July 21, 2016
Tiger Den Basketball
Who was the last player to win the NBA Most Valuable Player award three years in a row?
Across the Line: Profiles in Basketball Courage: Tales of the First
Black Players in the ACC and SEC, Barry Jacobs (2008)
For a quarter-century, until supplanted in 1968 by Coleman Coliseum, Foster Auditorium hosted Crimson Tide basketball games ... The brick and stone building ... seated 5,400. But while the "Rocket Eight" generated excitement en route an an SEC title during the pre-integration 1950s, basketball rarely attracted a full house. "Alabama never tried to have a basketball program," notes Clyde Bolton in The Basketball Tide.
L: C. M. Newton; R: Wendell Hudson
Hudson's senior year in high school, the Parker Thundering Herd, boasting several college prospects, captured the 1969 state high school championship. That was the first season in which black and white Alabama teams competed for the same title. ...
The 1969 state tournament allowed Hudson to shine on the state's biggest prep stage. "I stepped in and did something that surprised even some of my teammates. ..." he remembers. Meanwhile, Newton, in his first year as Alabama's head basketball coach, endured a 4-20 season. The inauspicious debut was hardly reassuring for the little-known 38-year-old, who recalls being greeted at Tuscaloosa by a story headlined, "C. M. Who? Named 'Bama Coach." ...
At modest Transylvania College in Lexington, Kentucky, he had quietly integrated the basketball program as head coach...
It helped that Bryant, Alabama's football coach and athletics director and a legendary figure in the state, was supportive, for reasons of his own.
"What I wanted to do was build a basketball program at Alabama," says Newton, a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame. ..."The question I asked of Coach Bryant was, 'Are there any restrictions?' And his answer was, 'No, there are no restrictions. You've got to recruit legally and you've got to recruit guys that can finish school here ... So, [race] was not an issue."
For his part, Bryant said he hired Newton, a calm pipe smoker rarely given to profanity, "because he's the only basketball coach I know who isn't crazy." ...
Given Bryant's blessing, Newton made history at Alabama by signing Hudson, the school's first African-American scholarship athlete in any sport ... The Birmingham News touted the signing in its April 2, 1969, "Dixie Edition," but widespread attention was fleeting. Hudson was not considered a major prospect, and this was only basketball, after all, in a state where football is "a way of life," as Bryant said.
"I've been asked, 'Why did you go to the University of Alabama?'" says Hudson, whose other scholarship offers came mostly from small schools. ... "I never felt like I was inferior. ..."
As Bryant anticipated, the school's first black athlete encountered difficulties on the road. There also was resentment in Birmingham's black community because Hudson had chosen to attend a white school. For the most part, though, the fearsome antagonisms championed by George Wallace ... blew quietly past. ...
Hudson says, "I don't have the horror stories. I played for the right people. I probably went to what everybody thought was the worst place, after what all transpired there. But once Coach Bryant said everything was OK, everything was OK. ..."
Hudson went on to an outstanding collegiate career. He set a freshman record at Alabama for rebounding, then recovered from a broken wrist his sophomore year to earn consecutive berths on the all-conference squad as an upperclassmen. He was named SEC Player of the Year as a senior, the first black athlete so honored. ... His senior year the Crimson Tide reached the National Invitation Tournament, its first postseason appearance in 61 years of playing basketball.
Of the 11 Alabama players who took to the NIT court at New York's Madison Square Garden that year, 9 were black. Hudson's signing had done for the University of Alabama what Perry Wallace's did for the SEC: opened a floodgate through which poured talented, homegrown African-American players. ...
Remarkably, within a decade of George Wallace's stand in the schoolhouse door, Newton had built a successful program ... so heavily reliant on black players that some accused the coach of discriminating against whites.
"Looking back, the key to the whole thing at Alabama was Wendell," Newton says ... "I've gotten a lot of credit over the years for integrating the Alabama program and the SEC. I've even been called courageous. But it didn't take any courage on my part. However, it took tremendous courage on Wendell's part."