Jimmy Blacklock earned the right to be the coach for Harlem Globetrotters.
Blacklock, and the world famous team of basketball wizards were in San Antonio this weekend celebrating their 86th consecutive year as their international 2012 brought them through Texas.
The Globetrotters dazzled the crowd at the AT&T Center demonstrating their famous tradition of basketball artistry and unique family entertainment just as they have done since 1926 traveling to over 120 countries on six continents.
Their brand of ball handling continues to be fun and thrilling, while their significance and contribution to humanity has been in their gift to build cultural and societal bridges across universal barriers.
BULL WALKED TO THE BLANCO CAFE
While Globetrotter #33 Bull Bullard walked over to the Blanco Café on St. Mary’s Street, Blacklock approached a team bus parked behind the Sheraton Gunter Hotel Saturday just before noon.
Courteous to the pedestrians who couldn’t help but notice the 6’4” Bullard, Blacklock also was friendly and smiled at the downtown passerbys who beamed at the boldly decorated bus.
At first Blacklock was concerned as this reporter was taking photographs of the players as they entered the buses, but welcoming conversation about their Alamo City visit, and Bruce Bowen’s upcoming Spurs jersey number being retired, it was clear their new coach is a man who cares about the Globetrotter brand.
Naturally excited, I told him the Globetrotters represented more than just a touring team, but were an American symbol of my childhood, not unlike The Lone Ranger or Superman, that continues to this day.
INTRODUCED HIMSELF SIMPLY AS “JIMMY’
A strikingly humble man, Blacklock introduced himself as just “Jimmy” as he offered his handshake.
“Yes, a lot of people say things like that,” he grinned, with understanding. “It’s a good feeling to see the smiles on people’s faces when they see the team or bus like this.”
Blacklock downplayed his role when I asked him where he was originally from, and when he was young, did he ever think he would be the coach of the Globetrotters.
“I’m from Houston,” he replied. “It’s a blessing to have a job I love and be able to give back to so many at each stop along the way.”
Fresh from a tour of military bases this past fall, the Globetrotters spend more time visiting hospitals, youth centers, and recreation halls than they do on the court.
“I’m not so sure the younger guys quite understand their heritage here yet,” Blacklock said. “But it (The Globetrotters influence) is quite a history.”
BLACKLOCK OPENED DOOR FOR BLACKS IN COLLEGIATE SPORTS
What many people do not know, or have forgotten is Blacklock’s personal contribution to American sports, especially in Texas history.
Back in the 1960’s, the term “Friday Night Lights” was a stealthy code meaning only white high school football teams were scheduled to play on Fridays in Texas. Black schools were allowed to play on Thursdays.
With segregation deeply rooted in the state’s system and culture, blacks who stood able, were forced to pursue sports at all black colleges.
Thus, young Jimmy Blacklock, a point guard from Yates High school in Houston, started his freshman year at Tyler Jr College.
It was only six years after the University of Texas in Austin allowed integration of blacks into dormitories (not without cross burning events out front) that basketball coach Leon Black’s team was able to recruit Blacklock to come to UT at start of 1971 school term.
PREVENTED CONTACT BETWEEN BLACKS AND WHITES
The bias was so ingrained that Blacklocks arrival on campus was not too long after some intramural activities, such as wrestling and swimming, had been dissolved altogether to prevent contacts between blacks and whites.
All across America, people watched to see if racial progress would occur in Texas collegiate sports. Blacklock, was the pioneer.
He became a top team player with an average of 16.6 points in 24 games that first year!
History was made when Blacklock, as elected by his teammates, became the first black captain of any Texas athletic team.
The nation was watching and the door was opening.
The second year was more difficult.
Leon Black later recalled that conference coaches worked with referees to stifle Blacklock.
LIKE JACKIE ROBINSON, BILL COSBY
“Every time he touched the ball they called traveling,” Coach Black said later, according to 2011 article by Grant David Abston, entitled Integrating Texas Athletics: The Forgotten Story of the First Black Basketball Players.
“They decided that his quickness wasn’t legal,” Black recalled. “Coaches put it in their (referees) ears.”
Eventually, just as in the day of Jackie Robinson in professional baseball, or Bill Cosby, the first black to star in a television series (I Spy, with Robert Culp), people across the nation took notice of Jimmy Blacklock. The door was forever opened.
Part 2: Jimmy Blacklock, Harlem Globetrotters new coach COMING SOON.
For free email alerts for new articles by Jack Dennis, click “Subscribe” above. Jack can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: Texasjackson