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Black Basketball Hall of Famer Hopes to Make an Impact


Unsung heros of the past are celebrated alongside more recent achievers

(Photo Left) Mike Bantom and Lionel Simmons were inducted into the Black Basketball Hall of Fame on December 26. Photo by Jeremy Treatman.

Last year, Delgreco Wilson started the Black Basketball Hall of Fame for many reasons. First and foremost, was to acknowledge those past athletes who never had an opportunity to play in the NBA or major Division I colleges due to the existing racism of the times. Those men were superstars in their high schools, historically black colleges and some professional leagues, but, in most cases, the NBA was not a welcoming place for them until well into the 1960s.

 

John Chaney is a former Temple coach and Hall of Famer for coaching. He is, however, not in the Big Five Hall of Fame as a player and never made the NBA because of either blacks not being allowed to play in those entities in the 1950s, or  because of quotas on the amount of blacks who could play. Chaney was inducted into Wilson’s first class for his achievements  as a player at Ben Franklin High and Bethune Cookman College; his storybook coaching career at Cheyney State and Temple; and also for being an outspoken advocate against some of the NCAA’s policies, which he felt were unjust towards inner-city kids.

 

Wilson and the nearly 100 people who attended the 2nd annual ceremony in Philadelphia were inspired by pride and respect in the African-American community, but, if one was there on Dec. 26, they would see the event meant even more than that.

 

“Our kids are in trouble. Our youth is in trouble,” said Ducky Birts, a long time Philadelphia basketball legend as a player and coach who was a special guest of Wilson’s. “Today is not a good time. We have to learn to love one another. Our kids are in school systems that are broke, that are not giving them good educations. The adults are failing our kids. Teachers don’t have the resources to help our kids. Our kids are acting up: they are not respecting their elders. They need mentors. They need us. I don’t care if someone is black, yellow, purple, white, this religion, that religion, if they are helping our kids I am all for it.”

 

Wilson echoed the statement. “Our kids are not getting the mentoring they need right now and that is one thing I have dedicated myself to: helping these kids learn what it takes to get into college and make a good life for themselves. Not just the athletes, but all the black kids in the area. As far as the Hall of Fame, I have always felt that we first needed to memorialize the guys who never got a chance to play in the Big Five, or around the country at major colleges, or in the Big Five because of [Jim Crow laws and segregation].”

 

That’s one major reason why so many superstars who played in the last 50 years, like Mike Bantom and Lionel Simmons were inducted into the second class. The first class was stacked with old-timers from the 1940s 50s and 60s, including Claude Gross, a personal favorite of Wilson, who was honored right before his death. Gross, Wilt Chamberlain’s brother-in-law, was a standout player and instrumental leader in guiding black youth through basketball for most of his life.

 

Fortunately, most of the people who entered the BHOF this time are former players who had opportunities to play at traditional colleges, or even the NBA. Inductee included Chubby Cox [Kobe Bryant’s uncle], and Big Five Hall of Famers Bantom and Simmons, all of whom were present.

 

While many of these men have won various major awards in their life — Simmons won the Naismith as College Basketball’s player of the year in 1990 before playing many years in the NBA, and Bantom, a captain of the 1972 Olympic team that got jobbed in a controversial loss to USSR in 1972 — all feel honored to be selected to this Hall of Fame.

 

“This is a great honor,” said Bantom. “I have never worked a day in my life. I played professionally for so many years and I am still employed by the NBA today. I didn’t let basketball use me. I used basketball to better my life and I will always be appreciative of what I got from the game.”

 

Mo Howard, a contemporary of Bantom in the early 1970s, when both were star players in the city, introduced Bantom by saying he was a tentative, non-aggressive player as a sophomore and junior at Roman Catholic.  “But by his senior year, he was the truth,” said Howard. “He led Speedy Morris to his first Catholic League championship game. I think he averaged 13 or 14 rebounds.” Bantam concurred. “I am proof that you can make it with hard work and by starting late in the game,” he said. “I wasn’t very good until my senior year but that year, I was very good. I just got serious with the game and found success. I went from a scrub to a player. But my main message about that is the same message we have talked about today. I had help. I had people who mentored me and made me a man and a better player. So many people helped me and that is why I love giving back. That’s what this Hall of Fame is about to me, too. We need to help our young people. We need more Tee Parhams, Claude Grosses, Sonny Hills who created programs for kids back then and who supported us.” Said Birts: “I think everyone in this room feels the love of today. There are a lot of people like [Delgreco Wilson] who are helping kids and that is what we need to continue to see."

 

 

 

Black Basketball Hall of Famer Hopes to Make an Impact
Jeremy Treatman - Contributor

Jeremy Treatman is the founder and co-director of the Scholastic Play-by-Play Classics and Sports Broadcasting Camps. Over 50 NBA players, including Lebron James, Kevin Durant, and Rajon Rondo played in his events when they were in high school. Jeremy wrote high school sports for the INQUIRER for 10 years, and was the first TV reporter for the HIgh School Sports Show on Channel 29 from 1994-2001. He currently is Comcast's announcer for all high school games.

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