Contact: Wendel Sloan at 505.562.2253
PORTALES—"Glory Road," the Walt Disney movie currently showing in theatres about the Texas Western College Miners (now the University of Texas-El Paso) winning the 1966 NCAA Division I basketball championship, paints an inaccurate picture of the racial makeup of Eastern New Mexico University's Greyhound basketball team that season.
The Jerry Bruckheimer Film, which was number one at the box office two weekends ago, shows the Miners, under head coach Don Haskins, using an all-black starting lineup to defeat the number-one ranked and all-white University of Kentucky Wildcats, under legendary coach Adolph Rupp, 72-65, in the national title game.
As in real life, Eastern (mistakenly called Eastern New Mexico State College in the movie) did play Texas Western in the first game of the year. However, the movie, starring Josh Lucas, portrays Eastern, an NAIA school at the time, as being an all-white team.
The reality is that Eastern, under head coach Harry Miller, had five blacks on the team, including Joe Allen, who was the Greyhounds' high scorer for the game with 10 points in the Miners' 89-38 victory (the movie has Texas Western winning a close game against a "less than impressive" Eastern team).
Allen was a 6-3 senior center from Hobbs, N.M. Other blacks on Eastern's team included Jim Bridges, a 5-11 junior guard from Hobbs; Richard Coleman, a 6-5 sophomore forward from Buffalo, N.Y.; Ronald Oram, a 6-4 sophomore forward from Englewood, N.J.; and Wilson Watkins, a 6-3 junior forward from Indianapolis, Ind. Oram and Allen were starters.
The movie also shows the Greyhounds walking past the Miners without shaking hands after the game, as if it were a racial snub.
"Shaking hands after games was not a custom then," said Miller from his retirement home in Nacogdoches, Texas. "Don Haskins and I were friends. We played each other several times, and there was never any hard feelings between our teams."
As far as the Greyhounds being an all-white team, Miller, who coached at several larger schools after leaving Eastern, said, "For heaven's sake! That's pure Hollywood. It wasn't that way at all. I don't even remember how many blacks we had on my teams, including Eastern's 1969 (NAIA) national championship team. I never cared about my players' color, just whether they could play basketball."
B.B. Lees, ENMU athletic director from 1975-97 and a football coach from 1956-66, said, "We had blacks on our basketball team as early as 1962, and on our football team not long after. Eastern was one of the first schools in the region to have integrated teams."
Lees recalled one year when Eastern was playing Texas Western in Clovis. With the Miners enjoying a comfortable lead in the second half, Miners' head coach Don Haskins came up in the stands and visited Lees and his friends for awhile during the game. "We never had any animosity toward them," Lees said. The year they won the national championship, we had almost as many blacks on our team as they did."
Miller said that Texas Western winning the national championship in 1966 was not as groundbreaking as portrayed in the movie. "There were several teams that won championships with a majority of black starters before then. I know for sure that Cincinnati won in 1961 or '62 with four black starters (Cincinnati won both years). The only thing different about Texas Western was that all five of their starters were black."