In 1966, Black players took part in the Men’s Division I NCAA Basketball Championship for the first time. Although the 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education decision banned discrimination in public schools, most the of the Southern athletic teams remained all-white.
But a pioneering team was on the brink of changing the unwritten rules of college basketball. Two years after the passing of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Texas Western coach Don Haskins, also known as “The Bear” chose five Black players to start the title game against all-white Kentucky. After a 23-1 season for the Texas Western Miners, Haskins believed he was putting his five best players on the floor.
On March 19, 1966, the players of Texas Western became the first team with an all-black starting line-up to win an NCAA basketball national championship. They beat powerhouse Kentucky (coached by Adolph Rupp, the team included future NBA coach Pat Riley ) 72-65.
The players were: Orsten Artis, Bobby Joe Hill, David Lattin, Nevil Shed and Harry Flournoy. Their championship didn’t come without controversy and the players endured constant racism, before, after and during their games.
Despite the obstacles, the NCAA championship victory opened the door for other Black athletes in the South. Today, Texas Western is known as the University of Texas at El Paso, a change made in 1967.
Coach Haskins and the entire 1966 team were nominated for the Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007. Hoskins was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1997, and the Jim Thorpe Association Oklahoma Sports Hall of Fame in 1999.
Haskins and his courageous staring lineup was showcased in the 2006 film Glory Road directed by James Gartner. The film starred Derek Luke, Mehcad Brooks, Al Shearer and Tatyana Ali.