Hunter, a black southerner, was behind Ireland all the way. "I wanted to run it up on those guys," he says. "We weren't just beating players. We were beating a student body, a system, the Klan. We weren't just playing a team, we were playing an ideology."
Hunter and Rouse had been recruited by Ireland from segregated Pearl High School in Nashville. Both had trouble adapting to life in an at least nominally integrated northern university. "Coming to Loyola was a tremendous adjustment for me," Hunter says today. "I'd lived in a segregated environment all my life. I didn't understand whites, and they didn't understand me. And Loyola, on the far North Side of town, was geographically wrong for us then. The girls we could date were on the South Side. It was hard even getting a haircut where we were. We got hassled by white gangs. How much more obvious could we have been, big and black as we were?"
"Retrospectively, coming to Loyola was one of the best decisions I ever made," says Rouse, who grew up in East St. Louis, Ill., and moved to Tennessee before his junior year in high school. "My father was a Baptist minister. Education was important to him, and academically Loyola was very good. I had professors there who didn't even know I played basketball. I liked that. Still, I don't think back on my college years as a happy period of my life. As a black and as a black athlete, I felt myself narrowly isolated in a white world. It was a physically and emotionally stressful time for me.
"We would play games when guys on the other teams were actually punching us on court. The only one who could respond to that was Jack [Egan]. And Jack would give it back to them. By the same token, if anyone attacked Jack, we were there. We were under tremendous pressure as a team, and George was under tremendous pressure as a coach. I think he was a little frightened, because at the time he was fighting for his job. He's such an intense person that he put pressure on himself and on us. He was a very difficult man. None of us really liked him very much, although I certainly can't fault his motives."
The player most disturbed by the racial tension was Harkness, the Ramblers' star. Harkness and guard Ron Miller were both recruited by Ireland from the Bronx. Harkness had been a middle-distance runner at De Witt Clinton High and hadn't played varsity basketball until his senior year. He had learned the game on the playgrounds and was recommended to Ireland by Walter November, a New York insurance man who organized and coached playground teams in his off-hours. Ireland's recruiting budget was not much more than $3,000, but he could afford one trip a year to New York, where November would set up interviews for him with players at the Manhattan Hotel.
Harkness had received no scholarship offers—"Nobody wanted me," he says—and, since his family subsisted largely on welfare, he couldn't afford to go to school anywhere on his own. But he impressed Ireland, both as a player and as a young man who was willing to work hard and learn. "Going to school was a struggle for me," Harkness says. "It didn't come easy, but I don't think I ever missed a class."
Harkness was lured to Loyola in part by the artful photographs Ireland showed him, which depicted the drab campus as some sort of exclusive resort on a picturesque little lake. Only when he arrived in Chicago did Harkness discover that the lake was, in fact, Lake Michigan. "George misled me," he says with a laugh. "But once I got there, I liked it. There were some lonely times, though. I didn't have many friends because there weren't many blacks on campus. And the racial thing really got to me in basketball. Les and Vic were from the South, so I think they handled it better. With me, it was all magnified. I guess I was a little more emotional than the others. I'd hear those chants, 'Our team is red-hot—yours is all black.' I'd hear that cursing and spitting. I could feel the anger. I saw some of those hate letters, too. I think all of that really hurt my game. And against those southern teams, I think I hurt the team. I don't think I handled the pressure very well. When we played Mississippi State, their captain, Joe Dan Gold, shook my hand before the game, and it became such a big thing. Flashbulbs were popping everywhere. But the trouble brought us together as a team, because we had a common enemy to fight. And I mean all of us, because we never thought of Egan as white. He was one of us."
It was a time when the civil rights movement was cresting, when racial violence in the South and in the northern cities was beginning to erupt, when sit-ins and freedom marches were headline events and when We Shall Overcome was almost as familiar a song as any performed by Elvis Presley. A preacher named Martin Luther King Jr. would tell the nation in 1963, "I have a dream...." and was considered a hero by some, a demagogue by others. It was perhaps fitting that in the climate of the times, two black-dominated teams should meet for the national collegiate basketball championship. As Rouse says, "There was a broader issue than just a game." And yet color was about all these two teams had in common. They didn't really even play the same game. And their coaches were polar opposites.
Ed Jucker likes to describe himself as "a man who has paid his dues." After graduating from Cincinnati, where he played baseball and basketball, in 1940, and serving in World War II, he spent five years coaching basketball at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., and seven years more as an assistant to Cincinnati coach George Smith. In 1960, Smith moved up to athletic director and Jucker was named the Bearcats' coach.
It was a most unpropitious time for a promotion. Smith had just won three, consecutive Missouri Valley Conference championships, had taken Cincinnati to the NCAA Tournament all three years and had built an overall record of 79-9 in that time—in large part because he had a player still considered by many to have been the game's best ever: Robertson. Before the Big O arrived, the Bearcats had never won a conference championship and had never had a black player. His phenomenal success—he set 14 NCAA scoring records in his three years of varsity competition—had attracted other black players to the heretofore lily-white campus, but none, of course, was remotely his equal in playing ability. And now he was gone. Worse yet, he had signed to play with the crosstown Royals of the NBA, taking with him not only his 33-plus points a game but also a 6,000 fans as well. Smith knew when it was time to move. Timing did not seem to be Jucker's strong suit.