Thursday, October 3, 2013

Did Bulls’ 6 NBA titles depend on half-century-old Loyola basketball team?

The Cook County Board engaged in its attempt to bathe itself in celebrity status by presenting a resolution Wednesday that paid tribute to the Loyola Ramblers men’s basketball program that 50 years ago won an NCAA title – the only such school from Illinois ever to win the tourney.

Would this have been possible ...
The Ramblers’ victory that year wasn’t so much that they beat the University of Cincinnati in the championship game. But it was their matchup against Mississippi State University that gets them their moment of glory.

THAT’S BECAUSE THE Ramblers had an all-black starting five at a time when some people thought they were doing black people a favor by letting a few of them play.

When they beat a segregated team (despite the efforts of political officials to prevent the game from ever occurring), it became a big deal for reasons that go beyond the court.

The “Game of Change,” as the 61-51 victory over Mississippi State came to be known, is the reason that the Loyola team – as a unit – will be inducted next month into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.

Like I wrote earlier, the county board came up with their own resolution, which they presented to one-time Loyola center Rich Rochelle.

COUNTY COMMISSIONER DEBORAH Sims, D-Chicago, went so far as to praise Rochelle and his teammates, saying, “if that (the Loyola victory) had not happened, we would not have had our Michael Jordan or Scottie Pippen.”

She extended the thought to the present, saying, “We might not have D-Rose now,” referring to Bulls’ recovering-from-injuries star Derrick Rose.

Which might mean our Chicago Bulls might be even more of a dreadful team than they have been for much of their five decades of existence. Just think of how nasty the Chicago sporting experience would have been in recent years if not for that brief taste in the 1990s of New York Yankees-like dominance over a sport that the Bulls gave us with two three-straight runs of NBA titles.

... without this?
For his part, county Commissioner Larry Suffredin, D-Evanston, recalled following the ’63 Ramblers, remembering that the championship game wasn’t even televised live in the Chicago market (quite a difference from today’s broadcast juggernaut that is the Division 1 NCAA basketball tourney).

THERE WAS A delayed television broadcast, although Suffredin recalls word of the Loyola victory slipping out prematurely. “Everybody on the North Side who heard the screams coming from the campus probably figured out that something good had happened,” he said.

County Commissioner John Daley, D-Chicago, took the moral high ground; saying at one point that a Loyola victory with an overwhelmingly African-American roster (a term no one would have used at the time) was something that needed to be experienced.

“It is a sad commentary on where we were,” Daley said, of the segregated ways of the past. “It is something we should not forget.”

Although despite the efforts of political people to dominate the scene, it may well have been Rochelle who was most eloquent –even though he tried to describe himself as, “a man of few words.”

AS HE PUT it, “At the time we played, you have to understand the world we existed in.”

In a condition when maybe a sports starting lineup could have a black player (with maybe another on the bench), a team with four starting players and a fifth who also saw significant playing time, “was unheard of.”

Yet Rochelle said he and his teammates were less concerned about revolutionary racial acts and were more concerned about how their actions would be perceived by others – particularly if that perception would be seen as negative.

The Ramblers have accomplished something no other Division 1 Illinois school has
“We didn’t expect to be in the national limelight,” he said. “We just wanted to represent Chicago well.”

IT COULD BE argued they did exactly that – even if the ultimate outcome for Loyola was so unique. After all, they won.

While also creating a moment that forevermore brings some pride to our city; even if it leaves DePaul Blue Demons basketball fans (and fans of the 1979 team that fell just short) seething with a touch of envy.


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