George Raff Brown, Jr.

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George Raff Brown, Jr.

Postby rlee » Mon Dec 03, 2007 3:51 am

Below is a great new bio of George Brown, Jr by APBR member (and Detroit basketball historian extraordinaire) Bill Hoover. We thank him both for the awesome research and the gracious acknowledgements.


George Raff Brown, Jr.

By Bill Hoover, Jr.

Acknowledgements

I know that acknowledgements are supposed to be a separate section in the back; but without the following individuals, there would not be much of a front to this biography. With that said, I would like to give special thanks to basketball research gurus John Duxbury, J Michael Kenyon, Ray LeBov, and Robert Bradley; Wayne State University’s Sports Information Director Jeff Weiss; my volunteer editor and mother Eula Hoover; George Brown; and my wife Amy Hoover.

Without Kenyon, Duxbury and LeBov, this work would be nearly devoid of details from Brown’s professional career. Years ago, Duxbury generously provided a large amount of obscure Midwestern Professional Basketball League information which was critical for this project. Kenyon and LeBov each helped with information about Brown's seasons with Cook's Texaco Oilers and Brown's season with the Harlem Globetrotters and Minneapolis Lakers. Both have been incredibly helpful with other projects, and that is understating how important each has been in my research and writing. Kenyon's database on Globetrotters' game accounts is staggering. So is the amount of time he has spent answering my odd and sometimes redundant questions.

Bradley’s awesome book, the Compendium of Professional Basketball, provided details of the Lakers' transactions of the off-season of 1957. I am also grateful to Bradley who, through the Association for Professional Basketball Research, which he founded, I have met Duxbury, Kenyon, LeBov and others for whom I have much respect.

Weiss was very quick to respond when I needed clarity about Brown’s time in college and has contributed to my quest of finding Sepia All-American teams by forwarding e-mails to a former Wayne SID.

Eula "Mom" Hoover is the one who makes it possible for you to comprehend her idiot son’s writing.

The modest Brown was gracious enough to allow my pal Lovelle Rivers and me into his home to interview him and scan his memorabilia.

And last, but not least, my wife, Amy, who does not object too loudly to the inordinate amount of time I spend playing with the topic I find so fascinating, the History of Basketball in Detroit.

Thanks, too, to all of you who read and pass along Brown's story. And now, here is the biography of George Raff Brown, Jr.




George Raff Brown, Jr.

One of the Motor City's most significant basketball legends is Detroit Cass Tech's George Brown. In 1956, the 6-foot-6, 190-pound Brown led Wayne (State) University to the school's first-ever appearance in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) tournament; and, in 1957, Brown became only the third Detroit Public School graduate, and 31st African American, ever to play in the National Basketball Association (NBA).

Brown's 1955-56 Wayne University team defeated Ray Meyer's DePaul Blue Demons and led Adolph Rupp's Kentucky Wildcats at halftime. Brown received college All-American recognition from Abe Saperstein before playing for six professional teams, including the NBA's Minneapolis Lakers and the Harlem Globetrotters.

As was the case for African Americans before and during Brown's basketball career, Brown's opportunities as a collegian and professional were very limited. However, the success of his Wayne University and Globetrotters teams, as well as his individual greatness, contributed significantly to the increased opportunities that African Americans enjoy today. Yet despite his many accomplishments, George Brown is all but forgotten, even in Detroit.

From his birth in New Orleans, Louisiana, on October 30, 1935, to the end of his sports career, George Brown's life story proves interesting. Brown was actually born George Raff Wroten, Jr., to Alfonsas and George Wroten, Sr. (1). Due to circumstances that will be explained later in this biography, Brown played his entire high school and college career under the name of George Brown, even though he was still a Wroten. It was upon graduation from college that he was advised to change his last name legally to Brown so that the name on his teaching certificate would not create confusion with employers.

Coincidentally, Blaine Denning, the second Detroit Public School alumnus to play in the NBA, played his entire career as a Denning even though his legal name was Blaine Mitchell. Denning had his name legally changed when he was preparing to run for a public office (2).

Brown, at a very young age, left his parents' home in New Orleans and went to live with his mother's parents, Charles and Alberta Brown, on a farm outside of Vicksburg, Mississippi. The farm was actually in Ballground, which is close to a small town named Redwood. At the young age of three years old, Brown began attending school with his Aunt Josephine Brown (Chalk) who was a school teacher.

Around the age of six or seven, Brown moved to Leland, Mississippi, where he rejoined his mother who was now married to his stepfather, James Harris. In Leland, Brown lived with his two oldest stepsiblings, Charles and Barbara Harris.

During the one year that Brown lived in Leland, he officially began school, at Breisch High School. The completely-segregated school housed grades kindergarten through 12. Brown lasted only one year at Breisch because of his relationship with his stepfather. Brown did not get along well with his stepfather and ended up on the receiving end of what Brown felt were numerous and unjustified beatings.

During one of Grandmother Brown's visits, in the late spring of 1943, Brown shared the stories of the beatings to her. Grandma Brown, who was now widowed and had sold the farm in Mississippi, agreed to take him to live with her in her new home, an apartment, in St. Louis, Missouri. (After Brown moved from the Harris household, his four younger stepsiblings were born: John, Leon, Faye, and Geraldine Harris. Brown would, however, return to the Harris home each summer to spend the season living with all his stepsiblings.)

At the time, during World War II, many landlords rented rooms in blocks of eight hours. Over a 24-hour-period, three different sets of tenants would use the same room; and they wanted peace and quiet for their eight hours. Therefore, having children at Grandma Brown's apartment was discouraged. By the end of the summer of 1943, Grandma Brown gave in to her landlord's wishes and sent Brown to Detroit to live with his Aunt Josephine and Uncle Ernest Chalk. Brown's Detroit home was at 77 East Canfield, in a four-story apartment building, near Woodward and south of Forest.

In September of 1943, despite formally attending school only one year, Brown entered grade 2B at the Irving School. Irving was located on Willis, between Woodward and Cass. Brown remained there until December of 1946, when he transferred during grade 4B to Trowbridge School. Trowbridge was located on Forest, near Hastings and Hancock. Even though he was unaware of it at the time, at Trowbridge he was a schoolmate of Ramon "Spike" Wilkinson, the brother of entertainer Ruby D. Wilkinson eventually played basketball professionally for the Goose Tatum Harlem Roadkings. Other classmates at Trowbridge were Johnny Griffin, who became a professional pianist, and Kirkland Lightsey, who went on to have his own band which even played for a President of the United States.

In January of 1947, Brown transferred to Garfield, which was on Rivard, between Kirby and Frederick. Over the years, Garfield would be home to many pros, including Harlem Globetrotters "Jumpin'" Johnny Kline, Willie Scarborough, and Ernie Wagner; NBA player Sam Williams; and world boxing champion and Globetrotter attraction Walker Smith, whom the world knew as champion boxer Sugar Ray Robinson. Like his unawareness of Wilkinson at Trowbridge, Brown was not aware of Wagner's presence at Garfield.

By September of 1947, Brown was back at Irving, where he enrolled in grade 6A. In February of 1948, Brown matriculated to Jefferson Intermediate at 950 Selden for grade 7B. Jefferson also was the middle school of Willie Horton, the 1968 World Series hero of the Detroit Tigers, who also played briefly with the Harlem Globetrotters. Horton, however, attended Jefferson after Brown. It was at Jefferson that Brown became skilled enough at playing the trumpet to be selected for the school's band.

Unlike many other basketball legends from Detroit, Brown did not let his life become basketball-centric. He did spend a lot of time at the legendary Brewster Center, but in the pool and not on the court. He also developed a great love of music by regularly attending the Paradise Ballroom, at Mack and Woodward. This occurred in an unplanned way.

In order to make extra money, the Chalks rented rooms "within" their apartment. One family had a teenage daughter named Ruth Lee. Ruth wanted to go to the Paradise with her boyfriend but was allowed to go only if she had a male chaperone. The young Brown became that chaperone, and he spent many nights listening to great artists and bands like Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Cab Calloway.

Brown also has fond memories of biking all over the city, including Belle Isle, with his neighborhood buddy, Reginald Bell.

At the end of his intermediate school years, Brown took and passed the admission test to Cass. Instead of attending Northeastern High School, in the fall of 1950 Brown was a newly enrolled sophomore at Cass Tech. Despite having an excellent academic tradition, the school is also known for producing many professional basketball players. Prior to Brown, Cass produced NBL players Tommy Clark and Bob Gunn, and Globetrotters Gus Finney, Harry Rusan, James Haynes, William Sylvester Griffin, and Woodruff “Boudreau” King. After Brown, NBA players Bill Buntin, who graduated from Detroit Northern; Dorie Murrey, Bill Mayfield, Derrick Gervin, who graduated from Detroit King; and Derrick Dial all attended Cass.

Cass at that time was located on Second, next door to the latest rendition of the school (3). Unlike today, the student population was overwhelmingly Caucasian, with only one or two African Americans in every class.

Brown was an excellent leaper, and it was his dunking and shot blocking in his physical education class that caught the eye of Obbie Benson, who was on the school's reserve team. This is the same Obbie Benson who went on to sing with the Motown group the Four Tops. Brown was contemplating a high school career as a swimmer; but it was Benson who pointed out that unless he got into a Tarzan movie, he would have a better chance of making money playing basketball.

As a member of Cass Tech's reserve team, Brown took pride in the varsity's fine season. The school's team advanced to the title game and defeated Miller, 56-49, at Olympia Stadium to win the coveted Metropolitan League championship. (Today the league is known as the Detroit Public School League (PSL).)

The Cass Technicians' varsity team was led by Walter Godfrey and George Gatewood. In 2001, the magazine PrepSpotlight placed both of these men on the honorable mention listing of its "Michigan Top 100 Players of All-Time" list (4).

It was Gatewood who motivated Brown to develop a hookshot. In fact, Brown would shoot 250 with each hand, everyday, until he developed the proficiency with the shot that became the reason for two of his nicknames, "Hooker" and "Hooks."

Brown's entire high school experience took place during the Detroit Public School's voluntary exile from the state's post-season tournament. This decision made the league title the ultimate goal for Metropolitan League members, like Cass.

By the following year, Coach Frank "Ace" Cuddillo elevated Brown to the varsity team. Brown was far from a star, scoring only 18 points during the season; but he was proud to be a part of a great 1951-52 Cass Tech team. The Technicians, which also included Ron Porter, Duane Olsen, and Robert Tinsley among its regulars, took a 22-game win streak into the playoffs. They swept through the playoffs and defeated Northwestern, 50-43, for another league championship.

In the spring, Brown joined the track and field team and competed in the high jump.

The following school year of 1952-53 was a busy one for Brown. In the fall, Brown competed in cross country; during the winter, he played basketball; and in the spring, he again high jumped for the track and field squad.

Interestingly, Brown never lettered in basketball while at Cass, but as a senior he played a significant role on the basketball team. Brown averaged 9.8 ppg, although Gene Hamilton, Chuck Mitchell, and Don Coleman were the team's stars who led Cass to another league playoff appearance. The Technicians defeated Northwestern, at Cody, 54-50, in the first round, but lost in round two to Chadsey, at Cooley, 64-55.

Brown ended his high school career by again participating on the school's track and field team, competing in the high jump, for which he earned a varsity letter.


Cass Tech was very demanding, but Brown took his role as a student seriously. One class, for instance, included turning in a 500-word theme every Monday. During the week, Brown recalls getting only about three hours of sleep a night. With the help of coffee and doughnuts, Brown completed his academic homework and practiced the trumpet after coming home from his athletic and band practices. Due to his aptitude and hard work, when it came time to choose a college, he had choices.

The University of Michigan offered him aid to attend on a music scholarship. Olivet and Adrian offered him scholarships; and Michigan State, thanks to Walter Godfrey, offered him a tryout. Unfortunately, Brown did not have the money to travel to the Michigan State tryout. Wayne, the school which was only three blocks from his house, ended up being his selection. This was in large part due to Coach Cuddillo's relationship with Wayne's coach, Joel Mason.

Cuddillo and Mason shared some commonalties. One was the love of football. Cuddillo, a Detroit Chadsey graduate, was a standout football player at Wayne; and Mason had played seven professional football seasons with the Chicago Cardinals and Green Bay Packers. (Mason also played basketball in the off-seasons with the National Basketball League's (NBL) Sheboygan Redskins; and after retiring as a player, he coached the Detroit Gems of the NBL, which are today the Los Angeles Lakers.)

Cuddillo and Mason also shared a mutual respect for the coaching of Adolph Rupp. Cuddillo would spend time at Mason's practices and implement plays and drills with Brown's Cass Tech team. This enhanced Brown's familiarity with Wayne, which was also strengthened when Mason allowed Brown to practice and scrimmage with Wayne's team when Cass Tech's season was over.

It should be pointed out that in those days, long before the current Matthaei Building was built, the Wayne team practiced inside the "Old Main" building, which was originally the first Detroit Central High School, and traveled off campus for all of its games. The team, during Brown's years, played its home games at the University of Detroit, in what is now known as Calihan Hall, or at Detroit Pershing High School.

Despite the poor facilities, Wayne enjoyed its greatest success around the time that Brown wore a Tartars uniform. The record-breaking era of Kline, Wagner, and Primas had just ended one season earlier when Kline and Wagner, along with key player Paul Dean (Detroit Miller), became academically ineligible. The trio of Kline, Primas, and Wagner was the main reason Wayne's basketball team had earned national recognition, both in the polls and amongst the professional scouts.

Wayne earned national rankings as high as at least 18th, and the "Big Three" earned many individual accolades. Primas and Kline earned All-American status, Wagner and Kline participated in NBA training camps, and each of these three were awarded contracts with the Harlem Globetrotters.

Charlie Primas still had one more year of eligibility during Brown's freshman year; and with great players steadily choosing to play for the forward-thinking Coach Joel Mason, Wayne's future looked bright.

A big reason for Wayne's success was its willingness to recruit African American athletes at a time when African Americans were still largely unrecruited and unwelcomed in college athletics. Wayne signed many of Metro Detroit's finest African American players, a point which is reinforced by two published lists of great players. The "Top Negro High School Cagers of the Past Decade" list, which was selected by legends Will Robinson, Noah Brown, Joe Duplessis, Ennis Stafford, and John Glover, and was printed in the December 28, 1957, Michigan Chronicle, included seven Tartars: first-team selection Charlie Primas, second-team selections Ernie Wagner and George Duncan (Highland Park), and honorable mention choices Robert Taylor (Detroit Miller), Bill Robinson (Detroit Miller), Fred Snowden (Northwestern), and Clarence Straughn (Detroit Northern).

In 2001, the magazine PrepSpotlight also recognized five of the Tartars from this era on its "Michigan Top 100 Players of All-Time" list. George "Baby" Duncan was selected number 6; Charlie Primas, number 10; John Kline, number 34; Ernie Wagner, number 41; and Fred Snowden as an honorable mention. Although the PrepSpotlight list leaves a lot to debate, it is clear that, decades later, Wayne's players from Brown's era were worth remembering. Today, these men would have been scooped up by Big Ten or other Division I schools.

Although Brown came to campus with little fanfare, during the season of 1953-54, he blossomed on Wayne's freshman team. It quickly became clear that the very-average Cass Tech product was going to be a major contributor to Wayne's continued success.

The freshman team was coached by Frederick Mulhauser and included the likes of Nelson Ford (Detroit Northwestern) and Andy Anderson (Detroit Northeastern). Brown was the reserve team's star and leading scorer, netting 258 points. He earned his freshman letter and was dubbed the replacement for Charlie Primas. The team finished 10-8 but played one game without Brown, who was moved up to the varsity when he became eligible. (While on the varsity, Brown appeared in seven games and averaged 1.1 ppg and 1.1 rpg.)


The highlight of Brown's freshman year was making a trip to Madison Square Garden with the varsity. Here Wayne was thrashed by a loaded Duquesne team that featured future NBA players James Tucker, Sihugo Green, and Dick Ricketts. The 6-foot-7 Tucker, who also played with the Harlem Globetrotters, and 6-foot-7 Ricketts, who also played Major League Baseball, each played three years in the NBA. The 6-foot-2 Green played nine NBA seasons.

The season was not entirely smooth, however. Brown was a young freshman, beginning the school year and workouts as a 17-year-old. In an early workout, he was being manhandled by senior star Charlie "Kingsnake" Primas, who was also known as "The Bull" while with the Globetrotters. Brown attributes some of his ineffectiveness in covering Primas to Mason's allowing Primas to grab and play "football" instead of clean basketball.

Mason told Brown to leave the gym and Brown obliged, but he was concerned about losing his scholarship. He stayed away for a week or so until his teammate Ron Porter gave Brown the word that Mason wanted him back. When Brown politely tried to confirm the message from Porter, Mason said he did not know what Brown was talking about but welcomed him back into the fold anyway.


During his first collegiate off-season, Brown played in two highly competitive and well publicized semi-pro tournaments. The first was the Michigan Open Tournament in Flint, Michigan, which took place in March. Here Brown played on a team called Jerome's of Van Dyke. Jerome's featured fellow Wayne teammates Tom Keller, Clarence Straughn, James Westbrook, and Paul Dean, as well as Werner Killen, Cleo Gilliam, Nate Davis, a Roberts, and future Harlem Globetrotters Webster Kirksey, Ernie Wagner, and Murphy Summons (Detroit Northwestern).

The competition was fierce. It included a strong Sibley team which featured former NBA players Norm Swanson and Blaine Denning. Denning, who attended Wilberforce (OH) College and starred at Lawrence Tech, became the second Detroit Public School product and eighth African American ever to play in the NBA.

Brown's team, Jerome's of Van Dyke, advanced to the title game by defeating Ypsilanti Beecher Men, 54-40; Sibley's, 74-54; and James Lumber's B team, that consisted of Flint Junior College (Mott) players, 65-41. In the championship game, Jerome's defeated a James Lumber's A team, which consisted of Central Michigan College (University) players. The 63-59 victory gave Jerome's its second consecutive Flint tournament title.

The Detroit Times Tournament took place during April. Brown participated in this tourney as a member of the Midge's Grill team, which consisted of Wayne's freshmen.

Like the Flint Tournament, the Detroit Times Tournament was a big deal in Michigan. The teams in this tournament consisted of collegians and former pros from all over the state. Some of the stars in this year's rendition of the tournament included Ernie Wagner, Charlie Primas, Murphy Summons, Blaine Denning, Webster Kirksey, and Willie Scarborough (Detroit Moore).

In one Detroit Times contest, a 62-49 win against the Fort Wayne Soldiers, Brown scored 19 points.

The following season, 1954-55, Brown emerged as a star of the varsity. During 23 games, Brown averaged 14.2 ppg and 15.1 rpg on a squad that was captained by Clarence Straughn and finished 9-14.

Brown was the team's leading free thrower (shooting 135 and making 91 for a 68 percent average) and rebounder (347), and he was second in total points (327 points) and field goal percentage (.447).

During the season, Wayne faced some tough competition. In the first round of the Motor City Tournament, Brown scored 18 points in a 71-66 victory over Penn State, which featured future NBA player and Harlem Globetrotter Jesse Arnelle. In the finals of the tournament, however, Wayne fell to the University of Detroit, 82-57, which featured future NBA players Bill Ebben and Guy Sparrow.

Another tough oppenent was St. Francis (PA), which featured Maurice Stokes, the player Brown calls "the greatest I ever played against." Wayne split with St. Francis (PA) (49-77 and 66-64), but the contests were memorable because of Stokes and the venue of one game.

Stokes became an NBA legend, but Brown said that he had a very unorthodox style; and that just looking at the bespectacled Stokes, you would not expect him to be any good. In reality, every unbalanced shot he threw up went in; and his awkward and high dribbling style baited the defender into reaching, but Stokes never lost the ball.

Even more awkward than Stokes' style was the home court of St. Francis (PA). The game against Wayne was played in a moviehouse-like auditorium, complete with the slanted floor, but with the seats removed. One hoop sat on the stage, and when you ran up and down the court, you literally ran "up" or "down" the court.


Brown's greatest game of the season, and possibly his career, also came this season against Case Tech. Brown netted 33 points and pulled down 28 rebounds.

The 1955-56 Wayne team was one of the greatest in the school's history. Tom Keller and Ron Porter were the captains, and the team finished 18-3 to qualify for the NCAA basketball tournament. This marked the second time in the school's history that the school had earned a post-season tournament invitation. (The first time was 1938-39, when the Tartars competed in the National Intercollegiate Basketball tournament which was held in Kansas City, Missouri. As big as this accomplishment was, Brown pointed out that, at the time, the National Invitational Tournament, or N.I.T., was the more popular tournament. Currently, it is just the opposite.

The team entered the NCAA tourney with a record of 17-1. Wayne was undefeated in league play and finished as champions of the President Athletic Conference (PAC). The team's only loss came in the second game of the season to a tough Louisville team, 52-80. Louisville featured future NBA players Charles Tyra and Phil Rollins, as well as Jim Morgan and Bill Darraugh, who were selected in the 2nd and 8th rounds of the 1957 NBA draft.

The biggest regular season win, in Brown's opinion, came against Washington (MO), which Brown recalls was ranked 10th nationally at the time. Wayne beat Washington (MO), 67-62, in overtime. This was a particularly memorable game for Brown because he had 17 family members at the game. The game was played in St. Louis; and to put it bluntly, the racist officiating gave Washington a distinct homecourt advantage.

Brown matter-of-factly said that that kind of officiating happened all of the time, but especially in the most lily-white places, like road games in Indiana and Iowa, the sites of Wayne's three NCAA games.

Brown's practice throughout college was to avoid any fouls until the final quarter and then add reckless defense to his highpowered offensive effort. In St. Louis, he picked up three quick fouls, some while he was just running down the court. When he reentered in the second half, Brown immediately received another phantom foul and was back on the bench. In the final moments of the game, he made significant contributions to the team's win. Unbeknownst to Brown at the time, his last minute contributions in this game would be the reason for his selection by the Lakers.

On March 12, the Wayne Tartars played their first round NCAA game in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Wayne's opponent, DePaul, was coached by Hall of Famer Ray Meyers, and was led by future NBA player Ron Sobie and Dick Heise, who was selected in the ninth round of the 1957 NBA draft. With the help of 27 points from Clarence Straughn and 13 from Brown, Wayne beat DePaul, 72-63.

Wayne then advanced to the Central Region at the University of Iowa. Here, Wayne met the number 9 ranked University of Kentucky team that was coached by Hall of Fame legend Adolph Rupp and featured future NBA players John Cox, Jerry Bird, Vern Hatton, and Bob Burrow. Wayne led at the half; but after Brown fouled out early in the second half, Wayne spiraled down rapidly. Kentucky ended up winning, 84-64.

In the consolation game, a dejected Tartar team fell to Morehead State, 95-84. Morehead State was billed as the highest scoring team in the NCAA and featured future NBA player Steve Hamilton. Hamilton, like Dick Ricketts of Duquesne, is one of the rare individuals to have played both basketball in the NBA and baseball in Major Leagues.

Brown's senior season of 1955-56 was successful for both the team and Brown. Brown, who had grown a full inch during the summer, and Ulysses Henry (Detroit Northwestern) were named captains; and the pair led the squad to a strong 14-4 finish. The team was 5-1 in conference play and again repeated a PAC championship.

Brown and his teammates’ fine regular season had them looking forward to participating in another post-season tournament, but the season ended prematurely. Unfortunately, the school's president, who apparently had reluctantly allowed the team to go to the NCAA one season earlier, informed the team that they would not be allowed to attend this year. The administration's opinion was that they were playing too many games.

Personally, Brown earned PAC All-Conference honors his senior season, as he had the previous season, and set a school-record by averaging 19.1 ppg. His senior season also saw Brown record a personal-best for rebounds in a game, pulling down 31 in Cleveland, Ohio, during a 46-43 win over Western Reserve. His rebounding average for the year was a whopping 15.7 per game. His career numbers at Wayne ended up an impressive 15.1 ppg and 13.8 rpg.

In addition to schoolwork and fraternity life with the Kappa Alpha Psi's, Brown participated in track and field throughout college. In fact, he was all-conference in 1956 and 1957. As a senior he broke his own PAC high jump record by getting his 6-foot-6 frame over a 6'4" high bar. He also competed in the mile relay, 880-relay, and 220 and 440 runs. An interesting note to today's reader is that, although they landed on piles of mats at practice, during meets the high jumper would land on the ground! This meant that the style of choice, the Western Roll, was one that ended with the participant's hitting the ground in a "push-up-like" position to avoid injury. The lack of a thick cushioned landing is one major factor as to the difference between the jumpers of Brown's era and today's athletes, who typically glide over in a backward style (the Fosbury Flop) that allows for greater height.

Brown's participation in track is the only reason that "Abe Saperstein All-American" is not officially on his resume. Following his senior season, Brown was invited to play for the College All-Americans against the Harlem Globetrotters in the World Series of Basketball. Doing so would have made Brown a professional and, thus, would have forced him to quit the track and field team. Brown attended the World Series game that was played in Detroit, but only as a spectator. He remembers wishing that he was on the court, competing against the Trotters with the other All-Americans, but he kept his amateur status and finished his senior track and field season.

A significant accolade, that the author has yet to confirm, is Brown's claim to have been named a Sepia Magazine 1957 College All-American. If the claim proves to be true, Brown will be in very rare company, as only four other PSL products had earned College All-American status in basketball at that time (5).

On April 17, 1957, the NBA conducted its annual draft. When the Minneapolis Lakers selected Brown in the 4th round, Brown earned the distinction of being only the third DPS alumnus ever drafted by an NBA team. (Blaine Denning was the first; Detroit Central's Werner Killen, of Lawrence Tech, was the second.) Unlike today, when the draft is hyped for months and covered on television, Brown learned of his being selected the next day in the newspaper. He did not hear from the team until a week or two later when he received a letter.

The Lakers were very active on that draft day. In addition to selecting nine other players in the draft, they made a seven-player trade. The Lakers sent Clyde Lovellete and Jim Paxson, the father of future NBA players Jim and John Paxson, to the Cincinnati Royals. In exchange, the Lakers received the rights to Rodney "Hot Rod" Hundley, who would become a two-time all star; Bob Burrow; Ed Fleming; Don Meineke; and Art Spoelstra. (Spoelstra may be familiar to hoop fans in Michigan because he played his high school ball in Godwin Heights, Michigan.)

Before the season started, the Lakers made one more significant move. On September 12, 1957, the Lakers traded 7-foot Walter Dukes, who played for the Harlem Globetrotters before he made his NBA debut, to the Detroit Pistons for 6-foot-9 Larry Foust and cash.

By trading Dukes, the Lakers now had two African Americans in its preseason camp: Ed Fleming and Brown. The number two is very significant for that time in the NBA's history. Whether by a mere coincidence or by design, during the slow integration of African Americans into the NBA, there was a perception or practice which has become known as the "two-fer" rule. In a nutshell, when the League finally BEGAN to racially integrate during its fifth season of 1950-51, it was some time before any team had two African Americans on its roster at one time. The practice of two blacks per team became known as the "two-fer" rule.


Two things need to be emphasized at this point. First, the chances of an African American making the NBA, as Brown did, and remaining in the NBA were very unlikely. During the season of 1957-58, only 15 African Americans appeared in an NBA game, three of these 15 players did not play the entire season, and two of these three played fewer than five games (6)! The second point is that the Harlem Globetrotters rosters had been and continued to be loaded with NBA-caliber-talent, not just entertainers or clowns. The claims that these men were denied an opportunity to play in the League due to their skin color is supported by the fact that when the League did integrate, the Harlem Globetrotters were one of its favorite sources. The first four African Americans ever to play in the NBA were one-time Harlem Globetrotters, and 18 of the first 31 African Americans ever to play in the NBA came from the Globetrotters. This does not include men such as Wilt Chamberlain and Connie Hawkins who played for the Globetrotters BEFORE playing in the NBA.

When Brown reported to the Lakers' camp at the University of Minnesota, he found it to be rugged but less daunting than he had expected. Brown recalls excelling at camp and scoring well in the preseason games. These preseason games, by the way, were played mostly in non-NBA towns. Brown felt so confident of his preseason play that he even wrote a letter to Bob Kendricks telling him that the other guys weren't that great and that he should not be surprised to see Brown starting.

The Lakers that season were coached by Hall of Fame player George Mikan, who stepped down in mid-January, long after Brown's release. Brown learned that Mikan had become aware of Brown when an NBA scout had attended the Washington (MO) game in St. Louis. Even with the limited playing time, Mikan told Brown that the scout told him that Wayne University had a "sleeper" he needed to draft.

Despite the good word from the scout and Brown's fine preseason play, his playing time was shockingly non-existent when the season opened. In hindsight, Brown guesses that this was possibly due to two incidences with Laker teammates. Even though listed at 190-pounds, Brown said he had beefed up to around 225-pounds. He had become a rugged rebounder in college, and on two occasions his Lakers teammates experienced this ferocity first-hand, or first-elbow. Both Art Spoelstra and Dick Garmaker ended up with broken noses, thanks to "nothing personal" George Brown elbows.

Brown is uncertain about the impact those accidents had on his career with the Lakers and openly wonders what role his race played in the "very-slow-to-integrate NBA." In any event, when the regular season began, Brown dressed but sat on the bench during the first games of the season. Under some serendipitous circumstance, Brown's NBA debut occurred in Minneapolis on October 30, 1957. October 30 was his 22nd birthday, and while wearing uniform number 22, he played his first and only regular-season NBA game against his hometown Detroit Pistons.

By making the team and appearing in a regular-season NBA game, Brown became only the third DPS graduate ever to appear in an NBA game. (Howard McCarty, of Detroit Northwestern and Wayne (State) University, was the first, appearing in 19 games for the 1946-47 Detroit Falcons; and the aforementioned Blaine Denning, who appeared in one game for the 1952-53 Baltimore Bullets, was the second (7).)

In six minutes, Brown was 0 for 2 from the floor, 1 for 2 from the line; and he grabbed one rebound and committed one foul. The Pistons won the contest, 115-96.

By Monday, November 4, Brown was told that he was being farmed out to the Harlem Globetrotters, thus ending his NBA career (8). This move did not help the Lakers, who finished a league-worst 19-53.

Brown did not have long to watch the plight of the Lakers because within days, he was a Harlem Globetrotter, practicing with the team in Chicago and preparing to set out on the road with the Trotters’ third unit. Brown's teammates were Stanley "Chico" Burrell, as the Clown Prince; Chuck Holton, as "the dribbler"; Bailey Robertson, the brother of NBA legend Oscar Robertson; Herb Smith; Oliver "Catfish" Rollins; Norman Lee; and Hallie Bryant. The unit was coached by Donald “Ducky” Moore and, sometimes, Robert “Babe” Pressley. The unit was accompanied by the Philadelphia sports announcer Dave Zinkoff, who was the unit’s secretary, and batonist Benny Schirtzinger, who provided halftime entertainment.

Brown’s season with the Globetrotters began with a United States tour that began in Chicago, went through Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, through the Lower Peninsula and into Ohio, over to Pennsylvania, and as far south as West Virginia. The unit then turned around and took a similar, but slightly different route back to Chicago.

The part of the season played in the States was very demanding. The team traveled in cars and vans, played seven days a week-—sometimes twice a day on weekends--and often slept only a few hours in ratty hotels before moving on to the next venue. The team generally rented a few rooms and the guys just "flopped out," napping and playing cards, before getting back on the road. It was only in the bigger cities that the team did not immediately leave town. In the big cities, Brown would room with Oliver "Catfish" Rollins. They would stay a night or two and play at least one game a day. The travel schedule was so frantic that they would regularly buy and discard their underwear instead of washing them.

One of the more memorable locales during Brown’s North American tour was Brown’s Hotel in Charleston, West Virginia. This long and thin hotel reminded Brown of buildings he had seen in Boston, Massachusetts, but the similarities ended there. Brown's Hotel had been divided into many cubby-hole-like rooms and had butane heaters which shot flames through the walls for heat. The walls had gone without repainting for decades, and the flaking paint and dry wood made the place such a firetrap that Brown allowed himself to sleep only one hour.

After returning to Chicago, his unit then flew across the Atlantic Ocean to play in the Mediterranean area on the U.S. Military installations’ 1957 Christmas Tour. Along the way they played in numerous places including the Azores, Libya, Tripoli, Madrid, Morocco, and Portugal. One account speaks of Brown wowing the fans in Casablanca with his longshots.


One of his more memorable moments with the Trotters occurred while playing a game on an aircraft carrier somewhere across the globe. The story actually begins decades earlier when Brown was "the new kid" at Trowbridge School and the school's gang took offense to his presence. The first day he simply ran away; but from then on he used the false story about having to meet daily with the assistant principal about the safety patrol. This allowed him to be released before the gang was let out. Ultimately, Brown caught one of the gang members alone and "dusted him up pretty good," as Brown put it in 2007.

Well, one of the gang members was now an enlisted man who was stationed on the aircraft carrier. Fortunately, when the soldier rushed down to the court, a shocked Brown found the unexpected encounter to be friendly.

The unit next flew to U.S. Military installations in the Caribbean area. Brown remembers his unit’s stops in the Bahamas and St. Thomas; but by the time they had arrived in St. Thomas, Brown was on crutches, weakened by an ailment that had his weight and energy dropping at a very rapid rate.

By January, Brown's unit was playing the eastern and mid-Atlantic coast. George "Meadowlark" Lemon's main unit and Bobby "Showboat" Hall's unit focused on the west coast. Hall, it should be mentioned, hailed from Detroit Russell School and played a record 27 years with the Globetrotters.

By this time Brown had already played his last game with the Trotters. Due to his condition in St. Thomas, the Trotters had flown Brown to Chicago, and he immediately went home to Detroit. When he arrived at his doctor’s, he was a gaunt 165 pounds. His doctor prescribed painful, weekly B12 shots and a quart of milk a day. The shot sites varied from hip to hip, shoulder to shoulder, before the locations were repeated. This continued for an entire year! He also was told to stay away from basketball for one year.

Brown did not return to the Globetrotters for the 1958-59 season, but he did compete in the highly competitive Michigan Chronicle Brewster-Sunday. Even while undergoing the painful B12 therapy, which left him sore all of the time, Brown won "Player of the Year" honors and was a first team All-League selection as a member of the Art's Snack Bar/Art's Grill team. Other first team selections were Jim Boyce (Detroit Northwestern), Downbeat Barber Shop; Henry Hughes (MPBL), Metropolitan Assurance; Clarence Straughn, Jay Gee's; and Roland Dungen (Detroit Pershing), Nacirema, who played with the Goose Tatum All-Stars.

The Brewster-Sunday league included other great players, including many with professional ties. Chester Hicks, Eugene "Torch" Lawson, and Jimmy Reed (Detroit Miller) were Goose Tatum All-Stars. Ed "Stone" Stewart (Detroit Miller/Northeastern) played in the Midwest Professional Basketball League (MPBL), and Walt Owens (Detroit Northwestern) played professional baseball in the Negro Leagues. Charlie Primas was, of course, a former Globetrotter. Ralph Simpson, Sr. (Detroit Northern), the father of American Basketball Association (ABA) and NBA great Ralph Simpson, Jr., played and was a load at 6-foot-5 and 265 pounds.

In April, Brown returned to the Flint Tourney as a member of the Carling's Beer team. This team included Michigan State great Bob Anderegg and University of Michigan star M.C. Burton. Burton led the Big Ten in scoring and rebounding this year, and was also known for being the brother of Harlem Globetrotter and NBA player Ed Burton. The other Carling teammates were Tarpon London, who played in the MPBL, a Morrow, a Manley, a Yates, and a Crickmoore.

The Carling's team advanced to the finals where they met a Jay Gee's team that was loaded with Detroit talent. Jay Gee's included Ernie Wagner, Charlie Primas, Murphy Summons, and "Jumpin'" Johnny Kline. The Jay Gee's also had Jim Boyce, Ramon "Spike" Wilkinson (Detroit Moore School), Clarence Straughn, and James Westbrook. Carling's, which played the championship without Anderegg, lost, 65-64.

In August, Brown was a captain and played in the first annual Noah Brown Invitational Summer Basketball Tournament, which was played outside at the Kronk Recreation Center. This tournament was played four-on-four. Sixty-four players were invited; and the teams were captained by Walt Owens, Johnny Kline, Fred Snowden, who eventually became the head coach at the University of Arizona, Charlie Primas, Charles Boyce, Jack Lowry, and Charlie North.

Some stars of this impressive tourney were Charlie Primas, John Kline, MVP Ernie Wagner, Andy Shepard, who was another Harlem Globetrotter, Ramon "Spike" Wilkinson, Charlie North, Jim Hester, Roland Dungen, Eugene "Torch" Lawson, and NBA Hall of Famer and Major League Baseball player Dave DeBusschere.

Brown was now completely recovered from the ailment that caused him to leave pro ball, but his unceremonious release from the Lakers and the rigors and low wages of the Globetrotters caused Brown to forever give up a return to those two employers. Instead, Brown continued his hoop career during the 1959-60 season in the Michigan Chronicle Brewster-Sunday League on George Gaddy's Collegians.

One of his most noteworthy teammates with the Collegians was Reginald "Rickey" Ayala. Ayala was the first African American ever to play basketball at Michigan State University and was also a former Harlem Globetrotter.

In January of 1959, Brown scored 47 points in a 109-68 win over Michigan Barber College. The Michigan Chronicle incorrectly reported this as a new league record, topping the record of 46 scored by Murphy Summons of Theresa's Bar-B-Que in 1953. In reality, Brown's 47 was now second to George Gatewood, who scored 53 for Garfield Lounge during the 1953-54 season (9).

Brown finished the nine-game season having scored 194 points for a 26 ppg average to win the league's scoring title. He was also selected to the first team of the league's All-Star team, along with Allen "Jocko" Hughes, Metropolitan, who played in the North American Basketball League (NABL); Henry Hughes (MPBL), 5th Avenue Hat Shop; T.Z. Tenille (Detroit Northeastern), Arthur's Clothes; and John Kline, Jay Gee's. Other greats in the league this year with pro connections were James Westbrook (MPBL), Tarpon London, Charlie Primas, Bob Kendricks (Detroit Cass Tech), Walt Owens, Ed "Stone" Stewart, and Webster Kirksey, plus Rabon McHenry, and Don "Zip" White (Detroit Northern), who each played with Goose Tatum's All-Stars.

In April, Brown played in the Noah Brown One and Out Tournament for a talented Thorne Tire team. Brown averaged a tournament-high 24 ppg and led his team to a championship. This team of 6-foot-10 Tarpon London, 6-foot-5 Jim Boyce, 6-foot-3 Bob Kendricks, 6-foot-1 James Westbrook, and Brown defeated Metropolitan, 97-82, for the championship.

The relationship with Thorne Tire put Brown in the position to help the University of Michigan land some great players. The Thorne Tire owner was a backer of the University of Michigan and sponsored the school's game broadcasts by buying advertisement time. When he asked Brown to recommend players for the struggling Wolverine program, Brown suggested Bill Buntin and his stepbrother, John Harris. (Harris would end up playing at Michigan, after transferring from Alcorn (MS) State College.)


In August, Brown played in another highly competitive Detroit recreation situation as he played in the Noah Brown Weekender's Invitational at the Kronk. Kelley's Bar featured Charlie North, 6-foot-10 Bill Chmielewski (NABL), Maurice McHartley (Detroit Central and ABA); and Dave DeBusschere. The Collegians had Willie Scarborough and 7-foot Reggie Harding (Detroit Northeastern/Eastern and NBA/ABA). Jay Gee's had John Kline, 6-foot-9 Ira Harge (Detroit Northeastern and ABA), and Charlie Primas. Michigan Barber College had David "Smokey" Gaines (Detroit Miller/Northeastern and Harlem Globetrotters/ABA).

During the following season of 1960-61, Brown reentered the ranks of professional basketball, joining the Cook’s Texaco Oilers, which was an independent professional team that represented Zeeland and Holland, Michigan. The Oilers won most, if not all, of their games. (The Oilers opened the season 19-0.) The Oilers, in the third year of their existence, took on teams from Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, and Michigan, as well as notable barnstorming teams such as Marques Haynes’ Harlem Magicians and William “Rookie” Brown’s Harlem Satellites, among others.

Brown also competed for a third straight year in the Sunday-Brewster League; and for the second straight year, he led the league in scoring. As a member of the 5th Avenue Hat Shop, Brown averaged 26.5 ppg.

Brown was again selected as first team All-League along with Allen "Jocko" Hughes and Paul Dean, both of Midge’s Grill; Bill Buntin (NBA), Checkmates; and Bob Kendricks, Jay Gee's. Other stars from the league with pro connections were Henry Hughes, Ed "Stone" Stewart, "Marvelous" Mose Montgomery (Detroit Northeastern/Northern and Goose Tatum All-Stars); Tarpon London, Charlie Primas, James Westbrook, George "Baby" Duncan, Willie Scarborough, Walt Owens, and Tyrone Douglass (Detroit Miller and Goose Tatum All-Stars).

In August, Brown played for the Collegians in the Weekender's Championship at the Kronk, alongside Reggie Harding, who was commuting to games from a prep school in Nashville, Tennessee. These two teamed with the 6-foot-5 Lawrence Hall (Detroit Northern and Goose Tatum All-Star) to form a formidable front line. The tournament also included Charlie North, Ira Harge, and Bob Kendricks, among others.

Brown began the following season (1961-62) playing with the Collegians in the Weekender’s Championship tourney. The Collegians advanced to the title game; and Brown's free throw, after the buzzer, sent the game into overtime. Unfortunately for Brown, the Collegians fell to Jee (Jay) Gee's in the extra stanza, 90-81. The tournament was again loaded with talent. The stars with pro connections included Bob Kendricks, Charlie Primas, George "Baby" Duncan, Ira Harge, Fred Prime (Detroit Mumford and MPBL), and Eugene "Torch" Lawson.

Brown also enjoyed a great professional season playing in the Midwest Professional Basketball League (MPBL). He played for the Toledo Twisters and was selected to the first team of the league's All-Star team. The Twister finished in third place, with a record of 8-6.


One highlight of the 1961-62 season was a game in Gary, Indiana, against the Whips, when Brown wowed the crowd by hitting five straight hook shots. A second interesting note was the mid-season addition of 6-foot-9 Bevo Francis to the Twisters. Francis was a highly publicized scorer, having made national news at Rio Grande (OH) College by scoring 116 points versus Ashland (KY) Junior College and 113 points versus Hillsdale (MI) College. A third noteworthy occurrence of this season was the folding of the American Basketball League (ABL) and the subsequent absorption of the ABL’s top talent into the MPBL. The latter event made Brown’s first team All-Star selection even more impressive.

Brown wrapped up the season appearing in a celebrity all-star doubleheader at the Franklin Settlement. John Kline, Charlie Primas, former Boston Celtic Ben Swain, and John Bradley (MPBL) were the big names.

During the MPBL season of 1962-63, Brown suited up for the Grand Rapids Tackers. Brown’s team finished 12-8, good for second place, behind his former team, the Holland Oilers. Brown averaged 15.2 ppg and 8.7 rpg and earned second team all-star honors.

The six-team league included more than 20 players who had played in either the NBA or the ABA or with the Harlem Globetrotters. The Holland Oilers had Ed Burton (NBA/HG), Frank Burks (HG), Reggie Harding (NBA/ABA), Jim Ligon (ABA), Ralph Wells (NBA), Jeff Slade (NBA), Bill Scott (ABA), and Shellie McMillon (NBA). The Grand Rapids Tackers had George Brown (NBA/HG) and Nick Mantis (ABA). The Toledo Tartans had Larry Siegfried (NBA), George Patterson (NBA), and Corkey Devlin (NBA), as well as Reggie Harding (NBA/ABA) for two games. The Dayton Mickeys had Joe Buckhalter (NBA/HG), Joe Roberts (NBA), and Bailey Robertson (HG). The Chicago Bombers had Vernon McNeal (HG), Jackie Fitzpatrick (HG), Govoner Vaughn (HG), Max Jameson (HG), Mel Davis (HG), Mannie Jackson (HG), who became the owner of the Harlem Globetrotters, and Ralph Wells (NBA) for three games.

During the following season (1963-64), Brown again played in the MPBL; but that season he joined the Battle Creek Braves. As Brown's production dipped to 9 ppg and 5.7 rpg, the Braves struggled, finishing the season with a record of 8-11. At the halfway point of the season, Brown led the league in free throw shooting percentage, hitting on 27 of his 31 attempts.

As was true in years past, many of the league's players had NBA, ABA, or Harlem Globetrotters on their resumes. Grand Rapids had Nick Mantis (NBA) and Hershell Turner (ABA/HG). Holland had Ed Burton (NBA/HG), Frank Burks (HG), and Jim Darrow (NBA). Battle Creek had George Patterson (NBA), George Brown (NBA/HG), and John Cox (NBA), who had played against Brown in college as a member of the Kentucky Wildcats. Chicago had Vernon McNeal (HG), Porter Merriwether (NBA), Willie Thomas (ABA/HG), Ralph Wells (NBA), and Ken McBride (NBA/HG).



The 1964-65 season marked the final year of Brown's high-level competitive athletic career. He played in the Brewster-Sunday League for Broadway Clothes, which also featured the brother combination of Ken and Arnold Nevels. Both were two-sport athletes at Dillard (LA) College. Ken, who attended Detroit Chadsey; and Arnold, who had attended Detroit Northwestern, eventually played professionally in the NABL.

Brown's career has not been completely forgotten. In 1983, Wayne State University recognized his greatness in basketball and track and field by inducting him into the school's Athletic Hall of Fame. In 1997, the Black Legends of Professional Basketball recognized Brown at the University of Detroit's Calihan Hall for his contributions to professional basketball.

This pioneer of basketball retired from teaching in 1998, but he continues to work in the field of real estate. Though the years have shrouded the glimmer of his career, the facts of Brown's achievements and the contributions that he made to the game are timeless for those who care to know.





Notes

1. George Brown's biological parents separated before he was ever able to form any memory of his father. When Brown was 45 years old, he was reunited with his father by a total coincidence. One of Brown's friends was visiting New York City when his friend's car broke down. Brown's friend asked a man that seemed trustworthy to recommend an honest mechanic. The man offered to drive Brown's friend to a garage in New Jersey; and during the drive, Brown's friend shared that he was from Leland, Mississippi, and now lived in Detroit. The man mentioned that his son use to live in Leland and now lived in Detroit, too. The man told Brown's friend that his son's name was George Brown and asked if he knew him. Brown's shocked friend said, "Yes," and produced Brown's business card. He said, "He's a realtor. You can call him."

2. A third Globetrotter from Detroit with a unique name circumstance was Murphy Summons. Murphy was born into the Summers family, but an error on his birth certificate recorded him as Murphy Summons. Throughout his high school and pre-military Globetrotter career, Murphy was known as Murphy Summers. After the military, Murphy was known by his legal name, Murphy Summons.

3. The original Cass had its cornerstone laid in 1860 and opened in 1862 as the Cass Grammar School. It burned to the ground on November 16, 1909. The next Cass reopened on the exact site of the first Cass building, on March 20, 1912. This three-story building later became Commerce High School. The third Cass opened in 1922. This is the Cass that Brown attended.

4. Godfrey, who eventually was inducted into the Michigan Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, became a captain of Michigan State University's basketball team and was a pitcher on its Big Ten championship baseball team. After college, Godfrey was signed by the Detroit Tigers.

Gatewood attempted to hoop at the University of Detroit and Ferris State, but he was never able to become academically eligible. Nevertheless, the man they called "The Swinging Gate" for his ability to shoot accurate hook shots from the foul line with either hand, was one of Detroit's greatest high school players of all time.

Gatewood’s contemporaries paid tribute to his greatness in the December 28, 1957, Michigan Chronicle. Gatewood was a first team selection on the "Top Negro High School Cagers of Past Decade" list, which was selected by legends Will Robinson, Noah Brown, Joe Duplessis, Ennis Stafford, and John Glover. This list included Globetrotters Sammy Gee (Detroit Miller), Blaine Denning, Ernie Wagner, and Charlie Primas; Goose Tatum Harlem Roadking Charlie North; and Chuck Holloway (Detroit Northern), who played in the Canadian Football League after lettering in basketball, track, football, baseball, and rugby during his years at Fullerton (CA) Junior College and the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA).

5. The first two college all-Americans from the Detroit Public Schools were Ernie McCoy and Joseph Truskowski who attended the University of Michigan. Ernie McCoy graduated from Detroit Northwestern; and Joseph Truskowski, who later changed his name to Truske, was from Detroit Northeastern. Both were named to the 1928-29 Christy Walsh Syndicate All-American team. John Kline was named a 1953 Our Sports All-American. If reports are true that Harry Rusan was a college All-American in 1932-33, that would make Primas the fifth college All-American from Detroit. Charlie Primas was named a 1954 Abe Saperstein College All-American.

6. The following are the 15 African Americans to play in the NBA during the 1957-58 season: George Brown, Nat Clifton, Walter Dukes, Ray Felix, Ed Fleming, Bob Hopkins, McCoy Ingram, Sam Jones, Earl Lloyd, Willie Naulls, Worthy Patterson, Dick Ricketts, Bill Russell, Woody Sauldsberry, and Maurice Stokes.

7. Howard McCarty actually played in the league under its original name, the Basketball Association of America.

7. 8. Brown had one more brush with the NBA. During one of the two preseasons when “Red” Rocha was the head coach of the Detroit Pistons (1958-59 or 1959-1960), Brown would scrimmage with the Pistons in the preseason. The Pistons worked out at the Boys Club on Michigan Avenue in Detroit, and the 6-foot-10 Tarpon London, who was working for the Pistons in ticket sales, was invited to bring some players to camp to scrimmage the team. Brown recalls that fellow Detroiters Dickie “Garter Snake” Crenshaw, a former Harlem Ambassador, joined London and Brown in these games. Though he is not certain, Brown thinks that Paul Dean, James Westbrook, and Fred Prime (Detroit Mumford) were the others. Brown claims that his teammates regularly beat the Pistons and that Rocha spoke to Brown about joining the team. Brown is uncertain whether the Pistons ever contacted the Lakers about acquiring his rights, but the Pistons never followed up. (Brown never contacted the Lakers or any other NBA team; but a Brewster Center referee, with New York roots, did write the Syracuse Nationals, on Brown's behalf, although the Nationals never responded.)

9. During this same season, Allen "Jocko" Hughes (Detroit Miller) scored 50 points in a 115-56 exhibition win over Michigan Barber College. Gatewood's record continued to stand until the 1963-64 season when Virgil "Tennessee" Watkins (Detroit Northern) scored 63 in a Cole Erwin-St. Mark's 171-27 victory over Flat Rock.
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Re: George Raff Brown, Jr.

Postby MCT » Thu Dec 06, 2007 7:58 pm

Two things need to be emphasized at this point. First, the chances of an African American making the NBA, as Brown did, and remaining in the NBA were very unlikely. During the season of 1957-58, only 15 African Americans appeared in an NBA game, three of these 15 players did not play the entire season, and two of these three played fewer than five games (6)! The second point is that the Harlem Globetrotters rosters had been and continued to be loaded with NBA-caliber-talent, not just entertainers or clowns. The claims that these men were denied an opportunity to play in the League due to their skin color is supported by the fact that when the League did integrate, the Harlem Globetrotters were one of its favorite sources. The first four African Americans ever to play in the NBA were one-time Harlem Globetrotters, and 18 of the first 31 African Americans ever to play in the NBA came from the Globetrotters. This does not include men such as Wilt Chamberlain and Connie Hawkins who played for the Globetrotters BEFORE playing in the NBA.

[note 6]The following are the 15 African Americans to play in the NBA during the 1957-58 season: George Brown, Nat Clifton, Walter Dukes, Ray Felix, Ed Fleming, Bob Hopkins, McCoy Ingram, Sam Jones, Earl Lloyd, Willie Naulls, Worthy Patterson, Dick Ricketts, Bill Russell, Woody Sauldsberry, and Maurice Stokes.

One thing that I've come to understand about the NBA's integration process, which I don't think I really appreciated until I joined the APBR list, is how slowly the NBA integrated. While the NBA had its first black players in 1950, eight years later there was still an average of less than two black players per team -- and that's counting some players who only appeared in a very small number of games. No more than a handful were really stars (though Brown's comments on his time with the Lakers certainly provides anecdotal evidence that some of these players could have played a more significant role if given the chance to). The arrival of Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and Oscar Robertson over the next few years would open the door a bit wider.

Bill's comments about the Globetrotters raises an interesting question: where do you think the Globetrotters stood talent-wise (their top-tier squads, anyway) relative to the NBA, throughout the first 20 years of the NBA's existence? I haven't studied the Globetrotters in great detail, but my perception is that in the '40s they were regarded as one of the top pro teams around, and that by the '70s (with virtually all top black players then in the NBA) they had probably eroded to a minor-league level talent-wise. At what point do you think they ceased to be an NBA-caliber team? It would seem that even in the mid-to-late '50s, with so few blacks in the NBA, they were probably still NBA-level, but declined thereafter as most black stars went into the NBA. Were they still perhaps on par with a bad-to-medicore NBA team in say, 1965? I would think the bottom finally dropped out in the late '60s with NBA expansion, the arrival of the ABA, and further increases in the numbers of blacks on major-league teams, culminating in the NBA eventually becoming a majority-black league.
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Postby Dementia Man » Fri Dec 07, 2007 9:25 pm

Professional basketball in the 1950s, when black players were at last being slowly "blended in" to the NBA, was a bruising, physical battle based on half-court offenses. To really succeed, teams needed a dominant big man in the pivot -- a first-rate rebounder -- hence Boston's capital effort to sign Russell.

While the Trotters generally had good shooting forwards, and occasionally a good rebounder (Nat Clifton, Willie Gardner), they were not NBA quality across the front line ... a fact that was exposed in the subsequent games of the Laker series. The Trotters could shoot, though, perhaps better than any NBA team ... but only on the rare night was a bunch of 15 and 20-foot shooters going to contend with a hefty, board-crashing front line such as was generally the case in the NBA. Defense was not a Globie long suit, either ... as they never had to worry about it except in the World Series.

Remember, the heart of the Trotters' clowning was in the pivot (Goose, Meadowlark, Hall, etc.). In competitive series, like against the better College All-American squads (before Saperstein began choosing them in more selective fashion), the Trotter clowns sat down and "spring pickups" like Chuck Cooper (1950, '51 and '52), and Clifton (1953, '56) would take over ... A young Walter Dukes was along in 1954 and '55, but it would be several years before he matured into an NBA-quality player -- and then never as a top rebounder. Goose Tatum, in the last of his quality years, 1950 and '51, was around to provide points AND clowning, but with his height (6-2 1/2) was never going to be a board threat.

And so the Trotter teams depended on their speed, their passing and their shooting skills (Clarence Wilson, Josh Grider and Andy Johnson were three of the greatest set-shot artists in the game's history) and J.C. Gipson, another part-time clown, was a pretty fair all-around player in his own right -- and could shoot for a guy sized 6-8.

That was good enough to get by most of the World Series collegians with relative ease -- as long as the crowd didn't demand too much funny stuff -- but not good enough to compete with the better NBA clubs.

When Saperstein could not sign, first, Ray Felix, then Mo Stokes, and then Russell, and only could effect a short lease on Chamberlain's services, the end was nigh. By the time Baylor and Robertson were installed in NBA uniforms, the halcyon era of the black barnstorming team was at its end.

Of course, you can look at it another way: How might the Trotters have fared, had they abandoned barnstorming and, outright, joined the NBA? They were good athletes, and basketball savvy, so I suspect their defense would have shored up ... but, again, their downfall would likely have been on the boards -- and in the pivot, where people like George Mikan, Russell, Bob Pettit, Clyde Lovelette, Larry Foust, Arnie Risen, Ed Macauley, would be dominant over the long run.
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footnote #9

Postby luckyshow » Sat Dec 08, 2007 12:35 am

footnote 9 is ambiguous. Was the "Same season" for the Allen "Jocko" Hughes 50 pt game mentioned 1953 when Gatewood scored 53 or 1958-59 when Brown scored 47??

Also, his team seems not mentioned for Jocko Hughes and his 50. Or did I miss it?

Anyway, this is how I put the above mentioned high scoring games in a list. Is it right?:

Michigan Chronicle Brewster-Sunday League
63 pts. Virgil “Tennessee” Watkins, Cole Erwin-St. MArk's (W 171-27) Flat Rock, 1963-64
53 pts. George Gatewood, Garfield Lounge, 1953-54
50 pts. Allen “Jocko” Hughes, team? (W 115-56) Michigan Barber College, 1958-59 (exhibition game) [1953?]
47 pts. George Raff Brown, Jr., Art's Snack Bar/Art's Grill (W 109-68) Michigan Barber College, Jan. 1959
46 pts. Murphy Summons, Theresa's Bar-B-Que, 1953
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How Good Were 1960's Trotters?

Postby cagewriter » Sat Dec 08, 2007 3:29 am

The pre-'65 teams had to be pretty strong. Connie Hawkins was an ABL MVP, and could move and put it on the floor for a 6'8". Bobby Joe Mason was a consensus All-American at Bradley- Abe's press guide writeup on him was not hyperbole. Geese was a national scoring champ, Fred Neal, an all-CIAA guard, had scored 23 a game at Johnson C. Smith before Carolina Negroes were welcome in the ACC. Hilliard, Hunter and Tex could play w/ anyone. Jackie Jackson averaged 23 rebounds at Virginia Union- though his height would have limited to the guard position in an NBA offense. Jackie could, however, guard the small forwards on NBA teams of the era.

Lemon and Hall wouldn't play much vs. an NBA squad. The significant dropoff comes after 1966. Too many trees such as Wilt, Bells, Russ, Lucas, Reed, Beatty and Thurmond in the NBA by then.

A poster wrote "...Clarence Wilson, Josh Grider and Andy Johnson were three of the greatest set-shot artists in the game's history..." So was Ermer Robinson- the late 1940's and early 1950's teams, quarterbacked by Haynes, were among the best in the world. The losses of Clifton and Cooper hurt them in the area of post defense (given Dukes' shortcomings and lack of heft).

BCB
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Re: How Good Were 1960's Trotters?

Postby MCT » Fri Dec 28, 2007 11:15 pm

cagewriter wrote:A poster wrote "...Clarence Wilson, Josh Grider and Andy Johnson were three of the greatest set-shot artists in the game's history..." So was Ermer Robinson- the late 1940's and early 1950's teams, quarterbacked by Haynes, were among the best in the world. The losses of Clifton and Cooper hurt them in the area of post defense (given Dukes' shortcomings and lack of heft).

I take it this is the same Ermer Robinson who coached the Oakland Oaks of the ABL during the 1962-63 season? I noticed the name recently while looking at the ABL page on the APBR web site but had never heard of him before. To the extent that the ABL was a "sort of major league", and John McClendon was the first black coach at that level, was Robinson then the second? Or did the ABL have any other African-American coaches besides McClendon and Robinson?
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ABL coaches

Postby rlee » Sat Dec 29, 2007 2:51 am

MCT asked re: whether there were other black coaches in the ABL in addition to McLendon & E. Robinson.

No, but the coaching roster is an interesting collection:

1st year: Andy Phillip, John McLendon, Bill Sharman, Red Rocha, Jack McMahon, Neil Johnston, Stan Stutz, Phil Woolpert, Kevin O'Shea, Al Brightman

2nd year: Ron Sobie, Al Brightman, Johnny Dee, Neil Johnston, Mario Perri, Ermer Robinson
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Re: George Raff Brown, Jr.

Postby Jon Scott » Sat Dec 29, 2007 3:15 am

rlee wrote:Below is a great new bio of George Brown, Jr by APBR member (and Detroit basketball historian extraordinaire) Bill Hoover. We thank him both for the awesome research and the gracious acknowledgements.

........

Wayne then advanced to the Central Region at the University of Iowa. Here, Wayne met the number 9 ranked University of Kentucky team that was coached by Hall of Fame legend Adolph Rupp and featured future NBA players John Cox, Jerry Bird, Vern Hatton, and Bob Burrow. Wayne led at the half; but after Brown fouled out early in the second half, Wayne spiraled down rapidly. Kentucky ended up winning, 84-64.


For anyone interested, here are some photos from that game.


Image

#19 is George Brown and #18 is George Duncan (per the former Wayne State SID)

Image

This photo shows Brown guarding UK's Vernon Hatton. Below is the link to the boxscore and game summary. UK's center Bob Burrow was the high scorer with 33 points. The game summary states:

"After the game had been tied for the seventh time at 40--40, the Wildcats suddenly caught fire and before the second half was 10 minutes old had streaked ahead to a 16-point lead, 60-44.

Whatever chance Wayne had was squelched in this drive when the Tartars' star center, George Brown, fouled out at 11:56 of the second half. Brown was the tallest Wayne regular at 6-5 and without him the Tartars were overwhelmed under the baskets."


http://www.bigbluehistory.net/bb/Statistics/Games/19560316WayneState.html

Jon
Jon Scott
 
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