"I remember sitting in Mr. Grillo's high school English class one Friday afternoon in 1966 when the subject of that weekend's NCAA basketball tournament arose." "As basketball fanatics, my friends and I argued the merits of the Final Four participants. No one mentioned Texas Western except to disparage the stunning racial makeup of their starting five."
"Five blacks! It was"I remember sitting in Mr. Grillo's high school English class one Friday afternoon in 1966 when the subject of that weekend's NCAA basketball tournament arose." "As basketball fanatics, my friends and I argued the merits of the Final Four participants. No one mentioned Texas Western except to disparage the stunning racial makeup of their starting five."
"Five blacks! It was one thing for an inner-city high school to start five blacks, but for a college team at the Final Four, it was unprecedented."
""All you have to do is get ahead, " said one of my friends. "They give up when they're behind.""
""Kentucky is too smart, " said another. "I'll bet all Texas Western can do is run-and-gun.""
"The sad part was I believed it too."
"So when Kentucky was upset by Texas Western, with their tenacious defense, disciplined play, and marvelously named players like Big Daddy Lattin and Willie Cager, we were all stunned. My beliefs were shaken as severely as they would be in religion class that same junior year. Maybe I was wrong about the capabilities of black basketball players. About Catholicism. About a lot of things."
So begins Frank Fitzpatrick's stunning account of the 1966 NCAA championship game.
Late on the night of March 19, 1966, in the University of Maryland's Cole Field House, five unassuming black men from Texas Western stepped onto the court to face five white men from the University of Kentucky. On the surface, this was just another basketball game. But there were hidden forces at work. Kentucky's legendary coach, Adolph Rupp, had resisted the pleadings of his president to recruit his first black player in thirty-six years. Meanwhile, Texas Westernadministrators were concerned that coach Don Haskins was playing too many blacks. Almost everyone believed the game's result was a foregone conclusion: There was no way Texas Western's unheralded blacks could beat Rupp's mighty Kentucky Wildcats, featuring All-America Pat Riley. Yet Texas Western did win and American sports embarked on a new era.
That 1966 NCAA title game -- played at a turbulent moment in civil rights history -- marked the first major sporting championship in which an all-black starting team had played, let alone defeated, a white one. Not since Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier in 1947 had such a cultural watershed occurred in American sports. Sociologically and historically it was the most significant game ever in college athletics.
In "And the Walls Came Tumbling Down, " veteran sportswriter Frank Fitzpatrick examines the game, the history that preceded it, and the sweeping changes that followed in its wake. In profiling the coaches, the players, and the administrators, he details the impact of that championship game and paints a nuanced portrait of the events that belied the easy black-and-white characterization. Through his close look at this rare moment when sports led rather than followed the forces for social change, Fitzpatrick takes readers on an unparalleled journey that brings the riveting story of this landmark season to life....more