basketball player

Photo Credit: Virginia Scherer and Iliana Storch | Daily Texan Staff

Editor’s Note: This is part one in a two-part series about the racial integration of Texas’ men’s basketball team. Part two, which will be published Thursday, will tell the story of Larry Robinson, one of the first African-American basketball players at UT. 

In early April, when Texas’ newest head coach Shaka Smart took the podium at his introductory press conference at the Frank Erwin Center, he had culminated a climb that had begun over 45 years earlier.  

As the Longhorns’ 24th head coach, Smart became the first African-American coach of the basketball program,  something he said he takes very seriously.

But Smart’s path was set by a trio of athletes — Sam Bradley, Jimmy Blacklock and Larry Robinson — who became the first black basketball players after a long but quiet integration process through the 1960s.

In November 1963, seven years after Texas integrated its undergraduate program in 1956, the Board of Regents agreed to desegregate all athletic activities at Texas. But Texas’ first African-American basketball player didn’t take the court for another five years. 

Harold Bradley, head coach of Texas from 1956–1967, had strived to recruit multiple standout African-American athletes through the 1960s with little reward. But his best chance came with James Cash out of Terrell High School in Fort Worth.

Bradley made a full push for Cash — even going in front of the Austin City Council to lobby for a human rights commission to show that Texas was striving to improve race relations.

Cash eventually decided to stay close to home at TCU, becoming the first African-American basketball

player in the Southwest Conference in the 1966–1967 season.  

Another slim prospect came with the well-known Lew Alcindor, now known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Despite the assistants’ lack of optimism on the big man, Bradley was confident Alcindor would sign with Texas — even writing up a preliminary press release to announce his signing. But Alcindor went to UCLA and the Longhorns saw another opportunity pass.

“There were legitimate concerns of how do you integrate when you’ve had nothing that is an example of it,” said Bill Little, then-assistant sports information director.

By the time Leon Black took over as head coach of the basketball program in late spring 1967, Texas, which played in front of miniscule crowds at Gregory Gym, was still struggling to find success on the recruiting trail.

Texas was a football school, and it was well known. The school’s sports information director at the time described, “There are two sports at Texas — football and spring football.”

“We always had that back seat,” Black said. “Every time I went to recruit somebody, they had an article. And they said ‘Why should I come to Texas? Here’s your SID, he’s saying there are two sports at Texas, and basketball is not one of them.’”

Texas had little pull with African-American athletes. The national attention of Texas’ largest desegregation case of Sweatt v. Painter in 1950 had created distrust among the black community in Texas, and there were no black athletes with the Longhorns at the time to prove anything different.

“Many [African-American athletes] weren’t accustomed to playing around white players,” Robinson said. “They felt there weren’t enough black students [at Texas]. And that was true.”

Quietly, Samuel Bradley would become that example. Black reached out to Bradley, a freshman on the Texas track team at the time. He became the Longhorns’ first black basketball player in 1967.

Bradley, however, wasn’t the impact player Texas was looking for. Three years later, Blacklock and Robinson were.

Blacklock, formerly a star athlete at Austin High School, transferred to Texas from Tyler Junior College before the start of the 1971 season while Robinson became the first black basketball player to sign a letter of intent at Texas.

“I know I could play and race wasn’t an issue,” Robinson said. “I could acclimate myself to white society; it wasn’t for me a strange thing.” 

During the 1972 season, Robinson created a lasting impact at Texas. While he led the Longhorns to their first Southwest Conference title, Robinson had helped set the path for future black athletes at Texas. Within the next two years, Texas added at least four more African-American players.

“I can’t tell you how happy I was when someone asked me how many African Americans we had and I could say I don’t know,” Little said.

Today, Texas joins Stanford as one of just two teams in the Power 5 conferences to have a black head coach for football and basketball. But, that fact isn’t as important as it once was.

“It shows you how far we’ve come,” Black said. “We’ve come to far that it doesn’t matter. You look for the best coach. If he’s black, he’s black. If he’s white, he’s white. If he’s brown, he’s brown. I think we’ve come that far.”

Civil Rights Summit

Photo Credit: Sarah Montgomery | Daily Texan Staff

At the Civil Rights Summit panel “Social Justice in the 21st Century: Empowering Minds, Changing Hearts, and Inspiring Service,” panelists from varying backgrounds agreed that despite the progress of civil rights, there is still work to be done to improve life for many groups in America.

David Robinson, a former Spurs player and a member of the basketball hall of fame, raised $40 million for The Carver Academy, a non-profit private school founded to serve the culturally diverse student population of San Antonio.

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Robinson said he tries to remind his sons of the people who fought for equality during the civil rights movement. As a basketball player, Robinson said he sang the national anthem every game and remembered every person who was unable to be in the position he was in.

“They laid their lives down so I could stand on their shoulders,” Robinson said.

Former first lady of California, Maria Shriver, who produced the Shriver Report, said she felt motivated to participate in the panel on behalf of women. The Shriver Report revealed poverty and inequality through women’s eyes. According to Shriver, one-third of American women are living on or near the brink of poverty.

Shriver said social justice is not just about black versus white, but about many issues including immigration and marriage equality. She also said she hopes all women will vote to help affect change. 

“It is women who will decide this next presidential race,” Shriver said. “I believe government can do better, I believe businesses can do better and I believe women can do better.”

 

Steve Stoute, CEO of the marketing firm Translation, has created cultural movements to increase brand recognition for labels such as State Farm, Budweiser and McDonald’s.

Stoute and Robinson both agreed that in the 21st century, any discrimination toward gay people in America is out of place. Stoute said he hopes speaking at the Civil Rights Summit about the discrimination gay people face will help push legislation forward.

“We should be way past that in America, at this point in time,” Stoute said. “If people are spreading love, it doesn’t make a difference what they’re doing.”

Robinson said that as a basketball player, he sees no problem with an athlete being gay or straight, and these players should not try to hide who they are.

“It’s how you face those same times that make make people respect who you are,” Robinson said. “Make them respect you by the way you carry yourself.”

Lex Frieden, an architect for the Americans with Disabilities Act, a law enacted in 1990 that prohibits employers from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities, discussed the challenges those with disabilities faced in the workplace and in other aspects of society. He highlighted the progress President Obama helped make for Americans with disabilities.

“This president has filled the one gap that we regretted the most in the act — that was healthcare,” Frieden said. “Until the Affordable Care Act, people with disabilities could be legally discriminated in healthcare.”

The Affordable Care Act, signed into law in 2010, prohibits insurance companies from denying coverage or charging more to any person based on their medical history.

Frieden said after he broke his neck, he was denied admission into a major university because of his disability. He said this discrimination showed him the challenges people faced before the Civil Rights Act was implemented.

“It just struck me, like maybe this is what people feel like,” Frieden said. “They can’t do anything because of a characteristic they don’t have any control over.”

Biology pre-med junior Sahare Wazirali, publicity coordinator for UT’s Amnesty International chapter, said the past three days at the summit were important to start a conversation about social justice and human rights issues.

UT Amnesty International works to educate students about human rights injustices around the world.

“In social justice we don’t really see people standing up for issues that are controversial because they’re scary, and the opposition can be threatening,” Wazirali said.

Wazirali said society should focus more on women’s issues in America. During the panel, Shriver said the American family has changed dramatically in the 21st century, and the working woman is the new face of poverty.

“We’re always talking about women’s rights abroad and how women are being denied access to education and health care, but here in America, besides not getting equal pay, thankfully we have a lot of our rights granted,” Wazirali said. “We still have a lot of work to do.”

Kobe Bryant: The air apparent that is

The Kobe Bryant-Michael Jordan comparison that raged on for years has seemed to die down a bit recently. And even though it might never be a great time to bring the conversation up because every fan has their own very strong opinion on the matter, that’s what I’m here for. 
 
You either assume Michal Jordan is the best basketball player that ever graced the game with his presence, you believe Kobe Bryant is the better of the two or that Kobe is quickly approaching that status. There rarely is any middle ground.
 
But as fans of basketball, why do we even have to have such a comparison? Has sensationalist sports media really forced fans into a corner like this? Can we as fans, players, coaches and practioners of the game of basketball not subjectively appreciate what each has done for the game? Or, is Kobe Bryant actually the closest thing to Michael Jordan we will ever see?
 
Even if Kobe Bryant never reaches the pinnacle of the sport, and he never achieves what many believe is his ultimate goal in being better than Michael Jordan, us as fans must appreciate who he is and what he has done.

It’s astonishing to sit and watch tape of Kobe Bryant side by side with those of Michael Jordan. The footwork is the same. The post moves are the same. The spots on the floor the players choose are the same. The confidence is the same. The clutch gene is the same. The titles and game winning shots are celebrated the same. And even the badgering and belittling of their teammates is the same (it’s no secret that Michael Jordan was one of the harshest leaders to grace the hardwood). It’s eerily ironic how many similarities both players really share. They were both even coached by the same guy: Phil Jackson. It’s almost as if the basketball gods wanted to play a sick joke on the fans and send us a replica version of Michael Jordan.
 
And even with so much in common, according to many fans and media personalities Kobe Bryant has always been the villain for wanting to be Michael. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Kobe Bryant shouldn’t be villainized for his blatant imitations of Michael Jordan; he should be celebrated.
 
Maybe when it’s all said and done Kobe’s story will have a different narrative. Maybe at that point in time the basketball community will appreciate what he did for the game, and who he was as a player.
 
In the here and now Kobe is simply the Michael Jordan want to be. The goat that never was, and the selfish superstar that copy-catted the NBA’s greatest winner.
 
But why is that? I’m sure many of you remember the film “Like Mike,” starring Lil’ Bow Wow. The title speaks for itself. Any young player growing up wanted to be Michael Jordan. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve played basketball with that wore Jordan apparel and even tried to stick their tongues out just like Mike did. Somehow it’s understandable for these players to idolize Michael Jordan in hopes of becoming him, but for Kobe Bryant, it’s villainous.
 
Michael Jordan entered the NBA in 1984, and that would mean that Kobe Bryant (who was born in 1978) would have been around six years old upon Jordan’s arrival. Michael Jordan did not win his first NBA title until 1991, and at that point in time Kobe Bryant was roughly thirteen years of age. And for those of you who at one point were 13-year-old basketball players, you remember how much you idolized star NBA players.
 
For the 13-year-old version of me, I wanted to be Allen Iverson. I bought his shoes, I bought his arm bands and I even tried to make my own signature Allen Iverson sleeve (which has quickly become one of the worst fashion trends in pick-up basketball and beyond). So, on this real time scale it’s easy to see how Kobe Bryant would have grown up idolizing Michael. He grew up watching all of Michael’s titles, and he studied him. He studied him to the core; to the point where Kobe Bryant even barked orders at teammates and assumed himself superior to anyone that ever stepped on the basketball court. Don’t believe me? The proof is in the footage.
 
In the above video Kobe Bryant is getting ready for his first All-Star game, and an All-Star starter at that. He is 19 years old, and even more noteworthy is the fact that Kobe wasn’t even a starter for the Los Angeles Lakers at this point. Kobe received a lot of media scrutiny, and even scrutiny from players around the league for being an all-star starter. So amidst all the pressure, the spotlight and all the scrutiny Kobe Bryant is facing; what does he say when he’s asked about Michael Jordan sending him a message in the All-Star Game?
 
“Maybe, but I want to send him a message that I don’t back down from anybody,” he said at the time.
 
Remember, this was the 1998 season; the same season Michael won his sixth title. At this point Michael was tied with Magic Johnson for NBA titles, and was essentially the great Michael Jordan we know him as now. And this 19-year-old kid, who’s not even old enough to legally buy a beer, and isn’t even a starter for his own team seriously has the audacity to challenge Michael Jordan?
 
You can’t hear the quotes and look at Kobe’s attitude and tell me he didn’t learn that from studying Michael. Kobe not only studied his style of play, but he even adopted Michael’s competitiveness. And then Kobe challenged him.
 
If I’m allowed to tie up my laces and dream of being “Like Mike,” then why can’t Kobe? And why is Kobe villanized for such when the rest of the nation that wishes the same isn’t?
 
Maybe it’s because he played for the Lakers, one of America’s favorite teams to hate. Maybe it’s because the basketball world beloved Michael so much that they couldn’t stand that anyone would attempt to step on the foundation he built. I mean, how dare any competitive, professional basketball player challenge Michael, right? Or maybe Kobe is just misunderstood.

Not only has Bryant allowed another generation to see the closest form to Michael Jordan there has ever been, but he has spent countless hours studying, and mimicking his game to resemble the idol he grew up watching. Regardless of how much you hate the guy, or hate his team, it does astonish me how many people don’t respect him. How many players in the league study the game of basketball to the extent that Kobe has?
 
Fast forward to the year 2013, and Kobe Bryant is on the verge of the end of his career, and his Lakers can’t seem to catch a break. Their season has been plagued with injury, and now Dwight Howard is firing jabs at Bryant, and rumors of Howard’s departure from LA are starting to emerge. Kobe Bryant may not win that sixth title, and he will never be Michael Jordan, but as fans of basketball he deserves to be appreciated for what he has done. And hopefully fans realize that before they turn on their television and the closest thing to Michael Jordan is gone.
 
Remember: imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.