Across the Line: Lefty’s legacy, Part 2

After finishing the last post on Coach Lefty Driesell, I had the feeling that I had left part of that story untold, so here’s the postscript.

During the halftime ceremony, I noticed that just about all (and it may have been all — I’m relying solely on memory here) of the players who had come to the reunion of Lefty’s Davidson teams, were white. Not that this is any great revelation — even reasonably progressive Southern colleges and universities like Davidson weren’t recruiting African American athletes at the beginning of the 1960s.

All that leads to another part of Lefty’s legacy, and gives me a chance to mention one of the better books about basketball that I’ve read in recent years.

Barry Jacobs has written about basketball, and especially Atlantic Coast Conference basketball, for more than three decades. His book “Across the Line: Tales of the First Black Players in the ACC and SEC” (2008) is fascinating both as basketball history and social history. It covers a turbulent time in the history of American sports and higher education, the period from roughly 1964 to 1973 in which Southern schools admitted their first black basketball players.

Jacobs tracked down many of them to hear their stories, which are by turns inspiring, dramatic, touching and even tragic. Some say their “groundbreaking” experiences made them better prepared for their adult lives, and others still carry the emotional scars of their experiences.

I’ve interviewed one of them myself, a fellow named Steve Williams who was the first black player to take the court for the University of Florida in 1971. By the early 1990s, when I encountered him in my sports writing, he was a successful high school basketball coach in his hometown of Pensacola.

A funny story he told Jacobs illustrates why this book should be required reading for all sports fans, but especially for those younger ones for whom the civil rights movement is something they know only through history classes.

Williams, then about 50, said he was introduced by his brother to a neighbor of his brother’s as the Gators’ first black player. “I would have thought the first African American player at Florida would be a old man in a wheelchair,” she said.

So it’s not-so-ancient history. But where does Lefty fit in?

He’s a character in this book, as Driesell was an ardent pursuer of a stylish 6-foot-6 African American guard named Charlie Scott, probably the most successful of all the players profiled by Jacobs. But instead of going to Davidson, Scott ended up a few hours east in Chapel Hill, signing with the North Carolina Tar Heels in 1966. (The chase and the competition between Lefty and UNC coach Dean Smith is rather humorous.) He was an All-American there and went on to a 10-year NBA career.

Anyway, after this near miss, Driesell brought Davidson’s first black scholarship athlete to campus the following year when he signed 6-foot-7 New Yorker Mike Maloy. Maloy was a three-time All-American and two-time Southern Conference Player of the Year before leaving school in 1970.

And he also became the first black member of the previously all-white Sigma Chi fraternity on campus. The fraternity turned in its charter rather than to refuse to admit him, as the national organization wouldn’t recognize his induction at the time.

After a couple of years in the American Basketball Association, Maloy moved to Austria where he played and coached basketball, eventually becoming a citizen of that country.

Maloy, who died in Vienna in 2009, was represented by family members at Saturday’s ceremony. A permanent display in Belk Arena has been set up in his honor and a $1 million scholarship fund will be established.

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About theoldperfessor

I'm a college professor, teaching journalism and public relations classes at a small private university, and a freelance writer.
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