NBA legends Robertson, Barnett honored, celebrating historical moment (PHOTO)

robertson-barnett-4Eleven years before Texas Western coach Don Haskins led an all-African-American starting lineup to the NCAA title, two high schools in Indiana played in a game that changed everything.

Both teams were honored during the CN Lakeshore Classic at the Genesis Convention Center November 30. The 1955 I.H.S.A.A. state final was an historical moment. The game featured two African-American teams, Gary’s Theodore Roosevelt High School Panthers and Indiana- polis’ Crispus Attucks High School Tigers. Attucks defeated Roosevelt 97-74.

The following season, the Tigers repeated as state champions. This time, they had an undefeated season, a first in the history of Indiana high school basketball. Stanford Patton was a guard/forward on the Attucks team. He said once the team found out who they were playing; a Black team was going to win the state title no matter what.

“We played the first game and they played the second. We knew we were going to play Gary Roosevelt,” he said. “There was no rivalry. We just knew we were going to play an all-Black team for the state title. It was going to be a Black champ. That had to happen.”

Patton also said the team faced pressure because they were on the verge of history. “We had to be better than the white players to be recognized,” he said. “They would let us play but they didn’t want us to win and they would do anything they could to keep us from winning.”

Dick Barnett, Ph.D., was a forward on the Roosevelt team. He went on to play 14 seasons in the NBA. He said he did not realize the significance of the game until years later. “I was just a naive teenager.

I did not see the significance of what was transpiring at that particular time,” Barnett said. “Obviously, over the years, it has become more significant as the years have gone by.” The former New York Knicks player also said he believes the game was a precursor to the Civil Rights Movement.

“That was another nail in the genesis of the Civil Rights Movement given the time,” Barnett said. “Where Black folks were in American society followed by the edict that ‘separate but equal’ was overturned.”

Barnett spent 14 seasons in the NBA, playing for Syracuse Nationals, LA Lakers and NY Knicks. He was a 1968 NBA All-Star and won two NBA titles with the NY Knicks (1970, 1973). He played a total of 971 NBA games, averaging 15.8 ppg in 29.8 mpg. Barnett is now a professor and author.

NBA Hall of Famer Oscar Robertson was the star player for Attucks. Like many of his teammates, he did not understand the magnitude of the game.

“I was young. I didn’t think much about it until I got older,” Robertson said. “What it really meant for the people involved…for the city as well. The honor, prestige.”

During the luncheon, held at the convention center that kicked off the weekend’s festivities, Robertson recalled how his team was excluded from the tradition of participating teams staying in the Butler University Field House during the state tournament finals, and how the segregation he experienced was so complete that he was unaware of the privileges he was denied.

robertson-barnett-3“I’m glad I went to an all-black school,” Robertson said, “I didn’t have one teacher who disliked me because of the color of my skin. I had a great social time, and I don’t think I would have had that at a white school. I went to a white college and I didn’t have that.”

Robertson, a Hall of Famer, is the only player in NBA history to average a triple double the entire season, as he did with the Cincinnati Royals in 1961-62. Robertson was an NBA All-Star 12 times, and won the NBA title in 1971 with Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Lew Alcindor then) in Milwaukee.

Robertson holds career averages of 25.7 ppg, 9.5 apg and 7.5 rpg in 42.2 mpg, playing in 1040 NBA games. Robertson now owns a chemical company, Orchem, in Cincinnati.

He also wants future generations to understand what the game meant to African-Americans who lived in Indiana at the time. “I want them to feel good about it. The time we did this and what it meant.”

Dolly Millender, founder/director of the Gary Historical & Cultural Society, Inc., said the game was special due to the climate of the time.

“The significance of the game, unfortunately, we weren’t able to mix teams Black and white. Back in those days, it was hard to break through,” she said. “Those days were very, very hard. For these two teams to come together, it gave us something to cheer about.”

Millender said the young people who attended, should be inspired by what the players did that night. “This should be an inspiration to the young people. Never give up on your dreams and keep on pushing.” In the nightcap of the Lakeshore Classic, Crispus Attucks defeated Roosevelt 75-54. The Classic was organized and sponsored by the Gary Chamber of Commerce. The Chamber Executive Director, Chuck Hughes, said he learned during the weekend that many of the players had not seen one another since high school. “Oscar (Robertson) and (Dick) Barnett had run into one another at different events over the years, but for a lot of the guys this was their first time getting together since the ’55 game.”

Hughes said many NBA legends like Robertson and Barnett feel unappreciated by today’s fandom.

“At this point, it’s unforgivable with the internet being available,” Barnett said. “It’s not only the coaches’ responsibility to talk about their (sports) history, but the schools during their orientation sessions.”

Besides the game, the Chamber hosted a tribute at the Majestic Star Hotel and Casino. A video that incorporated photos and other images of the deceased members of both teams was shown during the tribute, a time Hughes described as the most memorable, adding, “We wanted to make sure we included everyone who was part of that game.”

The gathering drew national attention as the cable network TNT was in Gary the entire weekend videotaping activities.



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