Don Barksdale was a pioneering athlete in the mid-20th Century. He was a member of the Gold Medal 48 Olympic Basketball Team and the Philips Oilers Championship Team.
In 1948, he was the first African American to play with the U.S. Olympic team. He
joined the team in Basketball at the 1948 Summer Olympics. He became the first Africa-American basketball player to win a gold medal in the Summer Olympics.
Barksdale, who had been playing with the Amateur Athletic
Union‘s Oakland Bittners, was given an at-large berth from the independent
bracket, but not without heavy lobbying by Fred Maggiora, a member of the Olympic Basketball Committee and a politician in Oakland, which was adjacent to Barksdale’s hometown. About eight years later Maggiora told Barksdale that some committee members’ responses to the idea of having a black Olympian was “Hell no, that will never happen.” But Maggiora wouldn’t let the committee bypass Barksdale.
“This guy fought, fought, and fought,” Barksdale said, “and I think finally the coach of Phillips 66 [Omar Browning] had said, ‘That son of a bitch is the best basketball player in the country outside of Bob Kurland, so I don’t know how we can turn him down.’ So they picked me, but Maggiora said he went through holy hell for it – closed-door meetings and begging.”
The 1948 Olympic team had five Kentucky Wildcats basketball players who had just won the very first Wildcat national championship in the 1948 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament. The rest of the Olympic team, consisting of the AAU Champions Phillips Oilers, and the Kentucky team later scrimmaged on Stoll Field in front of 14,000 spectators, the largest crowd to watch basketball in Kentucky at that time. Barksdale became the first African-American to play against Kentucky in Lexington. He could not stay at the hotel with the rest of the team, but instead stayed with a black host family.
Adolph Rupp, the legendary Kentucky coach, was the assistant coach on the 1948 team under Omar Browning.
“[Rupp] turned out to be my closest friend,” Barksdale said. “We went to London and won all 12 games and got the gold medal.” But he had to brush off indignities just about every step of the way. . . Later, coach Rupp told Barksdale, “Son, I wish things weren’t like that, but there’s nothing you or I can do about it.” Barksdale agreed. He lived by a very simple philosophy. He wasn’t interested in protest; he was interested in playing basketball. He had faced prejudice before, and he knew that he would face it again.
Does that sound like a racist. Why does the American Sports Press get away with deriding Rupp as a racist when to a man his contemporaries both black and white say the exact opposite? Look to Duke in 1966. All White Team as well. But somehow that fact is never mentioned in all of the talk of “walls tumbling down.” When will these media types start to deal in fact. Instead they lie and cheat and defame persons with innuendo, deception, lies and half truths.
There are hundreds of stories that attest to the lie that is perpetuated by ESPN and their crew of amatuers. Yet, they refuse to back down from their slander. All the while, they canonize a guy like John Wooden whose greatest booster openly paid his players. Paid for their clothes, cars and abortions. I’m not saying that Wooden doesn’t deserve his accolades. He won and won big. But his achievements are tainted with drug money. Neither ESPN nor the NCAA will go near those stories. Wooden lived in denial as Papa Sam paid for his rosters. Either that or he was complicit in the violations. Yet, Wooden will never be investigated. What is the difference between Papa Sam and his relationship with Bill Walton and the Reggie Bush situation or the recent O.J. Mayo “scandal.” There is no difference. Except that Wooden was an untouchable. Much like Coach K and his golden boosters giving away 6 figure salaries to receptionists and signing for homes for the parents of Duke Basketball recruits. Chris Duhon and others spring readily to mind.
Speak to me of hypocrisy. These supposed professionals cowardly destroy the reputation of one man after his death based on fallacies and lies. All the while, they anoint another despite the hard truths behind his grand, yet tainted, achievements.
April 3, 2006
The Bergen County Record
INDIANAPOLIS — Everywhere Jerry Tarkanian goes at this Final Four, the blue and gold, the magical four letters, the thunderous U-C-L-A chants on the streets, bring Tark back to college basketball’s greatest dynasty, back to a name most synonymous with the championship seasons.
Only, it isn’t John Wooden.
Or Lew Alcindor.
Or Bill Walton.
“I think about Sam Gilbert,” Tark said Sunday afternoon.
And that’s the name that causes a roomful of frolicking Bruins boosters and fans to go uneasily quiet. Sam Gilbert, the two dirty little words of the dynasty.
For the record, Tark will go where others genuflecting at the altar of John Wooden will never journey. He’ll say the name that amid the hype for tonight’s UCLA-Florida national championship game, you’re guaranteed to never hear on CBS. The NCAA tournament loves its nostalgia, its mythology and you’ll be getting the full force of this farce from the RCA Dome.
“To people, John Wooden is a god,” Tark said.
It is a losing proposition to suggest that UCLA’s 10 national championships under Wooden were won with anything but the talent of great players and the lessons and leadership of a legendary coach. It just is never talked about — out in the open, anyway.
It was what it was, though: Sam Gilbert was a Los Angeles construction man who lavished the Wooden-era UCLA players with money, cars, gifts, the run of his mansion, whatever. Anything those players wanted, the dynasty’s sugar daddy was reputed to provide it.
“To this day, what blows me away — what still makes me angry — is that Sam Gilbert never tried to hide what he was doing,” Tark said. “But the NCAA was never going to investigate UCLA. They were the marquee team. They had all of the games on television. But I lived 20 minutes away in Long Beach and I knew what was going on there. The whole country, the NCAA, they all knew what Sam Gilbert was doing at UCLA.
“Hell, he bragged about it to a lot of people. He bragged about it to me. Once, he liked my point guard [Robert Smith] and said, ‘Why don’t you send him over to UCLA so I can take care of him?’ The NCAA was always harassing me, but Sam Gilbert was violating more rules than anyone in America.
“I was told that John Wooden used to always say that he wished Sam would stay away from the program. I was told that he went to [the AD] J.D. Morgan about it, and Morgan told him that he would take care of it. But it went on and on.”
These days, Tark is hardly on the UCLA warpath. Truth be told, he loves the Bruins’ coach, Ben Howland. As funny as it sounds, Tark will be sitting in Howland’s seats for the game tonight.
What’s more, Tark’s never had a personal problem with Wooden, who always was very nice and very generous with him through the years. His issue isn’t with Wooden, but a system that selectively punished cheaters.
This isn’t to absolve Tark by means of some great conspiracy to get him. He is a well-deserved and well-decorated NCAA probation loser at Long Beach, UNLV and Fresno State. I covered him for 2½ years in Fresno, had my drag-outs with him, but the years have taught me that some of the most respected names in the sport — some of the so-called giants — are the biggest crooks going. Tark always told me, and only in the last few years have I come to agree with him.
Ultimately, Tark thinks that if you want to believe that his four Final Fours and his 1990 national championship are tainted, then you have to take a look at UCLA, too. I always believed that his fight with the NCAA wasn’t so much about his own innocence, but the fact that there were competitors of his who had been deemed untouchable and never got popped too.
If you think this is just Tark barking at the moon, trying to justify his own misdeeds, consider a different source, someone whose agenda is beyond reproach. While working with Tark on his memoir “Running Rebel,” author Dan Wetzel dug up a Bill Walton quote from a 1978 book, “On the Road with the Portland Trail Blazers.”
If you ever want to debate that there is a double standard between the chosen programs and those branded as renegade by the NCAA, consider this stunning passage.
“UCLA players were so well taken care of — far beyond the ground rules of the NCAA — that even players from poor backgrounds never left UCLA prematurely (for pro basketball) during John Wooden’s championship years,” Walton said. “If the UCLA teams of the late 1960s and early 1970s were subjected to the kind of scrutiny Jerry Tarkanian and his players have been, UCLA would probably have to forfeit about eight national championships and be on probation for the next 100 years.
“… The NCAA is working night and day trying to get Jerry, but no one from the NCAA ever questioned me during my four years at UCLA.”
Here’s the thing, too: This doesn’t make Wooden less of a philosopher, less of a teacher, less of a great American icon. To me, it doesn’t change the fact that the afternoon I spent in his condo two years ago rates as one of the best days I’ve ever had in this business. It’s just a reminder there is no Camelot in sports. And there are no saints.
Wooden is 95 years old, bigger and more beloved than ever, and as Tark said one Hall of Fame coach told him this weekend, “People won’t really start talking about [Wooden's] legacy until he’s gone.”
Wooden is still the kind of man, just like those Bruins were the kind of champions, who never will be duplicated. The banners are still hanging in Pauley Pavilion, the 100 years of probation that Walton swears would’ve been warranted never did come. Admire the UCLA history tonight, but don’t let yourself get lost in the mythology. There was no Camelot in college basketball, no saint.