On grass, filth or on hardwood, there was just one Jackie Robinson. And nicely earlier than he stepped on to Ebbets Field as a Brooklyn Dodger and broke the colour line in Major League Baseball on April 15, 1947, Robinson had made some multi-sport—together with basketball—historical past in school.
In 1941, Robinson, who lettered in observe, baseball, basketball and soccer at UCLA (the one Bruin to ever letter in 4 varsity sports activities), performed within the annual NFL-College All-Star sport. Dick Plasman of the Chicago Bears referred to as Jackie the quickest man he’d ever seen in a uniform after he ran roughshod over the NFL champions. “He’s the fastest thing I’ve ever seen,” stated Wilbur Johns, Jackie’s basketball coach at UCLA.
What’s wild is that Johns insisted that if Jackie hadn’t performed soccer, or, nicely, baseball, he would have been the best basketball participant ever.
“His timing was perfect. His rhythm was unmatched. He had the valuable faculty of being able to relax at the proper time,” stated Johns within the 1950 biographical movie, The Jackie Robinson Story.
Johns, who moved from head coach to Athletic Director at UCLA and helped deliver John Wooden on board to exchange him, didn’t precisely have Wooden-like success as a coach earlier than Robinson’s arrival. UCLA hadn’t received a Pacific Coast Conference sport in additional than two years when Jackie arrived on the group in 1939. The hype was actual, however he was a one-man present, an excellent participant on a nasty group. With Robinson, the Bruins went 5-19 within the PCC, however that was a giant enchancment. And it didn’t matter, anyway; folks got here to see Jackie.
Grainy newsreel footage memorialized Jackie’s Red Grange meets Barry Sanders soccer exploits on movie, however his basketball exploits are largely folklore. California coach Nibs Price
as soon as referred to as Robinson the most effective within the nation. The Pittsburgh Courier lauded Jackie’s deal with, calling it glue-fingered. One story went that he faked three guys out to elude a triple-team and rating. Armed with a lethal outdoors shot and fast arms, Jackie may dominate all aspects of the sport. His energy allowed him to play ahead regardless of standing simply 5-11, and his sheer athleticism and unicorn pace left all who noticed him spellbound. He additionally had that inimitable Jackie Robinson fireplace, its embers stoked irrespective of the kind of ball in his gifted arms.
It’s usually rendered a mere footnote within the epic saga of Jackie Robinson. Weeks after he led the Montreal Royals, the Brooklyn Dodgers International League farm membership, to victory within the 1946 Little World Series, Jackie Robinson bested the NBA’s first celebrity. For actual. Here’s what the the basketball portion of arguably the best athletic profession of the twentieth century appeared like, in three transient chapters.
THE UCLA DAYS
Cal and UCLA are tied with the clock winding down. UCLA’s greatest participant has the ball in his arms and eyes the rim. With the grace of a dancer, he pivots off his left foot and lets a vaunted skyhook go from the free-throw line. Pandemonium turns to silence at Berkeley—the deflating silence solely a basketball murderer can elicit. It reads like a play from the Lew Alcindor period, however it’s all Jackie Robinson. Just like that, UCLA’s 30-game convention dropping streak was over.
“Jackie could uncannily rise to the occasion,” Wilbur Johns instructed Arthur Mann, creator of The Jackie Robinson Story. “His [handle] was breathtaking. His speed, passing, and deception sent fans wild with joy.”
UCLA seldom received, however eyes had been perpetually transfixed on Robinson, who performed on the group as a junior (’39-40) and senior (’40-41) after starring in the identical 4 sports activities throughout his two years
at Pasadena Junior College. When Jackie scored a career-high 23 at Stanford in his first convention sport, the opposing crowd showered him with cheers.
When Robinson fouled out in his Palo Alto finale the following season, Stanford captain Don Williams met him on the visiting bench with a handshake. A packed home gifted him a extra rousing ovation than in his debut.
Stanford guard Ken Davidson referred to as Jackie the most effective participant within the convention. Robinson edged USC All-American Ralph Vaughn, feted as basketball’s golden boy on the quilt of Life journal, for the primary of his back-to-back PCC Southern Division scoring titles.
Johns stated Jackie Robinson taught all people the true which means of group however was nonetheless the quintessential alpha canine who got here via in large moments. He dropped 18 and hit the go-ahead basket to once more beat Cal at dwelling. When his floater with 15 seconds left appeared to win one other sport towards Stanford, a ballistic Westwood fell silent when Williams tied the sport. Robinson drew consideration and arrange the successful hoop in time beyond regulation.
Jackie saved his greatest antics for USF, the legendary Bill Russell’s future alma mater, as a senior in 1941. When Los Angeles battled San Francisco, no person cared that it was a non-conference sport. UCLA was down 4 with lower than a minute remaining when Robinson adopted up a Bruins bucket with an interception of USF’s inbounds go after which banged in a runner to power time beyond regulation. UCLA fell behind in OT, however Robinson’s Bruins fought again. The sport was deadlocked at 53. No video exists. For an approximate reenactment, Google “Kawhi beats Sixers.” It was Jackie’s rock with the sport on the road. He darted up the courtroom as time fettered away. Just as the ultimate gun sounded, a high-arcing one-hander left Jackie’s fingertips. The crowd watched in collective awe because the ball caromed off the again of the rim and bounded straight into the air. For only a second, time stood nonetheless. It appeared like all of Westwood rushed the courtroom to mob Robinson simply because the ball sunk again via the iron and tickled the underside of the twine.
All in all, Jackie averaged 12.4 ppg and 11.1 ppg, respectively, in his two seasons at UCLA, incomes All-PCC Southern Division in 1940. Robinson scored about 40 % of UCLA’s factors, which is akin to what Wilt Chamberlain did for the Philadelphia Warriors in his record-setting ’61-62 season.
The PROFESSIONAL HOOPER DAYS
After leaving UCLA and briefly working for the National Youth Administration, Robinson was drafted into the US Army in 1942. He by no means noticed fight for a wide range of causes, together with alleged racism he encountered, however Robinson was within the Army till November of 1944. The conflict, together with the racism that saved skilled sports activities successfully closed to African-Americans, paused his profession in all sports activities.
But by 1946, with baseball and soccer nonetheless on the desk, the Atlanta Daily World stated that Robinson was destined for basketball greatness. When the Los Angeles Red Devils, an impartial basketball group not affiliated with any leagues, referred to as, Jackie answered. Owner and coach Jack Duddy had ambitions to hitch the National Basketball League and produce skilled basketball to the West Coast. As ever, the professional sport was pushed by superstars. In 1946, there have been few greater names than Pasadena’s personal Jackie Robinson, even when he hadn’t performed competitively in 5 years.
The Red Devils began like gangbusters with 4 wins, the primary two over the Sheboygan Red Skins. Jackie scored 10 factors in his professional debut. In the second of a back-to-back, Robinson hit for a season-high 18 factors. When 6-7 middle Ed Danker despatched the 5-11 Robinson tumbling to the ground, everybody in Olympic Auditorium leapt to their toes as Robinson someway sunk a 15-footer whereas sprawled susceptible on his again. The California Eagle proclaimed a glimpse of Jackie Robinson in motion was definitely worth the value of admission:
“Speed is a wonderful thing, and Jackie is a streak of greased lightning. He’s great in baseball and equally great on the [court].”
The legendary New York Renaissance flew cross-country to play the Red Devils, foreshadowing how the jet age modified sports activities in post-war America. The Rens had received the 1939 World Professional Basketball Championship and helped lay the foundations of professional basketball. Legendary middle Nat “Sweetwater” Clifton, who built-in the Knicks, didn’t even crack their high 5. And but…Jackie’s Red Devils beat them twice at Olympic Auditorium.
The showdown: GEORGE MIKAN VS. JACKIE ROBINSON
They don’t slap the identify Mr. Basketball on you for nothing. The Red Devils’ largest check was George Mikan’s Chicago Gears of the NBL. When Mikan arrived at Madison Square Garden, the marquee didn’t point out his group, merely “Geo Mikan vs. New York Knicks.” Mikan and Jackie had been the 2 largest stars enjoying professional basketball in 1946, even when one was simply passing via.
It appeared like Jackie was lastly displaying indicators of fatigue when he scored simply 4 factors within the Red Devils’ solely loss to NBL competitors. His first son was born earlier that week. The subsequent night time, Jackie exacted swift revenge. When jostling obtained out of hand, he needed to be restrained from preventing 6-3 Bob Calihan. Mikan’s 22 outshined Robinson’s team-high 13 factors, however Jackie’s squad avenged the 59-56 loss with a 47-46 win over the Gears, who later beat the Rochester Royals within the NBL Finals.
Headlines about Robinson’s future with Brooklyn usually dwarfed fleeting references to Jackie throwing down with the most effective ballers on the earth. The largest query on America’s thoughts for the 12 months 1947, based on the Associated Press, was Jackie’s future with the Dodgers. Beating Mikan head-to-head was relegated to a line merchandise.
Jackie’s transient dalliance with professional basketball foreshadowed the impression of his arrival in Brooklyn. His swan tune in hoops was towards a Del Webb-sponsored professional group in Tempe, AZ, at Union High School when Arizona colleges had been nonetheless segregated. It was probably Arizona’s first built-in sporting occasion. The Red Devils, who had a number of Black and white gamers, went 13-3 throughout Robinson’s season (the one one the franchise performed).
Could Jackie have actually been an elite NBA participant? Consider that his stint as a professional was sandwiched in between the 12 months he proved prepared for Major League Baseball and his precise Rookie of the Year marketing campaign. Jackie nonetheless averaged 10 ppg, which is additional spectacular contemplating there was no shot clock, no three-pointers, goaltending was authorized and groups not often scored greater than 45 factors.
Sounds like he may have made historical past on the hardwood if he didn’t get busy altering the world as a Dodger. We’ll by no means know what may have been.
Photos through Getty Images.
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