The Future of NFL National Anthem Protests & Powerful White Men

The silver lining in filtering dialogue about national anthem kneeling and raised fists through a white perspective.

In today’s episode of Slate’s Hang Up and Listen podcast, host Stefan Fatsis explained the difficulty which modern NFL players find themselves in:

“They’re being asked to figure out a bunch of things — where they stand on racial injustice, freedom of expression, the right to push back against the president, how they feel about the anthem and flag. It puts a lot of unfair pressure on them, and now the way they react is interpreted politically.

If kneeling and raised fists and hands on shoulders diminishes over the subsequent weeks, well, then, people will just say ‘Well the NFL won. These guys are backing down. The players are wrong’ and this… conversation about race and justice gets filtered by how white people think about it.”

The show’s guest, former NFL Films producer Jamil Smith, then points out there’s a silver lining in that.

It’s a good thing, he says, because it means that a conversation about these issues—and the persistent menace of white supremacy in the U.S.—has at least started. The key, Smith says, is to press the issue with powerful white males. It is a minority of such men, after all, who enable white supremacy to fester in the 21st century, after all. And often they will listen to other powerful white males (e.g. NFL owners) more readily than anybody else.

“I think it’s OK it press these guys about the realities that [NFL] teammates have to endure when they leave the locker room. Because when they take those uniforms off, they are big black dudes in big, nice vehicles getting targeted.

And, sorry, it’s not too much to ask those guys to step up, to have an opinion.

You don’t necessarily have to put a hand on a shoulder, to kneel or to speak out. You can say ‘I understand. This is inspiring me to learn more about this issue. I’m trying to become a more educated citizen and I encourage everyone who’s listening to do the same.’

You don’t have to become a freedom fighter—it’s welcome—but you just have to become a more educated citizen. You have to exercise critical thinking and given how smart these guys are—and I know, I’ve interviewed a bunch of them—they can handle that task.

 

The Most Awesome Mayweather-McGregor Fight Prop Bets Known to Man

BetPhoenix.ag Releases More Betting Options For Mayweather-McGregor Super Fight

San Jose, Costa Rica: Today, BetPhoenix.ag, a major online sportsbook, announced they have released new proposition bets on the Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor fight.  They run the gamut from whether Mayweather will walk into the arena with gospel music blaring, to whether McGregor will bite Mayweather’s ear,

In line with the expectations this fight has created and the millions of dollars wagered on this event, BetPhoenix.ag is offering bettors more unusual prop bets not available at any other sportsbook.

Company representative Thomas Hughes, commenting on the interest this fight has sparked, said: “Since the infamous Tyson-Holyfield “Bite Fight,” there’s never been another event like this one. We’re expecting the fight may even bring in more money in bets than the Super Bowl. But, we want to push the envelope much further than usual by offering some new prop bets we believe will attract bettor’s attention.”

Continue reading The Most Awesome Mayweather-McGregor Fight Prop Bets Known to Man

Jimmy Johnson On Janis Joplin and Her (Apparent) Lack of Underwear

After a recent induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones can now expect to see his bust shown at that hall of fame’s headquarters in Akron, Ohio. Not so for Jimmy Johnson, the former head coach who with Jones led the Cowboys to two NFL championships in the mid 1990s.

While Johnson hasn’t yet been inducted into that particular hall of fame, he still has a bust on display — in the library of his hometown of Port Arthur, Texas. For more than 25 years now, that bust has stood near a bust of famed rock and roller Janis Joplin, who attended Port Arthur High School with Johnson. Joplin died in 1970 and didn’t leave anything regarding Johnson in her interviews. But Johnson has spoken about Joplin a few times.

“She wasn’t real fond of the jocks because we kind of teased her,” Johnson said in the 2016 SEC Network documentary “Before They Were Cowboys.”  I actually gave her a nickname, “Beat Weeds.” This was the late 1950s, and the “hippie movement” with which Joplin would become linked had not yet started.

Locally, the teenage Joplin was known as a talented painter and folk singer. Johnson, meanwhile, “could solve algebra problems at a glance and write term papers worthy of A’s the night before they were due,” Sports Illustrated’s Ed Hinton wrote in 1992. “He was a football lineman with the scars of childhood street ball showing through his burr haircut and was called Scar Head.”

“By a quirk in scheduling, Janis [class of 1960] and Jimmy [c/o 1961] once had to put up with each other in a history class for an entire school year, she seated behind him. He would tease the weirdo, “give her a hard time, irritate her,” he remembers; she would scoff at the jock and ignore him as best she could.”

“It was like oil and water mixing,” recalled Jim Maxfield, Johnson’s childhood friend, in “Before They Were Cowboys.” (Maxfield recalls the two actually sat side by side.) “Both of ’em knew that the other one was bright, and neither one of ’em could really get the upper hand. She would not invite him over for a glass of tea, I don’t think,” he added.

Was there any flirtatious edge to all this teasing? Johnson stiff-armed the notion with smile in the Sports Illustrated interview when his girlfriend brought up the fact that the Port Arthur library had a display case with Joplin’s panties in it. “Beat Weeds’ panties,” Jimmy scoffed. “She never wore any panties.*” And to raised eyebrows all around, he adds, “From what I understand.”

The two talented teenagers both left Texas to make their marks on the national stage. Johnson left for Arkansas, where he helped lead the Razorbacks to a national championship in 1964 and then embarked on a college coaching career  culminating in a national championship at Miami.

Joplin lingered in the Port Arthur area and Austin until early 1963, and then again in the mid 1960s, before breaking through in California.

 

* The chances that Janis Joplin never wore panties at all are pretty slim. Far slimmer, it’s safe to say, than the 500-to-1 odds of the Razorbacks winning the 2016 national college championship according to the latest betting lines

That Time the Razorbacks Football Team Went On Strike: Part 1

In other states, Arkansans have played major roles in some of the biggest team protest/strikes in college football history. In 1969, for instance, Sparkman native Fred Milton precipitated an Oregon State football protest generating national headlines by simply refusing to cut his hair.

Later that same year, Pine Bluff native Ivie Moore became one of Wyoming’s “Black 14” who boycotted an upcoming game against BYU.

In 2015, of course, the entire Missouri football team went on strike in advance of a game against BYU — though for different reasons than the Wyoming players. Russellville native Mitch Hall* was on that Mizzou squad.

Far less known than the above incidents is the time practically the entire University of Arkansas football team went on strike. In happened in January, 1912, and before diving into specifics, let’s take a wide-lens look at some of the most dramatic ways Razorback football was then so different:

  • Under the leadership of Hugo Bezdek, the program was coming off the most statistically dominant stretch in its history. From the start of 1909 to halfway through the 1911 season, Arkansas went 17-1 and outscored its combined opposition 617-42.
  • Touchdowns were then worth five points each.  Not only the 1912 were they worth six points.
  • It would be another two years before Arkansas joined the SWC as a charter member.
  • Its captain-elect, Dan Estes, would go on to coach at what’s now called UCA for 17 years. Today, Estes Stadium in Conway is named after him.

So, back to the strike: What exactly happened?

Just like with the strikes at Wyoming and Missouri, this student protest started with non-athletes. In Arkansas’ case, it started with the university administrators trying to put the clamps on an underground student-run newspaper called The X-Ray. This publication, helmed by 36 students, aimed “to correct university failings by condemning everything from campus litter to favoritism among discipline and scholarship committees,” Brady Tackett wrote for The Arkansas Traveler in 2012.

Another specific complaint levied by The X-Ray editors: “While we are too poor to keep our campus look neat at a nominal cost, we are able to build ten thousand dollar tracks and football fields that are never used.” Notably, the editors (who included their names on the paper’s masthead) included sons of members of the board of trustees, UA baseball stars and, apparently, Dan Estes himself.

This publication infuriated UA administrators, especially UA president John Tillman. It violated a 1905 law, prompted by the board of trustees, banning “unauthorized publications and assemblages.”


This was Part 1 of a two-part series. Go here to read the rest.


*The 2015 Missouri football team strike was inspired by a black student organization’s protests against racially charged incidents on campus and a cut to health insurance for graduate students. I don’t know if Hall, who is white, supported the protest or not. Not all the Mizzou players did, after all. One white player anonymously told ESPN: “As much as we want to say everyone is united, half the team and coaches — black and white — are pissed. If we were 9-0, this wouldn’t be happening.”

Missouri football has struggled mightily since the start of the 2015 football season, winning only three SEC games in that span and producing terrible Tweets like the below. It’s has about 1000-to-1 odds of winning the 2018 national championship according to some betting lines.

 

The 5-10 Philander Smith Guard Who Led the Nation in Field Goal Percentage: Part 1

It’s not common to find high-volume shooters who connect on more than 75% of their field goal attempts over the course of a full college season. Rarer still are those players who can also connect on more than 90% of their free throws.

Rarest of all is the player who does all the above while standing less than six feet tall.

And yet, nearly 50 years, a Philander Smith College guard named Robert Thompson pulled off this possibly unmatched trifecta. In 1968-69, this 5-10 Texas native finished:

  • 8th in the nation in scoring with a 29.1 average per game
  • 1st nationally in field goal percentage at 77.8 %, completing 257 out of 330 field goals attempted
  • 1st nationally in free throw percentage at 97.1 %, completing 104 out of 107 free throws attempts

These are amazing statistics. In the NBA, the kinds of players who can shoot more than 70% from the field while also shooting at high volumes are in the Wilt Chamberlin realm—unstoppable giants camped out close to the rim. Yet those same giants often struggle with their free throws, shooting under 60%.

At the Division I NCAA level, the two highest field goal shooters have been:

  1. Davontae Cacok (UNC Wilmington): Shot 80% for 12.3 PPG in 2016-17
  2. Steve Johnson (Oregon State*): Shot 74.6% for 21 PPG in 1980-81

Yet both of these guys were fairly large dudes operating around the rim. Cacok stands 6-7, 240 pounds, while Johnson played at 6-10, 235 pounds. And both shot under 69% from the free throw line.

Meanwhile, the Division I record-holder in season free throw percentage is Missouri State guard Blake Ahearn, who hit 97.5% in 2003-4. But he also shot under 40% from the field.

Philander Smith plays in the NAIA, so how does Thompson’s feat stack up within that association’s all-time records? Well, it turns out his free throw record still stands today.  The runner-up is Klay Knueppel (Wisconsin Lutheran), who made 95% of his free throw attempts in 1989-1992.

The listed season field goal leader is James Cason, a Birmingham-Southern forward who made 78.2% of his 280 attempted field goal attempts in 1995-96. Cason, however, stood 6-5, making him one of the tallest players on the court during most NAIA games. Robert Thompson may hold the No. 2 ranking here. According to the NAIA record book, the No. 2 spot goes to Paul Peterson (Westbrook [Maine]), who shot 76.2% from the field in 1994-95. But Thompson’s 77.8% is superior, of course.

Of course, since the NAIA official record keepers didn’t include Thompson’s record, it’s possible they have missed others as well. But regardless of how high Thompson’s 77.8% ranks, it’s fair to say it’s an extremely impressive for any player—especially a 5-10, 158 pound guard.

I’ve found some old articles which delve deeper into Thompson’s historically great season. Stay tuned for those upcoming posts.

 

*My oh my how the Oregon State basketball program has fallen, going from No. 1 throughout much of that 1980-81 season to around 500-to-1 odds to win the 2018 national championship according to some betting lines.

Muhammad Ali’s 1969 Visit to Philander Smith College

In 1969, Muhammad Ali visited the historically-black Philander Smith College in downtown Little Rock during a five-day swing through the capital city, Pine Bluff and Fayetteville. Ali’s primary purpose on the trip was to advocate for key tenets of the Nation of Islam’s pro-black philosophy, which included segregation of the races. As I write in my book African-American Athletes in Arkansas: Muhammad Ali’s Tour, Black Razorbacks and other Forgotten Stories, he said:

“Black and white people do not hate each other, but it is the nature of the two races to oppose each other. When you try to integrate, you have weakened the the races because you have bucked the law of God….”

Ali certainly struck notes far from the conciliatory tone of earlier civil rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr. when he told the Philander Smith students they were not free and “here you don’t own a thing. You don’t even belong here. You have nothing with which to identify. This country only becomes ‘your country’ at draft time.”

The Arkansas Democrat reported large cheers greeted this statement.

Here’s a student newspaper clip of Ali’s visit, courtesy of the Philander Smith College Digital Archive:

Philander Smith

About a month after Ali’s visit, Philander Smith student Robert Edgerson penned an editorial in The Panthernaut pushing back against the idea of racial separation. The column, excerpted below, provides a good historic lens through which we can learn what “Black Power” meant to at least one socially engaged African-American male in late 1960s Little Rock:

Continue reading Muhammad Ali’s 1969 Visit to Philander Smith College

LeBron James vs. Larry Bird vs. Kevin Durant vs. Julius Erving

Heading into Game 5 of the NBA Finals, here’s how 28-year-old Kevin Durant’s career statistics stack up against three of the top small forwards of all time:

Kevin Durant 

Overall Career

PPG: 27.2

RPG: 7.2

APG: 3.8

SPG: 1.2

BPG: 1.0

FT% 88.2%

FG% 48.8%

3PT% 37.9%

 

Advanced 

PER 25.2

eFG% 53.5%

TS% 60.8%

WS/48 .219

 

Career Playoffs 

(105 games)

PPG: 28.7

RPG: 8

APG: 3.8

SPG: 1.0

BPG: 1.2

FT% 85.2%

FG% 46.6%

3PT% 34.1%

Career Playoffs Advanced*

PER 24 (26.9 with GS this postseason)

eFG% 51.5%

TS% 58.5% (.669 with GS this postseason)

WS/48 .189 (but .275 with GS this postseason)

 

LeBron James

Overall Career 

PPG: 27.1

RPG: 7.3

APG: 7

SPG: 1.6

BPG: .8

FT% 74%

FG% 50.1%

3PT% 34.2%

 

Advanced 

PER 27.6

eFG% 53.6%

TS% 58.4%

WS/48 .239

 

Career Playoffs

(216 games)

PPG: 28.3

RPG: 8.8

APG: 6.9

SPG: 1.8

BPG: 1

FT% 74.3%

FG% 48.4%

3PT% 33%

Advanced Career Playoffs

PER 27.8

eFG% 52.1%

TS% 57.4%

WS/48 .241

 

Larry Bird 

Overall Career  

PPG: 24.3

RPG: 10

APG: 6.3

SPG: 1.7

BPG: .8

FT% 88.6%

FG% 49.6%

3PT% 37.6%

Advanced Career 

PER 23.5

eFG% 51.4%

TS% 56.4%

WS/48 .203

Career Playoffs 

(164 games)

PPG: 23.8

RPG: 10.3

APG: 6.5

SPG: 1.8

BPG: .9

FT% 89%

FG% 47.2%

3PT% 32.1%

Advanced Career Playoffs 

PER 21.4

eFG% 48.5%

TS% 55.1%

WS/48 .173

 

Julius Erving [includes first 5 seasons (through 1975-76) played in ABA]

Overall Career 

PPG: 24.2

RPG: 8.5

APG: 4.2

SPG: 2

BPG: 1.7

FT% 77.7%

FG% 50.6%

3PT% 29.8%

Advanced Career

PER 23.6

eFG% 50.9%

TS% 55.8%

WS/48 .192

Career Playoffs 

(189 games)

PPG: 24.2

RPG: 8.5

APG: 4.4

SPG: 1.7

BPG: 1.7

FT% 78.4%

FG% 49.6%

3PT% 22.4%

Advanced Career Playoffs 

PER 22.1

eFG% 49.9%

TS% 55.3%

WS/48 .176

While Durant’s time with the loaded Warriors this season has hurt his scoring average, the numbers show above his actual shooting efficiency has skyrocketed. He’s also averaging a career-high in rebounding (8.3 per game) and blocked shots (1.6) while averaging a career-low in turnovers (2.2) per game. And, of course, Kevin Durant is winning at a higher clip than ever before.

“He’s probably going to win a title this week and he’s inordinately happy [according to] everyone who knows him well” NBA analyst Kevin Arnovitz said on Slate’s Hang Up and Listen podcast. “He’s the happiest he’s ever been professionally. He’s a guy who’s one of the best in the world at his craft who hadn’t really had a choice where to work, which firm to work for and under which circumstances. I think we’re going to see more of this—until the league decides we’re not going to have a max salary under the cap structure, so if you want Durant you’re going to have to pay him $80 million out of the $110 million available under the cap, and you’re not going to have room for another guy like that.”

Arnovitz added: “It started with LeBron in 2010. Stars are realizing that their value is driving the league and they want their work situations to be of a certain kind. It wasn’t that Durant wanted to stack the deck,” Arnovitz said. Kevin Durant “wanted it to be an attractive market, he wanted to play with a certain temperament of guy and he found a place to work that he really likes.”

Footnotes:

  1. *All statistics according to baskeball-reference.com.

PER = Player Efficiency Rating.

eFG% = Effective Field Goal Percentage

TS% = True Shooting Percentage

WS/48 = Win Shares Per 48 Minutes

Definitions are here.

2. Down 3-1, the odds are stacked against Cleveland to win Game 5 on the road despite the fact that LeBron James’ significantly raises his game in do-or-die situations. Five Thirty Eight forecasts Golden State still has a 98% chance to win the series overall, and the Warriors are 6-point favorites at home for tonight’s NBA Finals game, according to basketball lines for major sportsbooks.

That Time Black Muslims Interviewed Chicago Bears Legend George Halas: Part 1

The integration of the NFL followed a jagged path, starting with a trickle in the 1920s, coming to a halt in much of the 1930s through mid 1940s and then slowing building in steam again. By 1963 every team had at least one black player. At that point, however, none of them played quarterback.

This was all the more surprising given not only were black quarterbacks excelling in traditionally black colleges, but they had also led major college programs like Michigan State, Minnesota and UCLA to national renown.

The question of why blacks in the early 1960s hadn’t yet gotten regular playing time at quarterback inspired a series of interviews which ran in Muhammad Speaks, then the name of the periodical produced by the Nation of Islam led by Elijah Muhammad. To tip off the series, a Muhammad Speaks writer spoke to George Halas, the longtime Chicago Bears founder/coach/owner and “O.G.” among NFL patriarchs.

Below is the first part of the interview, which originally published on January 31, 1963*:

“I don’t care what color a man is. I’m interested in winning games,” the Chicago Bears’ George Halas told Muhammad Speaks last week. Halas, whose 1962 Bears finished third in the National Football League western division with a record of nine wins and five losses, said: “I’ll use any man who can best play the position, regardless of his color.”

Whatever political complexities have entered the field to dilute this position on player use, the aging, active Halas would not say. However, so glaring is the discrimination against Negro quarterbacks and so important is this key position to the psyche and status of Negro players—it remains for galvanized fan pressures and a football “Jackie Robinson”** to break the barrier.

“Sandy Stephens (University of Minnesota’s All-American quarterback) was good, admitted Halas, known as “Papa Bear” throughout the sports world. “There’s no doubt in my mind Stephens could have made it. I would have used him myself if he could have beaten out Bill Wade.” (Wade is the first-string quarterback).

Below are my own notes:

*The Bears were then on the cusp of an 11-1 season in 1963, which would be the last NFL championship team Halas coached. Don’t look for glory to be reclaimed in 2017. Most prognosticators have Chicago finishing with a losing record that starts early on: the Bears are a 6.5 underdog to Atlanta in Week 1 according to football lines in major sportsbooks.

** Technically, the NFL’s first black quarterback was Fritz Pollard in the 1920s. He played, however, before an unofficial ban against blacks beginning in 1933. Coincidentally, Kenny Washington, a UCLA football teammate of Jackie Robinson himself, was the first black to play in the NFL post-ban. It had taken Washington seven years to break through in 1946 after not being picked in the 1939 draft, “even though Chicago Bears coach George Halas tried to convince NFL coaches to lift the ban on black players for the Bruin star,” according to this ucla.edu press release.

Here’s a teaser for the film made about Washington and three other pioneering Bruin teammates:

Read Part 2 here. Subscribe to be notified of future interesting historical/sports posts.

Bert Williams: Nolan Richardson’s Friend & Giant of College Basketball History

Former El Paso Bert Williams was in the middle of two of the most important cultural landmark events of the 1960s: the first major city in the South to officially integrate post-Reconstruction, and the first NCAA Championship basketball team to start five black players. About a week ago, this civil rights giant suffered a heart attack and was put into an El Paso area hospital’s cardiac arrest unit, according to my author friend Rus Bradburd. Bradburd is a former UTEP assistant basketball coach who wrote the biography of Razorback coaching legend Nolan Richardson, an El Paso native who alongside Bert Williams’ played a central role in paving the path to Texas Western’s 1966 NCAA title.

Their stories began to intertwine in the late 1950s, when Bert Williams was an El Paso alderman who helped Richardson get into his first college, Eastern Arizona, as a baseball player. After Richardson returned to El Paso, Williams got him to join his fast-pitch softball team, according to Bradburd’s Forty Minutes of Hell: The Extraordinary Life of Nolan Richardson. After one game, Williams convinced Richardson to go with him to a popular local restaurant, the Oasis, despite the 19-year-old Richardson’s protest he wouldn’t be served there.

Williams insisted they enter anyway, given his connections in city government and Richardson’s status as the best athlete at Texas Western, now known as UTEP. Sure enough, the waitress refused to serve them the beer and Coke they ordered. Williams tried to force the issue but failed. He grabbed Richardson by the elbow and headed for the door, then warned the owners “I’ll be back.”

The incident shook Williams up. He immediately began drafting legislation to officially end segregation of El Paso hotels, theaters and restaurants. Williams told Bradburd: “The city was divided by railroad tracks, but the laws were enforced more arbitrarily for Mexican-Americans, and there were places were they could eat without trouble.” But attitudes were not so permissive for blacks. Williams rallied fellow aldermen to his side, revised the wording of the ordinance and got it to pass an initial vote.

“Both El Paso newspapers, the Times and the Herald-Post, published editorials condemning the progress,” Bradburd wrote in Forty Minutes of Hell. “The mayor vetoed the ordinance, but Williams had enough votes to override him. ‘It was just by coincidence that Nolan was there that night at the Oasis,’ says Williams, who was subsequently elected mayor himself. ‘After I witnessed the way he was treated, such a great kid and the star of the college, I knew I had to do something.’

Bert Williams’s heroic act made El Paso the first major city in the Old Confederacy to officially desegregate. Yet Williams’s courage—he ignored numerous threats and enormous pressure—was barely reported nationally and remains nearly forgotten even in El Paso*. [Texas Western coach] Don Haskins took notice though. The town’s new progressive status would have a profound effect on Texas Western’s ability to recruit black athletes,” including Arkansas native Jim Barnes**, who would become the 1964 NBA Draft’s No.1 overall pick.

Don Haskins, son of an Arkansan and Hank Iba protege, had arrived on the UTEP campus in 1961 and would go on to become Richardson’s mentor. Haskins leaned on Richardson, the team’s only black local native, to become the social host for black recruits—given he knew the lay of the land and where to go to avoid unofficial Jim Crow sites. Although Richardson graduated from UTEP in 1963, he would stay around the area and play a big role in helping Haskins’ recruit many of the players who formed the 1966 title team.

Although El Paso itself was now officially integrated, Richardson preferred taking recruits to far more racially tolerant Mexico.

“In Juarez, black men could eat thick steaks, dance with whomever they wanted, and stay out as late as they pleased,” Bradbury wrote. “Heroes from the 1966 team, such as Harry Flournoy, Orsten Artis, Bobby Joe Hill, and Nevil Shed all socialized in Mexico with Richardson and had a lively time. As such, Mexico as well as Bert Williams hold a place in the history of American college basketball; they were largely responsible for the recruitment and comfort of the historic Texas Western team.”

 

*In 2009, the city of El Paso did officially honor Bert Williams.

**To learn more about Jim Barnes’ roots in Newport, make sure to read this segment from Untold stories: Black Sport Heroes Before Integration.

Hank Iba called Houston Nutt, Sr. “a black man in a white man’s body.”

At least four Arkansans have played basketball at the University of Kentucky. I’ve already written about three of them—Bob Burrow, Archie Goodwin and Malik Monk— though just briefly touched on the first: Houston Nutt, Sr. While question marks hang over how well Monk and Goodwin will be able to reintegrate themselves into Arkansas after having turned down the Razorbacks in favor of the Wildcats, no such question marks hung over Nutt, Sr. after he came home from college to establish life in Little Rock.

Relatively speaking, he had been every bit the high school phenom Monk and Goodwin were, and yet apparently the Razorbacks of the early 1950s were not in contention for his services when the likes of Kentucky—then a powerhouse under coach Adolph Rupp just as it is now under John Calipari—came calling. (The big difference was that in that era Rupp got the majority of his players from inside Kentucky.)

So, how good was the 6-feet-2 Nutt Sr. as a basketball prodigy?

Let’s let Jim Bailey, the longtime Arkansas Gazette (and then Democrat-Gazette) sportswriter, explain: “Quite simply, Houston was several basketball generations ahead of his competitive time,” he wrote in a 2008 letter to Emogene Nutt quoted in You’re the Best: Reflections on the Life of Houston Nutt. “A tall guard, he amounted to what coaches called the ‘The Total Package,’ handling the ball, shooting from outside, driving for the basket, rebounding and, above all, doing everything with intensity, flair and enthusiasm. He often scored 30 to 40 points, and this was in a period of time when 40-50 was a fairly typical high school basketball score.”

In terms of quickness and leaping ability, Nutt, Sr. was no Archie Goodwin—and definitely no Malik Monk. But he was far from shabby, too, according to Hank Iba, the legendary Oklahoma State basketball coach who coached both Nutt, Sr. after a transfer from Kentucky. Decades later, Iba also coached Nutt Sr.’s son Dickey Nutt. “I will never forget him saying, ‘Your dad was a black man in a white man’s body,’ referring to his athleticism,” Dickey Nutt recalled in You’re the Best, a biography of Houston Nutt Sr. written by his widow Emogene Nutt.

This book is a must read and treasure trove of Arkansas history trivia. Here are some other highlights from its first quarter:

A Family Home Built on Sandwiches?

When Nutt Sr. was a child, he banked mad money off the side hustle of selling chicken sandwiches drizzled with Heinz 57. His mom, May, made the sandwiches and then Nutt Sr. sold them at 25 cents apiece at the bus station and train depot. “Houston could sell the sandwiches literally faster than his mother could prepare them,” the story according to Emogene Nutt goes. “I’ve heard that the money was used to help buy the land on Moro Street in Fordyce where the family home is today.”

A Tennis Ball and Coffee Can

Houston Nutt Sr.
Fay, Houston and Clyde (circa 1950)

Houston was born in 1930 and had two older brothers: Fred, born 1922, and Clyde, born 1928. His youngest brother Fay was born in 1932. All four brothers loved to play basketball but in the Great Depression had trouble finding an actual basketball to do so with. So they used an old tennis ball instead. Their basketball goal “was a coffee can with both ends cut out and nailed to the wall,” Emogene Nutt wrote after Nutt Sr.’s passing in 2005.

According to her book, Fred Nutt went on to play on undefeated basketball teams at the Arkansas School for the Deaf. Clyde Nutt played for the same school and made All-State in 1947, 1948 and 1949. In 1949, the brothers led the deaf school to its first state basketball title. Fay, meanwhile, played with Houston on the Fordyce Redbugs team.

A Strong Pryor-Nutt connection

David Pryor Houston Nutt
David Pryor, Dennis Nutt and Houston Nutt    Sr. at War Memorial Stadium in 1986

In the 1940s former Arkansas governor David Pryor starred for the Camden Panthers, a rival to the Redbugs which Nutt Sr. quarterbacked. The two competitors became good friends over the years and when Pryor was elected as a U.S. senator and moved to Washington D.C., his son Mark Pryor lived with the Nutts while he finished out his semester at Little Rock Central High School. Nutt Sr. and Pryor even had major heart attacks on the same day—Houston in Little Rock and David in Washington D.C., Emogene Nutt recalled. During their recovery, they jokingly blamed the delicious hamburgers of the Redbug Cafe in Fordyce and Duck Inn Cafe in Camden for the heart attacks.