Road to Glory
A film unlike other sports movies, this one still uses a formula: a rookie coach's underdog team first resists him, then wins big. But "Road to Glory" is about racism's defeat in 1965-66, when Coach Don Haskins' all-black Texas Western University basketball team won the NCAA title against an all-white team.
In 1960s Texas, college basketball teams were "integrated," but by informal rules, only one black player played any home game, and only two played on the road, unless the team fell behind. When Haskins' team beat legendary Adolph Rupp's all-white Kentucky team, it changed things; modern basketball began. Haskins and his team "wrote the 1966 Emancipation Proclamation," says NBA Coach Pat Riley, who starred on the defeated Kentucky team.
Opening as Haskins' girls' basketball team have just won and are trying to carry him on their shoulders, Haskins (Lucas) is offered Texas Western's head coach job. He wants to coach even a weak Division I team, but can't recruit top white players. He and his assistant go north and draft African-Americans, including Bobby Joe Hill (Luke) and Willie "Scoops" Cager (Radcliff), who want scholarships and to play. The school's administration and rich boosters are unhappy until the fortified team starts winning.
Haskins says their Globetrotters' style is too risky, and drills them in his own method. When Texas Western goes into the South with a mostly-black team against mostly-white teams, a player is beaten up, and the other players' motel rooms are trashed. White players bond with their teammates, and as the big game looms, Haskins makes a point of only playing blacks. The white athletes understand and agree. Kentucky's Adolph Rupp (Voight), one of the most successful college coaches, fully realizes what's happening, and reflects believable amazement. "This team is a special," he warns.
Director Gartner powerfully includes footage of people whose lives the film shows. In a remarkable time, the coach and his team, facing hard realities of administrations and booster clubs in a sports-obsessed state school arrive at an obvious conclusion and act on it, and opening college sports in the South to generations of African-Americans. As the end credits tell us about the later lives of the members of that 1966 Texas Western team, we know Haskins not only won an NCAA title but contributed to a future still unfolding.
Christopher Cleveland and Bettina Gilois
Racism in 1960s basketball; Don Haskins; Adolph Rupp; NCAA
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