AND THE WALLS CAME TUMBLING DOWN by Frank Fitzpatrick

AND THE WALLS CAME TUMBLING DOWN

Kentucky, Texas Western, and the Game That Changed American Sports

KIRKUS REVIEW

An admirably researched account of the barrier-shattering championship game that slam-dunked segregated college basketball. Outside of Jackie Robinson’s baseball debut, perhaps no single sporting event had so profound a social effect as the 1966 NCAA basketball championship. The competitors were the upstart Texas Western (now University of Texas, El Paso) Miners and an established power, the University of Kentucky Wildcats. More than a battle between teams, however, the game pitted two ways of life. The Miners fielded their five best players, who also happened to be African-American; it was basketball’s first all-black starting roster. The Wildcats, coached by Adolph Rupp (whom the author compares to the infamous Birmingham, Ala., police chief Bull Connor), were defiantly all-white. Philadelphia Inquirer sportswriter Fitzpatrick balances present-day interviews with the former players and surviving coaches with contemporaneous accounts to expose the sporting fraternity’s subtle and not-so-subtle biases. Texas Western fielded a roster of formidable athletes whose brand of basketball was predicated on fundamentals’smarts, stifling defense, superior conditioning, and intimidation—not on the undisciplined, high-flying “playground” game then associated with black athletes (a misperception Fitzpatrick addresses throughout the book). Nevertheless, sportswriters and coaches across the nation dismissed the team’s chances, assuming that they would fold under pressure (another persistent clichÇ about black athletes). Defying stereotypes and shrugging off tremendous stress, the Miners controlled the game and won; it was the Wildcats who were flummoxed. The game’s “message” was lost on Rupp, who, despite a loss that would haunt him to his grave, remained steadfast in his defense of racial segregation and held out against recruiting black players until the 1970s. Although Rupp has his apologists’some of his former players try to soft-pedal his interdict on nonwhite players—he comes across as a small-minded bigot who set race relations in Kentucky back several years, if not decades. Fair but devastating in its portrait of persistent prejudice, this is a landmark account of a landmark event.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-684-83551-7
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1999




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