Jerry Harkness, civil rights activist and captain of the 1963 Loyola Men’s National Basketball Championship team, died on August 24 at the age of 81, Loyola athletics officials confirmed in a statement. Press.
Harkness led the team to the 1963 NCAA Championship game as one of four black starters on the roster. Despite the discrimination – including receiving letters from the Klu Klux Klan and having to travel separately from the rest of the squad – the group were dominant on the pitch, averaging almost 94 points per game.
In the Game of Change, Harkness was one of four Black Loyola starters to play in the NCAA Regional Semifinal game against Mississippi State University. Although laws prohibited the Maroons from playing in integrated teams, the team snuck out of town to face the Ramblers.
“The impact he had on racial equality was unprecedented,” said Bill Behrns, deputy director of athletics for Loyola. “He probably doesn’t get enough credit for the things he’s done in this arena as opposed to the credit he gets for his accomplishments in the basketball arena.”
The All-American double was drafted by the New York Knicks in the 1963 NBA Draft and went on to play two seasons for the Indiana Pacers in the American Basketball Association (ABA). He holds the record for the longest shot ever made in a professional basketball game in the United States with his 92-foot shot in the Pacers’ 1967-68 season.
“We all have a heavy heart at Loyola today,” Loyola’s men’s basketball head coach Drew Valentine said in a press release. “Jerry was a true trailblazer not only in basketball, but in so many different backgrounds, and the impact he had was immeasurable.”
After his basketball career, Harkness went on to work in business and broadcasting, even becoming the first African-American salesperson for Quaker Oats. He has also been named to the Loyola Athletics Hall of Fame, New York City Basketball Hall of Fame, Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame, and College Basketball Hall of Fame.
“As soon as I learned the history of the 1963 Ramblers basketball team, Jerry became one of my role models,” Loyola goalie Lucas Williamson said in the press release. “He will be sorely missed and will be forever remembered as one of the best to wear a Loyola jersey.”
Harkness is survived by his wife, Sarah, and children, Jerald and Julie. Funeral arrangements are pending.
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