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Loyola Chicago 1963 -- The Team that Changed the Color of College Basketball

Ramblers by Michael Lenehan
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Today basketball is played “above the rim” by athletes of all backgrounds and colors. But 50 years ago it was a floor-bound game, and the opportunities it offered for African-Americans were severely limited.

A key turning point was 1963, when the Loyola Ramblers of Chicago took the NCAA men’s basketball title from Cincinnati, the two-time defending champions. It was one of Chicago’s most memorable sports victories, but Ramblers reveals it was also a game for the history books because of the transgressive lineups fielded by both teams.

It was the height of the Civil Rights era. In Mississippi, the enrollment of a black student at Ole Miss provoked an armed insurrection. In Alabama, Freedom Riders were attacked by a club-wielding mob while police officers stood by. Many college basketball teams were all white, and some were actually forbidden to play against blacks. But in the NCAA final, Cincinnati started three African-American players and Loyola had four. When Americans tuned in to watch the game, they saw for the first time a sight we take for granted today: most of the players on the floor were black.

Ramblers is an entertaining, detail-rich look back at the unlikely circumstances that led to Loyola’s historic championship. Along the way, the book explores the legend of New York City’s playground game; the influence of John McLendon, the “father of black basketball”; and the stories of two Loyola opponents. The first of which was Cincinnati, another school on the leading edge of racial change, and the second was Mississippi State, the all-white team that defied state policy by sneaking out of Mississippi to play the Ramblers in the NCAA tournament. Michael Lenehan’s narrative masterfully intertwines these stories in dramatic fashion, culminating with the tournament’s final game, a come-from-behind overtime upset that featured two buzzer-beating shots.

While on the surface this is a book about basketball, it goes deeper to illuminate how sport in America both typifies and drives change in the broader culture. The stark social realities of the 1950s and 1960s are brought vividly to life in Lenehan’s telling, illustrating the challenges all of these teams faced in the effort simply to play their game against the worthiest opponents.

The saga of the 1963 Ramblers, which predates by three years the “Glory Road” game commonly referred to as college basketball’s white-to-black tipping point, is a profound story about American society at a dramatic crossroads. Its appeal will reach beyond Loyola's campus and Chicago’s city limits, to wherever people enjoy basketball and powerful storytelling.

Agate Publishing; February 2013
313 pages; ISBN 9781572847217
Read online, or download in secure PDF format
Title: Ramblers
Author: Michael Lenehan
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