The NCAA Men’s Final Four comes to my hometown this weekend. How apropos is it that we’re hosting the game at NRG Stadium at a time in which we also are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the 1966 Final Four title game between Texas Western (now UTEP) and number one ranked Kentucky that changed not only history, but had a major impact of how NCAA men’s basketball is played today.
The story is also depicted in the 2006 movie Glory Road.
That Final Four game played on March 19, 1966 pitted the number four ranked Miners against the Adolph Rupp coached Wildcat team that had NBA legends Pat Riley and Louie Dampier in their lineup.
It’s also a point of pride for us in Houston because David Lattin, one of the starters in that historic NCAA title game is from here. That game also marked the first time that five African-Americans started in an NCAA title game,and they were playing against a one loss Kentucky team with an all white lineup.
While that is something we don’t even think about in 2016, because the SEC and the now disbanded Texas-Arkansas based Southwest Conference were segregated and refused to recruit Black players, this was a big deal in 1966. It was also a big deal because in addition to this seminal title game being played with the African-American Civil Rights Movement as a backdrop, there were less than complimentary stereotypes about Black basketball players at the time as well. The Texas Western players also faced in their 27-1 title run racism from fans, other players and referees as they marched toward their date with destiny.
David Lattin, Bobby Joe Hill, Orsten Artis, Harry Flournoy and Willie Worsley shocked the world by upsetting the heavily favored Wildcats 72-65 It’s also cool to note that David Lattin’s grandson, Khadeem Lattin ( and whose mother BTW is WNBA Houston Comets legend Monica Lamb) playing for the Oklahoma Sooners, one of the four teams competing for the NCAA title here in Houston this weekend
It is also fitting that during this weekend in which the Final Four returns to the Lone Star State, the 1966 NCAA championship team will be honored at halftime.on Saturday.
As I said in my 45th anniversary TransGriot post concerning that historic game, the Texas Western players that night in Cole Field House on the University of Maryland campus were playing not only for a title, they were playing for the dignity of a people.
They also ended up with their win,.changing NCAA college basketball forever.