the gamble; beat Adolph Rupp. Haskins did ,more in this one game to further the cause of integration than Martin Luther King. This game was the defining game of the century for College basketball.
It had tremendous social implications. I remember seeing the game myself . I was only 11 years old, but this game is sealed in my memory as the most exciting and significant game ever in NCAA finals history. There was the notion that if you had five black players that they were not as intelligent as the white players. If you put pressure on them they would crack. Texas Western proved this to be unfounded.
At the start of the game Big Daddy Latin rejected Pat Riley’s shot and the next time he dunked over Pat Riley. Later, point guard, Bobby Joe Hill made two consecutive steals in the game. Kentucky was down 34-31 at the half. Kentucky kept it close they felt they could still win. Texas Western won the NCAA Championship 74-65.
The Texas Western players, as always took it in stride, Haskins hoped his players would be a little excited about the win. Coach Haskins smiled. Don Haskins begin to realized the impact of the victory. He would later received basketball cans filled with hate mail for coaching all black players. He even received a letter from black leaders who called him an exploiter. Haskins, a white coach, paid a price for his courage.
But if it were not for his courage, college basketball would not be where it is today. Adolph Rupp fought the memory of that game for the rest of his life. In a time when our country was in turmoil, fighting for equality for blacks in the south The Texas Western- Kentucky NCAA championship played a significant role in breaking the chains of integration. After this game, southern white coaches started recruiting the black athlete, one by one the ban was lifted. Adolph Rupp coached five more years before his retirement. He finally successfully recruited and signed to a scholarship, his first black player, Tom Payne, out of Louisville Shawnee High School in 1969. Rupp died of cancer in 1977. In 1998 Kentucky won the National Championship, ironically, with a team coach by Tubby Smith, a black man.