5 Miners Who Changed the Game Forever

Ben Auten, Staff Writer

In 1966, the University of Texas Western Miners became the first team with an all African-American starting lineup to win a national championship in basketball.. In fact, earlier that season, they became the first to start an all black lineup. The Miners finished the season 23-1, and defeated the almighty Kentucky Wildcats to take home the title.

However, the road there was anything but easy.

From heckling by opposing teams’ fans to referees not fairly officiating, there were numerous bumps along the way. In the sole loss of that season to Seattle, Miners’ point guard Bobby Joe Hill drove in for layup in the final seconds, trailing by 2, and was practically tackled by a Seattle player as time expired, and yet no foul was called. Then, on top of all that, there was the incessant, blatant racism the Miners faced throughout the year.

That could not have been more noticeable than in the National Title game. On that late Saturday night in Cole Fieldhouse, the stadium was packed with white Kentucky fans, coaches, cheerleaders, sportswriters, and officials. In fact, there was a giant Confederate flag being waved by the rowdy Wildcat fans.

There wasn’t much known about this Texas Western team, so sportswriters and broadcasters chose to assume. In that time, it was believed that every team needed at least one white player on the floor at all times to keep the black players from losing their discipline. Most people thought that a successful all African-American team would just run up and down the court at a rampant pace and defend solely with their athletic prowess. So, casual fans headed into the game expecting a high scoring, action packed affair. But that was not how Texas Western played, and it surely worked to their advantage.

The Miners ran a slow-paced offense and placed a huge emphasis on defense, allowing just 68 points per game. On the other hand, top ranked Kentucky was the run-and-gun and athletic team. So, despite all that, when the Miners held the explosive Wildcats to a mere 65 points, out-rebounded, out-disciplined, and outsmarted Kentucky, Wildcat coach Adolph Rupp described Texas Western as a bunch of thugs who weren’t good for the game of basketball while also blaming the loss on an all-white refereeing group!

To put that into perspective, the 5 African-American starters for Texas Western had baffled and frustrated the legendary coach Adolph Rupp so much that he resorted to ridiculous excuses every time he was asked about the game. This group was the perfect foil to the legendary Kentucky Wildcats as they shocked the world and took down one of the greats, doing so in extraordinary fashion.

Their effect on basketball today is still as prevalent as ever. After seeing just what a group of 5 black players are capable of doing, it took just 4 years for the heavily segregated state of Kentucky to allow the university to dress an African-American basketball player. It still took time before any black player at the University of Kentucky was playing significant minutes, but the result of that Saturday night in Maryland couldn’t be more clear today. This year’s Wildcat team rotates about 9 players each game, and only one is white.

Kentucky basketball has become the hot spot for top recruits across the country hoping to play in the NBA, and these predominantly African-American players certainly would not have had this opportunity if it weren’t for the 5 Texas Western starters in that historic 1966 season.

They transcended the game of basketball while giving hope and a chance to future generations of black basketball players which still continues today.