Athens, GA (Sept 10, 2007) - On September 7, 2007, the Texas Western basketball team was inducted into the into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Their winning of the 1966 NCAA Basketball Championship with an all-black starting lineup was dramatized in the movie Glory Road. It was not until I watched the movie a second time that I realized that Larry Conley, a color analyst for college basketball television broadcasts who I have worked with for many years, was on the University of Kentucky team that lost that game. In the movie, the game was portrayed as a great civil rights moment and that Adolph Rupp was a flaming racist. Larry, along with NBA Coach Pat Riley, played on that team which was known as Rupp's Runts because of their underwhelming size. So this past January, Larry sat down with me for a short interview about that game.
Larry, thanks for sitting down and talking to me about that game.
Not a problem at all.
Last year I was inundated with interview requests, I probably would of then. Not a problem.
Leading up to that game and during the game, did you realize that you were participating in what many considered to be a watershed event?
No, we were there to play a basketball game and win. To us there was no significance, and in the scope of things that were happening then there really was not.
What do you mean?
We were there to play basketball and win. It is that simple. All we cared about then was the fact that we were terrified of graduating, because that meant we would be heading off to Viet Nam. Everything else paled in comparison. We were scared about losing our lives.
But you were a prized athlete. Don't you think you were in a lot of ways insulated from outside influences?
Not at all. We did not live in a special dormitory. We lived in a regular dorm with all of the other students. Some of my best friends to this day were friends from that dorm that did not play sports at all.
So why did you not view that game as a watershed event?
It really wasn't. If you look at the University of San Francisco, they won their national championships in the 1950's with four black players starting. So it was not like this game was something new.
But this is Kentucky we are talking about. There was not a single black player on the team.
That is because black players were reluctant to come to schools in the South. It was not because of any conscious decision on the part of UK or the coaching staff.
But many people over time have said that Adolph Rupp was a racist, and the movie portrays him as such.
Listen, Adoph Rupp may have been many things, but he was not a racist. He was a brilliant man. On plane trips, he did not read basketball playbooks, he read the New York Times. He was a very well read man. People have told me that I only say these things
about him because he was my coach. No way. I hated every minute I played for him because of the type personality he had. He was also a very aloof man. He was cold to many, many people and it had nothing to do with race.
So the movie and Hollywood Got it wrong, kind of a revisionist history and literary license?
They got quite a few things wrong. The scene where Rupp and (Texas Western Coach Don) Haskins meet in the airport never happened. All of the confederate battle flags waving at the championship game never happened. It was pure Hollywood.
But looking back 40 years later, does not revisionism happen when looked at through a different lens?
If you were not alive and around during that time, and experiencing the turmoil of Viet Nam, you just can't do it. During the 25th anniversary year of the game, Curry Kirkpatrick of Sports Illustrated approached me at a game and asked me to sit and talk with him about the game. We talked for an hour. As we finished, he asked me if I was going to be at the next game. I said "Yes", and he asked to talk again. This pattern happened a couple of times. Finally I looked at him and said "I know what you are trying to do. You are trying to get me to say something that is not true so you can write about it. I have told you each time exactly what you keep asking me. We are done."
So Kirkpatrick was a piece of work
doing that article?
I can put that on the record?
Larry, thanks for taking this time. It offers a perspective I had not heard and would not have appreciated watching the movie alone.
No problem at all.