Fordham University            The Jesuit University of New York  

He Got Game

By Miles Doyle

Former NBA greats Dick Barnett, Ph.D., GSE '91, and Earl "The Pearl" Monroe (left) participated in a panel discussion on basketball and the civil rights movement at the CUNY Graduate Center on Oct. 1.
Photo by Peter Waldvogel
Three decades removed from recording his 1,538th point in the National Basketball Association and nearly two decades after earning his doctorate at Fordham’s Graduate School of Education, Dick Barnett, Ed.D, GSE ’91, recently held court on the civil rights movement as seen through the lens of professional and collegiate basketball.

Barnett joined three other former NBA greats for a panel discussion on basketball and race relations, which was held at the CUNY Graduate Center in Manhattan on Oct. 1. He told those in attendance that he helped integrate lunch counters in downtown Nashville when he was still a student at Tennessee State A & I (now Tennessee State University), a historically black university, even though he wasn’t as committed to his schoolwork at the time.

“It took me a while to realize the limitless dimension of human possibilities,” said Barnett, who went on to complete his bachelor’s degree while playing for the Los Angeles Lakers. He later earned a master’s degree in public administration at New York University and a doctoral degree in education at Fordham in 1991—one year after the New York Knicks retired his number 12 in a ceremony at Madison Square Garden.

Joining Barnett on the panel were Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, the Hall of Famer who played on the Knicks’ 1973 championship team with Barnett, and Boston Celtics greats Sam Jones and Thomas “Satch” Sanders. 

“I used to wear a [skull] cap with African colors. I read Dr. [Martin Luther] King’s speeches before games to get my mind right,” said Monroe, who recently produced Black Magic, an ESPN documentary on the experiences of black college players before and during the civil rights movement.

“People understood that I was for something.”

Thomas “Satch” Sanders, a member of the Boston Celtics dynasty of the 1960s, said black athletes always had to be at the top of their game, especially off the court.
“Being black was the issue,” explained Sanders, who said the Celtics drafted him out of New York University largely because Bill Russell, the team’s All-Star center, needed another black player to talk to on the all-white roster. “We had to carry ourselves differently than [our] white teammates.”

Barnett said current African-American basketball players are too concerned with getting paid instead of focusing on bigger issues, like education and civil rights, despite the inroads forged by the earlier generations of black athletes.

“I want them to see beyond the stereotype,” said Barnett, who retired as a professor of sports management at St. John’s University in 2007 and currently runs the New York-based Athletic Role Model Educational Institute (ARM), a non-profit organization with a focus on education for at-risk students. “I want them to get past the bastardized world of goods and services.

“They need to realize the importance of getting an education. They need to know academics and athletics can peacefully and productively coexist.”

—Miles Doyle, FCRH '01, is the associate editor of FORDHAM magazine.

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