Dick Barnett refused to let history forget his incredible journey

If the name Dick Barnett it tickles your memory a little, you are probably a lakers fan, and not young. Or, more likely, you are a Knicks fan.

If the results of the 1957, ’58 and ’59 Tennessee A&I basketball teams trigger recognition, consider yourself one in a million, a sports fanatic.

But there’s a story there, and no matter what your age or sporting interests, it’s worth knowing. It is more than just basketball success, and is told in a documentary film called “The Dream Whisperer”. The First Look will be presented Saturday at 7pm at the Pan African Film & Arts Festival, in a theater complex at Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza.

Barnett is the “Dream Whisperer”. He is also the former Lakers guard he played with Jerry West Other Elgin Baylor from 1962 to 1965. To awaken your memory, think of a skinny, left-handed jumper who kicked his legs backward as he went wild. Think of a long, emaciated face of a man who bore the nickname “Skull” because, well, he looked like it. You can also think of the player, an ace sixth man most of the time, who was traded by the Lakers to the New York Knicks, infuriating West and ending up helping the Knicks win their only two NBA titles (1970 and 1973). . The Knicks have beaten the Lakers both times.

Lakers manager Fred Schaus, second from left, congratulates Rudy LaRusso, Dick Barnett and Jerry West

Rudy LaRusso, left, coach Fred Schaus, Dick Barnett and Jerry West celebrate after the Lakers won the Western Division to advance to the 1965 NBA Finals.

(Associated Press)

The N. by Barnett The number 12 shirt now hangs from the rafters of Madison Square Garden.

The heart of this story is not the Lakers, or the Knicks, or the West, nor the many celebrity voices the film features, such as Phil JacksonWalt Frazier, David Stern, Julius Erving, Bill Bradley, Al Sharpton and the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It’s the story of Barnett, as former Knicks star and US Senator Bradley calls it, “a ‘ incredible tenacity “.

Before turning pro, before being drafted fourth overall by the Syracuse Nationals in 1959, Barnett played for the Tennessee A&I Tigers, a school in Nashville that is now Tennessee State. His team has won the NAIA (National Assn. Of Intercollegiate Athletics) championship three times in a row, and it’s only been five years since all-black schools were even allowed to compete in any national basketball tournament, the which meant that their presence would complement the competition. The Texas Western Miners, with five black starters, stunned the college basketball world in 1966 by beating Pat Riley’s Kentucky in the NCAA final. The A&I Tigers had won a national title a decade earlier and had done so three times.

But it turned out that traction that the three peat had little in the world of sports. The NAIA division included a group of smaller schools, and the sports world was more tied to Disneyland than Branson, Mo.

By the mid-1970s, Barnett had finished his NBA career. He had torn an Achilles tendon and the doctors had told him he might never play again. “I started thinking about what I was going to do for the rest of my life,” he says.

It was a burning question because education brings you places in life and Barnett hardly had any. Raised in the opulence of Gary, Indiana, he was a bad student at Roosevelt High, but a basketball player good enough to lead his team to the Indiana State Finals, where he lost to Crispus Attucks High and someone named Oscar Robertson. . Barnett was from the ghetto and expected to stay there.

“The only white people I ever saw in Gary were the police,” he says.

One day, a man named John McClendon, who would become a Hall of Fame coach, offered him a scholarship to play for him at Tennessee A&I.

“I’ve never heard of this place,” says Barnett.

With no better options, he went, became team captain and was the main player of A&I’s three-year NAIA.

Elgin Baylor of the Los Angeles Lakers makes his way through Bill Bradley of the New York Knicks

Elgin Baylor of the Lakers makes his way between Bill Bradley of the New York Knicks, left, and Dick Barnett on May 1, 1970, at the Forum.

(Associated Press)

When basketball ended, he knew school was the next step, the only step. While he was with the Lakers, he made the trip to the west side of Los Angeles to take classes at Cal Poly Pomona and eventually returned to finish his physical education degree there. He followed this up with a master’s degree from New York University in public administration and a doctorate from Fordham in education. So it was Dr. Richard Barnett, professor and author of over 20 books, who stopped one day with the knowledge that there was something else he needed to take care of: getting his NAIA three-peat team into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

It shouldn’t be difficult, he reasoned. His team had reached this incredible milestone in the middle of the Jim Crow era of southern state laws legalizing apartheid. He and his teammates had to stay in private homes when they went for matches. After winning their first NAIA title, Barnett ran back to downtown Nashville to attend a sit-in at a restaurant counter where blacks weren’t allowed. The people of the Naismith Hall of Fame would hear all of this and, in a new world of racial understanding, quickly decide to honor this team.

His first attempt was in 2011. He was turned down then and every year for the next seven. It has become more of a campaign for Barnett; closer to an obsession. “It was a story that needed to be told,” says Barnett. “People were dying. This was a team that would have been lost in history. “

in 2011, George Willis of the New York Post wrote a column on Barnett’s efforts.

“I’ve never heard of it,” Willis says. “I thought the state of Tennessee was a football school.”

The 2019 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame class, or their representatives, pose for a photo in Springfield, Mass.

The 2019 Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame class, or their representatives, pose for a photo in Springfield, Massachusetts. Left to right: Chuck Cooper III, who accepts on behalf of his late father Chuck Cooper; Susan Braun, who accepts on behalf of her future father Carl Braun; Al Attles; Vlade Divac; Ron Coville accepting on behalf of his father-in-law, Bill Fitch; Bobby Jones; Sydney Moncrief; Jack Sikma; Dick Barnett for Tennessee A&I; Linda Price for Wayland Baptist; Teresa Weatherspoon; and Paul Westphal.

(Jessica Hill / Associated Press)

In 2016 Willis wrote again. “My theme was, ‘What takes so long?’”

Former Atlanta Hawks owner Ed Peskowitz read Willis’ first column. He called a director friend, Eric Drath. For eight years, cameras have followed Barnett, who is now 85 and walks with a cane.

“When he finally brought the team into theaters in 2019,” says Willis, one of the documentary producers, “there were a lot of films.”

At the 2019 ceremony in Springfield, Massachusetts, his friend West stood on the podium next to Barnett, shook his hand, and gave him his acceptance speech. Barnett had reached the top of his mountain climb and the NBA logo was there to celebrate with him.

West said this week that he will be at Saturday’s screening of “The Dream Whisperer,” adding that it will be nice to watch something accurate and positive. It would be a reference to his current battle with HBO on her portrayal of him in the current “Winning Time” series. West, through his attorneys, has he asked for a retraction and an apology from HBO.

“The series made us all [the Lakers] they look like cartoon characters, “says West.” They thought something good. If I have to, I’ll take this all the way to the Supreme Court. “

Even that probably wouldn’t have taken as long as his friend Barnett’s journey to Hall of Fame recognition for a team of basketball legends few knew. At least until now.