For a long time, Dick Barnett expressed his frustration to anybody who would hear in regards to the lack of recognition for his historic school basketball crew. Tennessee State, named Tennessee A&I till 1968, was the primary traditionally Black school and college (HBCU) to win a nationwide school basketball match.
It wasn’t till 2011, shortly after a narrative about Barnett’s frustration appeared in print, that the two-time NBA champion lastly felt heard.
“I spoke to [Ed Peskowitz, former owner of the Atlanta Hawks] and he asked me, ‘Whatever happened to those Tennessee A&I teams?’ ” Barnett recalled. “That conversation is when I decided that I didn’t want what we accomplished lost to history.”
The Dream Whisperer, a documentary sparked by that column and the dialog with Peskowitz, will premiere this weekend at Danny Glover’s Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles.
In an period the place school sports activities remained largely segregated, Tennessee A&I gained the NAIA basketball championship in 1957, defended its title in 1958 and notched a then unprecedented three-peat in 1959 — a momentous instance of what Black athletes have been capable of accomplish if given the chance to play towards predominantly white competitors. Coached by the legendary John McLendon, these Tennessee A&I groups had seven gamers drafted into the NBA.
Barnett, now 85, was the clear star, successful back-to-back NAIA MVP honors in 1958 and 1959, which led to him being chosen by the Syracuse Nationals with the No. 4 decide of the 1959 NBA draft. While he performed on 4 NBA groups, it was his 9 seasons enjoying with the New York Knicks the place the 6-foot-4 taking pictures guard made his greatest impression, successful two NBA titles using a left-handed jumper that had children all through the 5 boroughs of New York City emulating his distinctive leg kick.
“I’d shout, ‘Fall back, baby,’ ” Barnett stated when requested about his shot. “When you played against me, it was put up or shut up.”
Barnett has obtained quite a few accolades for his profession. He was inducted into the College Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007 and his No. 12 jersey was retired by the Knicks in 1990.
But the truth that his historic school crew was by no means correctly celebrated put him on a journey to get that group included within the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
“We felt we had the best basketball team in the nation but, as a Black school, we weren’t allowed to compete in the NCAA or NIT tournaments,” Barnett stated. “I played against all the great guards — Sam Jones, Oscar Robertson, Dave Bing. I didn’t have any doubts about how good we were. I was ready and willing to kick everybody’s ass.”
Longtime sportswriter George Willis wrote the article that served because the impetus for the documentary and Barnett’s quest to get Tennessee A&I recognition. Tennessee A&I gained its final title seven years earlier than Texas Western gained the 1966 NCAA title with an all-Black beginning 5.
“I had long known of it as a football power,” Willis stated of Tennessee A&I, which has despatched greater than 100 gamers into the NFL, together with Joe Gilliam, Richard Dent and Ed “Too Tall” Jones. “I really wasn’t familiar with the school having any kind of accomplished basketball team until we talked about it.”
That article created a domino impact: After Peskowitz learn it, he reached out to director Eric Drath, a two-time Emmy winner, to see if he could be all in favour of a documentary on the topic.
“We put cameras on Dick not long after the story ran about him trying to get his team recognized by the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame and we had no idea what the ending was going to be,” Drath stated. “We took a chance because they were denied by the Hall of Fame so many times, and it was no sure thing they were going to be inducted.”
As the movie paperwork failed efforts to get the crew acknowledged on a nationwide stage by the Hall of Fame, it additionally demonstrates the crew’s lack of recognition throughout the partitions of the Nashville, Tennessee, faculty.
“There are several moments where people on campus have no knowledge about what we did,” Barnett stated. “If they didn’t know about what we did at Tennessee State [A&I], what about the students at the other historical Black colleges?”
Other HBCUs don’t acknowledge what the crew achieved in successful these three straight titles at a time after they have been checked out as being lower than. Tennessee A&I’s first title got here simply 4 years after the NAIA allowed HBCU groups to take part within the nationwide match for the primary time in 1953.
“When we got to the national tournament in Kansas City, it was segregated like most of the United States,” Barnett stated. “But one of the things that made John McLendon so great is that he made sure the tournament knew that if we were going to participate, we had to eat at the same restaurant and sleep in the same hotels as every other team.”
As years handed from the time crews began taping Barnett’s efforts after that 2011 article, the rejections mounted from the Basketball Hall of Fame, among the individuals interviewed died (John Thompson, David Stern, Anthony Mason and Earl Lloyd), and the challenge took on a way of urgency.
“The team kept getting overlooked, and it started to feel like a race against time because Dick’s not getting any younger,” stated Willis, who serves as an govt producer. “And you get to a point where you’re thinking, ‘Why is it taking so long to get them inducted?’ ”
“This really is a story of never giving up. What we capture in this project is Dick’s unbelievable persistence and tenacity.”
— Eric Drath, director of The Dream Whisperer, on Dick Barnett and the documentary
The documentary has a cheerful ending with the 2019 induction of the Tennessee A&I crew into the Basketball Hall of Fame, exhibiting the ability of the efforts of 1 man on a mission.
“This really is a story of never giving up,” Drath stated. “What we capture in this project is Dick’s unbelievable persistence and tenacity. The idea of, with all the denials, Dick coming to a point where he wasn’t banging on the next door — that never crossed my mind.”
While Barnett is completely satisfied that his efforts for recognition have been rewarded, he feels his journey to get respect for his crew continues.
“A lot of people didn’t live to see this to its end, so I’m happy for the four or five of us still who’ll be able to see this documentary on our history,” Barnett stated. “Now it’s time to get this story to our young people, so this history isn’t forgotten. Every incoming freshman at Tennessee State should be required to see this about our history, about their history.”