MULE': GLORY ROAD

Glory Road is good, but facts were skewed for better story.

The interview was staged in an airport terminal.

"Do you think the Negro can handle the pressure (of NCAA Tournament play)?'' the reporter is supposed to have asked Adolph Rupp.

The famed University of Kentucky coach, on his way to the Final Four, is noncommittal – though, of course, the grimace on his face tells you all you need as an answer.

Glory Road, the best basketball movie since Hoosiers 20 years ago, needed a villain-of-sorts and Rupp and his all-white Wildcats team fit nicely.

In the stirring story of the 1966 Texas Western team that beat Kentucky for the NCAA championship, the question of whether African-Americans could perform at the highest level of the sport is resoundingly answered. Miners coach Don Haskins started five black athletes for the first time in Final Four history, and they were nothing short of magnificent, in reel life and on the court 40 years ago.

You have to wonder, though, if there really had to be a "bad guy,'' as the movie paints Rupp by inference. He was a man who was almost born in the 19th Century (1901) and who may not have had 21st Century sensibilities, none of which necessarily makes Rupp the cretin he is portrayed as in the film. After all, none of his players recall Rupp making race an issue before the game. Which doesn't stop Rupp (stunningly well played by Jon Voight) glowering in the movie as Texas Western's starters take the floor and muttering it was like "spitting in our face.''

The viewer is told before as the film starts that it is "inspired by a true story,'' which provides a lot of wiggle room. Things might have been done different if it had said "this is a true story.'' That would have, more or less, obligated the filmmakers to stay within the perimeters of putting things in proper context. More or less.

In the usual overstated Hollywood way, and picked up by some in the media, it's said at the end of Glory Road that Texas Western's victory was one of the greatest upsets in sports history. No, it wasn't. Kentucky was a five-point favorite, and we've all seen bigger upsets than that.

It may have been one of the most significant upsets, though. Nobody would argue that. But that's a completely different category.

Even though it seems more relevant now than it did the general public in 1966, Glory Road is about an obvious ground-breaking moment in sports history, one all fair-minded people would – and should – applaud, decades after the fact.

Still, despite the tone of the movie, African-Americans making their presence felt on the hardwood was not something new in the mid-1960s. Their achievement was not something that came out of the blue. Three blacks started for the Cincinnati team that won the NCAA in 1962, and three started for the Loyola of Chicago team that won in '63.

Three of the five member Associated Press's first-string All-American team of 1966 were prominent black athletes (Cazzie Russell, Michigan; Dave Bing, Syracuse; Jimmy Walker, Providence). Interestingly, no player from Kentucky, all but invincible as seen by the filmmakers, made the first team. Louie Dampier, the most noted Wildcat, made second team, but he wasn't even considered the best player in the SEC. Clyde Lee of Vanderbilt got that honor.

In 1958, eight years before Texas Western's notable victory, all five of the first-string All-American team members were black: Bob Boozer, Kansas State; Elgin Baylor, Seattle; Wilt Chamberlain, Kansas; Oscar Robertson, Cincinnati; and Guy Rodgers, Temple.

An announcer's voice before the film version of the Texas Western-Kentucky game intones that the outcome should put an end to Haskins' "experiment.''

It may have been a great experiment, but it was one in the works for a long time before the '66 NCAA Finals.

Marty Mule' can be reached at MJM981@bellsouth.net.

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