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Loyola Chicago Basketball Pioneer Jerry Harkness Dies at 81

Harkness led of one of the greatest Chicago sports teams of all-time.

Associated Press
Associated Press
2 min read
Loyola Chicago Basketball Pioneer Jerry Harkness Dies at 81

By JOHN MARSHALL | AP Basketball Writer

Jerry Harkness, who led Loyola Chicago to a barrier-breaking national basketball championship and a was civil rights pioneer, has died. He was 81.

Here at the Chicago Journal, we've previously named Harkness's 1963 Loyola Ramblers basketball team the 4th best Chicago sports team ever.

The school announced Harkness passed away Tuesday morning. No other details were provided.

"All of us at Loyola have heavy hearts today," Loyola men's basketball coach Drew Valentine said in a statement. "Jerry was a true trail blazer not only in basketball, but in so many different walks of life, and the impact he made was immeasurable."

A two-time All-American at Loyola, Harkness was part of the 1963 team that won a national championship with four Black starters and played in what became known as the Game of Change.

State laws prohibited Mississippi State from playing integrated teams, but the Maroons — now Bulldogs — slipped out of town under cover of darkness to play Loyola in East Lansing, Michigan. Harkness appeared in an iconic photo taken before the game, when he shook hands with Mississippi State captain Joe Dan Gold.

The Ramblers beat Mississippi State by 10 and, after two more victories, went on to beat reigning champion Cincinnati in overtime for the school's only national championship.

Harkness, Ron Miller, Vic Rouse and Les Hunter — white guard John Egan was the other starter — received death threats mailed to their dorm and endured taunts from fans in Houston during their title run.

Texas Wesleyan won a national championship with five Black starters three years later, beating an all-white Kentucky team.

"We are deeply saddened to have lost not only one of Loyola's all-time great players, but also one of its all-time great human beings," Loyola athletic director Steve Watson said. "Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, former teammates and countless friends."

Harkness played one season with the NBA's New York Knicks after being drafted in the second round and two more with the ABA's Indiana Pacers. He went on to a successful career in business and broadcasting, becoming the first Black spokesman for Quaker Oats.

Harkness was Indianapolis' first Black sportscaster, worked with the United Way of Greater Indianapolis and ran an athletic shoe franchise.

A native of the Bronx, he is a member of multiple halls of fame, including the College Basketball Hall of Fame. Harkness is survived by his wife, Sarah, and two children.

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