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Bill Garrett: Making the First Shot at Equality in Basketball

Striding into The Riley Hotel, after a rough day playing multiple games, the Shelbyville

boys’ basketball team face an unpleasant reality. All of the boys walk in, together as one team

but as soon as the boys try to check in, the team immediately becomes divided. The hotel clerk

sees the integrated team and runs to get the manager. The hotel manager strolls over and begins

questioning Coach Barnes asking “Is this your team?” (Graham 54) Coach Barnes, who starts to

see that there is a problem, agrees and then the manager sharply states “I’m sorry, sir, we don’t

take negroes.” (Graham 54)

Despite the Indiana law prohibiting discrimination within public places, black customers

were often still refused service. Moreover, the manager would not have been breaking the law if

did allow the entire Shelbyville team to stay.

Coach Barnes tries to change the manager’s mind and goes on about how important it is

for the team to rest. Not only did the team already play multiple games but the semi-final game

was that night. Showing no sympathy whatsoever the manager says “I’ve got strict instructions. I

can’t even let them stay in the lobby like this.” (Graham 56) Instead of flipping out, Barnes

reflects on what he has been telling Garrett, Johnson and Murray the entire season. Barnes thinks

to himself “Don’t mess with shit, you’ll just get it all over you.” (Graham 56) Although Garrett,

Johnson and Murry had the same right, under law, as all of their other teammates had to stay at

the hotel, Coach Barnes took the advice he has been giving to his players who dealt with this

adversity every day; he took the boys somewhere else.

Another significant scene is the second game against Terra Haute. It’s Bill Garrett’s final

high school game and The Golden Bears are versing the only team that beat them that season.
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Terra Haute came into the game cocky while The Golden Bears came into the game thirsty for

revenge. Shelbyville scored the first points and held the lead at the end of the first quarter. Terra

Haute makes a slight comeback but are overwhelmed with Johnson’s dominant performance.

The Golden Bears continue to keep the lead but it is not an assuring one as four

Shelbyville starters had three or four fouls. Coach Barnes worries about the high number of

fouls. The score becomes closer and Terra Haute’s cockiness returns, Clyde Lovellette says

“Why shucks, that’s just a couple of tip-ins. Get the ball to me, will you, fellas?” (Graham 75)

Terra Haute outscored Shelbyville in the third quarter. The Shelbyville boys were drained from

their exhausting afternoon game as Terra Haute played an easier game and had more energy. The

Golden Bears lack of energy was apparent as Garrett was so exhausted he missed a free throw.

Shelbyville has a slight lead but it is anyone’s game. Both Garrett and Lovellette have

four fouls until Garrett goes for the block while Lovellette goes for the rebound causing a

collision between the two. Either Garrett or Lovellette will foul out of the game once the referee

makes this difficult call as if the referee calls it on Garrett he could be seen as racist but if he

calls it on Lovellette, he could be seen as giving into referee intimidation. The foul is called on

Lovellette.

Twenty seconds of the game remained and Garrett fouled out but Shelbyville still held

the lead. Don Chambers had the last shot and Shelbyville won 68-58.

This win had a huge significance, symbolizing the Shelbyville team’s resilience.

“Winning fans were always noisy, and for the Shelbyville crowd this night had an undertone of

revenge and poetic justice.” (Graham 77) Shelbyville was the underdog yet came up on top. Not

only did Shelbyville beat the team in the league that everyone wanted to beat but they defeated
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the team who degraded their players all season. For example, the Terra Haute fans referred to

Shelbyville as “The Black Bears” all season. Nevertheless, to win Shelbyville had to be a strong

basketball team while having to face extreme adversity including being degraded and excessively

rough fouls on the court.

This unfair treatment was not limited to the three African American players on the

Shelbyville team as it was what all African American basketball players faced, even after Bill

Garrett integrated college basketball. Although the Globetrotters were not high school basketball

players, many of their experiences can be related to Bill’s experiences.

Like Bill Garrett, the Globetrotters were stars on the basketball but were treated poorly

off the court. Both Bill Garrett and the Globetrotters struggled to find hotels that would permit

them to stay. After being denied a stay at a hotel and service at a restaurant, Globetrotter player

Harrison recalls “Later, we found out that a performing chimpanzee was in town, sponsored by a

bowling alley. That chimpanzee was allowed into the hotel and given a big suite. Here we were,

human beings, and we couldn't get into the hotel or get anything to eat.” (Marcus) By the hotel

being so accommodating to a chimpanzee and refusing to even allow, not only a team of talented

basketball players, but human beings, to stay shows how extreme the mistreatment of African

Americans was.

Ironically, Harrison says “18,000 people came to watch us play and 98 percent of that

audience was white.'' (Marcus) The Globetrotters spent nights in jail cells because hotels would

not let them stay yet thousands of people came to watch them play. African Americans were

exploited for entertainment purposes. If these people were actual fans, these players would not

have been only accepted on the basketball court, but they would have been accepted in society.
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Like the Globetrotters, Bill Garret faced this exploitation by society. In his last high

school game, Garret played phenomenal and was even named “Mr. Basketball” but not one scout

came to talk to him. Based off of his basketball skills and composure on the court, if Garrett was

white, scouts would have been fighting over him. This is a clear example of the extreme

unfairness of the treatment of African American basketball players.

In the article The Forgotten Hoosiers, Coach Crowe told his players “to keep quiet, turn

the other cheek and win the game.” (Drehs) What Coach Crowe told his players goes hand in

hand with Coach Barnes’ “Don’t mess with shit, you’ll just get it all over you.” (Graham 56) The

Shelbyville team and the Crispus Attucks team would most certainly not have been

championship winning teams had they given in to the taunts, name calling and unnecessary

rough fouls. The boys on both of these teams were superior to this racial degradation which is

what put them at the top.

Another strong correlation between the Shelbyville team and the Crispus Attucks team is

the way society brushed off their accomplishments. Even when these two teams were victorious,

these teams were not celebrated nearly as much as white teams were. “Because it’s a black

school, people just don’t care.” (Drehs) For a team to win a championship and get less of a

celebration because they are African American is utterly appalling. An example of the unequal

celebrations is when the Shelbyville team’s parade gets cut short because the whites did not want

African Americans in their town for long. African Americans had to work harder to compete

with whites due to society’s restrictions but even when African Americans surpassed whites, it

was insignificant.
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In the book The Most Democratic Sport, the following picture, taken from the book, is

captioned as “suspended in the air, a brown orange sphere clamped between his straining hands,

Shun Bright stares at the plastic milk crate that has become his goal.” (Grundy 9)

This photo can be related to Bill Garrett playing at the run down Booker T. Elementary

school court. Like the young boy is doing in the picture, Garrett made the best out of his

situation and never gave up on his passion. Since the Booker T. Elementary School was for

African Americans, the school had limited funds and was run down. Unfortunately this was

common for many African Americans in the early and mid-1900’s. They had to make use of

what they had rather than what they did not have to be successful due to limited resources.

Bill Garrett may have been the one to integrate college basketball but his experiences

were relatable to other African American basketball players whether older or younger. In

conclusion, sports helped African Americans become accepted in society but this took decades.

Even if these players were stars on the court, they were not actually fully accepted in society

until long after.


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Works Cited
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Drehs, Wayne. "The Forgotten Hoosiers." (2009) Print.

Graham, Bill and Rachel Graham Cody. Getting Open: The Unknown story of Bill Garrett and

the Integration of College Basketball. Indiana UP. 2006.

Grundy, Pamela. The Most Democratic Sport: Basketball and Culture in the Central Piedmont,

1893-1994. Charlotte, NC: Museum of the New South, 1994. Print.

Marcus, Steven. "Harlem Globetrotters Faced Racism for Years in U.S. "Newsday. 13 Feb. 2010.

Web. 02 Oct. 2016.