Like almost everyone in southern Indiana and all of Kentucky, I can tell you exactly where I was on March 19, 1966 when Texas Western, with a team that started five black players, defeated the all-white heroes from the University of Kentucky in the final game of the 1966 NCAA Basketball Tournament by a final score of 72-65.
The movie Glory Road does a fine job capturing what was arguably the most important college basketball game ever played. Coached by Don Haskins, played by an attractive, energetic but somewhat callow Josh Lucas (Reese Witherspoon's boyfriend in Sweet Home Alabama) the movie tells the linear story of how Coach Haskins, with a limited recruiting budget, convinces unrecruited black urban basketball players to come to El Paso and play for him.
The predictable tension between the white returnees and the new black recruits, the iron discipline of Coach Haskins, and the alumni anxiety over the largely white school being represented by black basketball players is presented effectively, sometimes comically.
The Miners enjoy unanticipated success but have to endure racial taunting, a beating and the inevitable crisis of confidence. The season culminates against the University of Kentucky Wildcats, coached by the legendary four-time national champion coach Adolph Rupp, played by Jon Voight looking a little like the snake-hunter guy he played in Anaconda, whose subtle racism and arrogance motivates the lads from El Paso.
The movie works on a number of levels. There is exciting, rip-roaring game action. The audience at the Cinemark cheered each basket made by the Miners in the championship game. There is something deeply satisfying about watching young people in either battle or sport overcoming great odds and achieving their goals.
More importantly, Glory Road is a wonderful teaching moment for parents and their children. Before LaBron and Kobe and Michael and Magic there was a segregated world that we don't really want to remember. Black athletes were called "monkeys" and couldn't eat in the same restaurants or stay in the same hotels as their white teammates. As Coach Haskins was told: "You play one [black athlete] at home, two on the road, and three if you're hopelessly behind." Glory Road reminds us that it wasn't all that long ago when these attitudes and beliefs were the rule, not the exception.
On March 19, 1966, I was driving around in the rain listening to the game on the radio. It was early in the game and on consecutive possessions, Bobby Joe Hill, the point guard for Texas Western, stole the ball from Kentucky's guards, including my hero, the sweet-shooting Louie Dampier. Those steals gave Texas Western a lead it never relinquished. I didn't fully appreciate it at the time, but those simple athletic actions symbolized that hoops had changed forever. Glory Road captures that moment. You should see it.
Glory Road appeared briefly at the Lake Theatre as a sneak preview.