Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Glory Road, but not Quite Historical

Glory Road purports to be the true story of the famous Texas Western basketball team "with history's first all African American starting lineup" that "took the country by storm." It should be no surprise that--for the sake of making a good story--the creative license taken by the film's director and writers leaves out some important context and just plain fudges some of the facts.

Providence Journal sports columnist Bill Reynolds caught up with Al Lopes, an African American from Providence who attended Kansas University and happened to play against that Texas Western team (and lost) prior to their historic run. As Lopes tells Reynolds, "There's a whole generation of kids who are going to think that Don Haskins and Texas Western integrated college basketball," he says, "and that's just not the truth."
"We had three black starters and Texas Western had four," Lopes says. "And it was no an issue at all. None whatsoever. And this was in Lubbock, Texas."

In fact, Lopes says race was never an issue during the two years he spent at Kansas, even though Kansas played against several teams that were all-white. That the only leagues that weren't integrated back then were the ACC, the SEC and the Southwestern Conference, a fact Glory Road fast breaks around.

It was a game Kansas thought it had won when [Jo Jo] White, who later starred for the Boston Celtics, hit a shot from deep on the left side at the end of the first overtime.

"I caught the ball when it came through the basket," Lopes remembered. "Game over."

Not quite.

A referee ruled White had stepped out of bounds on his shot. The game went to another overtime, Texas Western won and then went on to the Final Four, where it beat Adolph Rupp and all-white Kentucky, a game on national television in which Haskins started five black players, the cinematic spine that runs through Glory Road, the implication being that that Texas Western team changed basketball.

"All that game did was speed up the integation of the ACC and the SEC," says Lopes. "Nothing more. But the movie sends the message that that game integrated college basketball, and that is a gross distortion of history."

So the more Lopes watched Glory Road the more the inaccuracies bothered him. And it was more than just the things that were in the movie that were flat out wrong. Like the movie saying that Haskins was in his first season at Texas Western, not his fifth, or that Haskins recruited the black players in his first few moments on the job, no matter that in actuality several of them had been there three years. And it was even more than he thinks the makers of Glory Road abuse the concept of creative license.

"It doesn't give credit to the coaches and schools that had the moral character and fiber to recruit the best players, regardless of color," Lopes says. "In my opinion Glory Road is a slap in the face of all those coaches who integrated college basketball long before Texas Western came along."

Coaches including Joe Mullaney at Providence College, who was recruiting black players in the late 1950s. Coaches like Ted Owens, who recruited Lopes at Kansas two years before Texas Western burst into the national spotlight. . .

The year after Texas Western won the NCAA title the SEC integrated. The next year it was the ACC. The country was changing. The future was at the doorstep, and there was no stopping it from getting inside the arena. History had come to the basketball court, right there with dunks and jump shots. Complete with a kid from Providence who ended up 40 years later in one of the featured games in a hit movie.

1 comment:

historymike said...

As a historian I get to the place where I can no longer enjoy "historical" films because of the inaccuracies.