In the 1960s college basketball reflected the civil rights struggle of America. The push for racial equality on the hardwood floor came as African-Americans pursued equal opportunity across the racial divide.
Until the early 1960s major college basketball programs maintained unofficial quotas on black players. Starting lineups might include one black player -- two at the most.
Three national champions were instrumental in changing the face -- and color -- of college basketball. The 1966 Texas Western team was the first to start five black players, and has been celebrated in print and film. The 1962 University of Cincinnati team -- the product of a mini-dynasty - was the first to start four black players.
Sandwiched between those two champions is a third story: Loyola of Chicago. In 1963 the small Jesuit college on Chicago’s north side started four African-Americans. Its coach endured hate mail and invective. Opponents sneered that he had recruited in Africa.
But Loyola featured a run-and-gun style that ran up big scores and thrilled its fans. It played a dramatic game against an all-white team from Mississippi State that had defied custom and politics to take the court against black players. And it won the championship final with one of the most unlikely comebacks in college basketball history.
Fifty years later the 1963 Loyola Ramblers were honored as the first team inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame. Journalist and author Lew Freedman told Loyola’s history in his 2014 book, “Becoming Iron Men: The Story of the 1963 Loyola Ramblers”. Lew Freedman joined us for this episode.
Loyola coach George Ireland recruited African-American players from New York City and Nashville to become a national power.