The top 16 sports-themed music videos We ranked them on two major factors: song popularity/relevance and the quality of the sports theme acted out

What are the best sports-themed music videos ever created? A simple question, but one that appeared to go unanswered when doing a casual stroll of the internet.

These aren’t videos in which the artist is just wearing a jersey, these are the videos in which a sport is being played.

On Wednesday, Space Jam celebrated its 21st birthday, and from that movie we were blessed with some memorable sports-themed music videos. But that got a few of us at The Undefeated thinking about what would rank as the best sports-themed music video and then what would the rest of the list look like.

Thanks to sports/culture writer Justin Tinsley, strategic analyst Brittany Grant, associate video producer Morgan Moody and audience development editor Marcus Matthews, here’s what we came up with after two days of discussion.

The list ultimately was decided and ranked on two major factors: song popularity/relevance and the quality of the sports theme acted out in the video. Other contributing factors were considered for where songs should be placed.


16. used to This/Future ft. Drake

Both Future and Drake are up there in terms of artists who’ve been putting out hits consistently over the past few years (They have a whole album together, and Future gave us our national anthem, “March Madness.”) That being said, “Used to This” took the last spot because it was essentially “Best I Ever Had.” The only difference was the women who were dressed like they were about to play soccer instead of basketball, and slipping on a jersey and having women stretch for three minutes does not make for a strong sports-themed video.

15. best I Ever Had/Drake

We don’t have to say too much for this song. Yes, “Best I Ever Had” was hot when it came out, but even the actresses in the video said, “All you taught us how to do was stretch.” That “Used to This” kind of took from “Best I Ever Had’s” example of having women in uniforms stretching but not actually playing is the only reason it didn’t come in dead last on this list.

14. space Jam/Quad City DJ’s

We wish somebody would tell us Space Jam had a better video than “Hit ‘Em High.” We would hee-hee and keke like we’ve never done so before in our lives. Just how does the song named after the movie not have a better video? And that was one of the reasons “Space Jam” received such a low ranking.

Crumping on a basketball court and doing a little shoulder shake doesn’t make for a sports-themed music video. If we’re keeping it a stack, the song is kind of riding on the movie’s coattails. The sports portion of the video comes exclusively from snippets of the movie.

Otherwise, we’d have a music video of referees and dancers twerking and break-dancing. Look, if Michael Jackson can play basketball against Michael Jordan, Space Jam could’ve come up with something.

13. jam/Michael Jackson

Jackson made a whole video playing basketball in his dress shoes. He played a short game of H-O-R-S-E against the best basketball player in the world, Michael Jordan, and then he tried to teach Jordan how to dance. Iconic. You had to know that eventually both of the most famous people with the MJ initials would work together, and look at God not disappointing.

Then we come to find out that Jackson is later in the video playing in the 5-on-5 game on that random court inside the warehouse. We have questions, like tons, about why such a pristine court is just chilling in a warehouse.

12. basketball/Kurtis Blow

Kurtis, Kurtis, Kurtis, why were your teammates randomly fighting in the middle of the game? More importantly, why did they decide that instead of your standard square up, they were going to pick kung fu as their fighting technique of choice? Like one of these dudes brought out nunchucks and another had a stick. This is a really violent brawl, and we couldn’t identify anything that happened to warrant all that.

You’ve got dunking in the sky, but the game is being played at night. Just what’s the truth? Kurtis, even you looked confused. The cheerleaders were also mad basic, and if you’re going to have a video start with them, they had at least better be coordinated.

But points were given for the players wearing Converse shoes, maintaining hair throughout all of that action and Blow rapping straight facts about the history of the game.

11. movin’ On/Mya ft. silkk the shocker

Since we’ve mentioned several videos on this list that used cheerleaders as background pieces in their video, consideration was given to Mya doing the inverse in “Movin’ On.” We can argue about whether cheerleading is a sport another day, because at the end of the day, a whole basketball game was being played in the background.

Mya was at peak popularity in the late ’90s and early 2000s, and not only did she not care that home boy scored the game winner, she cheered her life away, gave the most “I can’t be bothered” eye rolls to ol’ boy and then drove off with her new boo. Look up the definition of unfazed in the dictionary and that last 30 seconds of “Movin’ On” will be patiently waiting for you.

10. pop Bottles/Birdman ft. Lil Wayne

Y’all out here drinking champagne with a few seconds left in a close game? Y’all wild. And seeing as that was really the only sports scene acted out in the video, points had to be deducted.

If you just take a second to think about the sheer number of tracks that Wayne was featured on in 2007 and until he released Tha Carter III, the production is crazy. There wasn’t a feature Wayne didn’t like during that stretch.

Now, going back to “Pop Bottles,” most people know that when a sports team wins a championship, the players celebrate by popping bottles of champagne, spraying it on one another — it’s a whole mess. But in a way, since Wayne and his teammates were drinking champagne before he hit the game winner, that tells you just how much confidence they had that they were going to win. We’re talking “Wipe Me Down,” “gas tank on E, but all drinks on me” levels of confidence.

9. basketball/Lil Bow Wow ft. Jermaine Dupri, Fabolous and fundisha

Any video that includes Fabolous making four or five jersey switches deserves an automatic place in the top of any sports-themed music video ranking. And the basketball played in Lil Bow Wow’s cover of Kurtis Blow’s “Basketball” was far and away better quality, which is why it received the higher ranking.

That dude playing basketball in Timbs with socks up to his knees nearly knocked this thing down a peg, but fashion in these videos isn’t a deal breaker. The chain-link net also added some points to the overall score.

8. fight Night/Migos

Quite frankly, “Fight Night” couldn’t have had a music video that was anything other than a boxing match. Facts. You’re not going to have a song with that title and talk about Rocky, float like a butterfly, sting like a bee, and not have the music video showing a boxing match. You’re bugging otherwise.

But that wasn’t the scenario the Migos gave us. The fight looks like it was fought in Las Vegas, they had a weigh-in and news conference, and the main event was spliced together with a dramatic, classic opera score.

During the fight itself, we’re most impressed with how these women’s edge control maintained and how their eyebrows remained fleeky throughout the bout. Wow, their faces withstood water and sweat, so it must have been the tears of God in their setting spray bottles, because their makeup was undefeated in that fight.

7. hardball/Lil’ Bow Wow ft. LiL Wayne, Lil Zane & Sammie

So instead of playing a baseball game on an actual grass field, these cats played on a blacktop diamond in front of fans wearing basketball jerseys to a baseball game. They wore baggy jean shorts and baggy oversized baseball jerseys and sported eye black, which is commonly used in football and, to a lesser degree, baseball. But, hey! At least they had the bat flips down pat.

This song came out in 2001 when Sammy Sosa, Ken Griffey Jr. and Barry Bonds were at their respective peaks. Sosa gets a cameo in the video, while Griffey is mentioned throughout the song. So sort of similar to our top pick in terms of a black athlete having a tremendous rise at that time and playing off it.

6. I Don’t F— With You/Big Sean

Big Sean real live threw the ball to the defender on the opening play of the video. That ball was absolutely nowhere near his intended receiver. We hate that the only football-themed video in this list had to start like that.

How was Big Sean the No. 1 recruit in the nation, and with four minutes left on the clock he’s throwing ducks? The plot did not do this video any favors, but after some debate, it was important to remember that, ultimately, he did lead the black team back from a 24-14 deficit with less than four minutes to play. He also hit that O button hard to spin past that would-be tackler for the game-winning touchdown.

Kanye West as your coach, E-40 as the announcer and Teyana Taylor as a cheerleader were all winners for their respective roles in the video. Overall, the cheerleaders didn’t do a whole bunch for the culture as much as the ones in our top five, so the video was docked points for that.

As for the cultural impact, Big Sean just made a song about a mood a lot of people were already on. The song was a whole mood driving, playing sports, for that one co-worker you’ve got. Big Sean really had a banger with this one that anyone could relate to.

5. Hit Em High/B-Real, Coolio, Method Man, LL Cool J And Busta Rhymes

“Hit Em High” was the best song from Space Jam. Don’t @ us. And it was without question the best music video of the songs from that movie. And if for whatever reason you can’t look at that track’s lineup without feeling the need to pick up a basketball and find the nearest blacktop, then we truly have nothing to talk about.

If we had to imagine a theme song and the video to accompany it for the Monstars theme song, this black-and-white video with black-and-white jerseys, a black-and-white court and fans wearing nothing but black-and-white clothes shot with a fisheye lens at points would be it.

We shouldn’t have to spell out Space Jam‘s credentials to y’all, BUT if we must, this movie blended the Looney Tunes (some of the greatest cartoon characters from childhood) with the greatest basketball player of all time (Michael Jordan) and turned out a timeless classic. You didn’t need to know exactly how Jordan was going to win that game, you just needed to know that the man WHO NEVER LOST A SINGLE NBA FINALS wasn’t about to lose in this movie either.

4. take It To Da House/Trick Daddy ft. Trina

A historically black college and university style band to kick-start the video? A full house doing the wave — we cannot tell y’all how much we wish this song came out after the “Swag Surf,” ’cause that is black people’s version of the wave.

Cheerleading captain Trina leading the “Sha walla, walla, sha bang, bang, sha walla, walla, slip-n-side thing, what, what, shut up” cheer? And an epic comeback that’s complete with a missed free throw that is dunked so hard it shatters the glass to win the game.

And the beat slapped? Oh, Trick Daddy DID THAT with “Take it to Da House.”

3. batter Up/Nelly, St. Lunatics

A whole run was scored because of a pit bull intimidating the pitcher and umpire. The national anthem starts: “The fish don’t fry in the kitchen, beans don’t burn on the grill.” The scorekeeper is using the grease from St. Louis-style ribs to keep the score. And the trophy has a gold rim on the top.

We genuinely don’t believe that the video could’ve been any more St. Louis if Nelly had wanted it to. A woman had a weave made of a baseball mitt and baseballs all sewn in, and that wasn’t even the least believable thing in the video.

The twerking on the mascot, oversized pants, outfits made completely of denim and the “U-G-L-Y” chant are perfectly early 2000s.

2. make Em Say Uhh/Master P Ft. Fiend, Silkk The Shocker, Mia X & Mystikal

When I look at this video, I genuinely wonder why in the world it appears Master P is playing against his own teammates. And because part of the ranking is based on the actual sports scene being played out, “Make Em Say Uhh” took a tumble in my original ranking.

However, my co-workers insisted the cultural relevance, the fact that Master P dominated the latter part of the ’90s and, as Morgan Moody put it, “Master P had a tank on a basketball court!” should absolve him of that. I mean, if I don’t question the gold tank in the opening scene and the gorilla, then dunking on your own teammates is forgivable.

Master P also got points for having Shaquille O’Neal in the video going crazy after he alley’d to himself and, as Rembert Browne put it in his 2013 Grantland article, “The best cheerleading section. They make the Compton Clovers look like the cast of Pitch Perfect.” Can’t forget wearing do-rags for street basketball either. That was crucial here.

1. mo Money Mo Problems/The Notorious B.I.G, Puff Daddy, Mase

Mase Gumble as the color commentator, Puffy Woods winning the Bad Boy World Champion PGA Tour, and that spectator was spot on when he said, “He’s unstoppable” before that iconic beat drops.

Forget 10 years later as Puff Daddy (P. Diddy) said in the video, 20 years later, “Mo Money Mo Problems” is still on top. And the fact of the matter is that thanks to “Mo Money Mo Problems,” Notorious B.I.G. achieved two posthumous No. 1 singles. The first was “Hypnotize,” which hit the top of the Billboard charts on May 3, 1997.

First off, Puff went with a golf theme, playing off Tiger Woods’ triumph at the 1997 Masters, so the video won points for going with a sport that black folks aren’t traditionally associated with. Second, Hype Williams is still a genius for the fluorescent-lined tunnel, the pressurized air chamber to which we’re immediately introduced and those dancers high-stepping as the fireworks go off. And if you don’t know the story behind the red leather suits, June Ambrose revealed the conversation that led to Mase and Diddy sporting those bad boys to The FADER in May 2016.

“Listen, without the risk-taking, there are no trends being born. So, I didn’t have a choice. It was my job to forecast what the trends were going to be, not follow them. Did I know that it was going to be such a big hit? Yeah. I knew that it was going to work.”

Rick Fox loves his yoga, his Tar Heels and the Gorillaz The actor and NBA analyst has a championship spirit about acting, the men he played with, and family

There’s of course Rick Fox the basketball player. The Rick Fox who led the UNC Tar Heels to the Final Four in 1991. The one who won three consecutive NBA championships with the Los Angeles Lakers. He wore purple and gold for seven seasons, all while playing alongside a guy whom he calls his good friend. You may know that friend — his middle name is Bean. But there’s also post-NBA Fox: the actor/analyst/producer/esports mogul Ulrich Alexander “Rick” Fox. He began acting while still playing for the Lakers, but his career blossomed after appearances on HBO’s acclaimed and loved Oz. Fox now pops up on screens both little and big: Single Ladies, Dancing with the Stars and Dope, and he even played himself on The Game. Fox now has a recurring role on OWN’s Greenleaf. He portrays a handsome (of course) reporter assigned to cover scandals that revolve around Calvary Fellowship World Ministries. This is all besides his duties as an NBATV studio analyst. The Toronto-born renaissance man of Bahamian descent talks about his favorite apps, what he’s like during March Madness — and where he gets that hair cut.

What’s the craziest lie you ever told?

I don’t lie.

Where do you get your hair cut?

I have someone who comes to my house. Gilbert [Muniz] comes to my house whenever he’s available. He’s pretty busy. He’s been cutting my hair for about five years now, and his career has really taken off. I’m happy for him, but it makes it harder for me to have those haircuts when I need them.

Describe yourself during March Madness.

I get excited for my Tar Heels. I always want them to win.

What’s one app that you love that nobody else loves?

Well, I think everyone loves Postmates. The one app that may be gaining traction with people: MINDBODY. That connects me to all my yoga classes anywhere when I’m traveling around the U.S. Same with my Workplace app. Workplace connects me with all my employees. Those two are my favorite. Postmates I wear out, though.

What is one album you think is a classic that nobody else does?

The Gorillaz’s Demon Days.

What’s one thing about yourself that embarrasses you?

I’m sure I get embarrassed. I don’t know [laughs]. I wonder if that makes you arrogant if you don’t have many problems. Yeah, I don’t really get embarrassed about stuff. I don’t take myself too seriously.

Who is your favorite athlete of all time?

Some of my teammates were my favorite athletes because I knew them personally. I admire them as men and fathers, and then on top of that their skill sets were just off the charts, and then we went on to win championships. So I wouldn’t say any particular one of them, but every guy who I played years with and won championships with at the Lakers, I think about them. And I think about our times together and I miss them, competing with them. They’re some of my favorite people in the world, and they had amazing, historical careers.

What’s the last museum you walked through?

It was the MoMA [Museum of Modern Art] in New York with my daughter for her birthday, which was pretty cool. It was her 16th birthday. But it was awesome, a pretty fun father-daughter day.

What is the last stamp on your passport?

The last stamp on my passport would be Seoul. No, the last one would be the Bahamas. We went home. That was family; business was Seoul.

“I don’t really get embarrassed about stuff. I don’t take myself too seriously.”

Where does your courage come from?

Probably my kids. Just the desire to want to protect them and raise them, nourish them. When you become a parent, you get courage from somewhere because you want your kids to be safe in the world. And you want to be an example and live a life to teach them some clarity about how to carry themselves: getting up, and suiting up and showing up, and being professional, being a man of character and truth and authenticity. Sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed for people, and I have those days — we all do. But I think of them, and that gives me the courage to really say what I need to say, do what I need to do and just live an authentic life. I think about them.

How an all-black high school team starring Oscar Robertson changed Hoosier Hysteria The Crispus Attucks Tigers are back in the Indiana state finals for the first time in 58 years

Long before there was March Madness – which is now a multibillion-dollar industry – there was the more localized phenomenon known as Hoosier Hysteria: the run-up to the Indiana state high school basketball championship.

High school basketball in Indiana has long been akin to religion. When I was playing at Indianapolis’ Crispus Attucks High School, Butler University Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, site of the final rounds of the tournament, was the cathedral. And the state title was and still is the holy grail.

Until 1997, all Indiana high schools, whether they had 100 students or 2,500, were in one single class and competed for the same title. No matter how poorly a school might have fared during the regular season, it got a second chance when the four rounds of the state tournament began.

Today there are four classes instead of one, ranked according to school size from 4A down to 1A. The tournament’s final rounds were moved from Butler Fieldhouse in 1971 and, since 2000, have been played in Bankers Life Fieldhouse, home of the NBA Indiana Pacers and WNBA Indiana Fever. And for the first time in 58 years, the Crispus Attucks Tigers are in the state final on Saturday, competing in Class 3A this time around. You can bet I’ll be there to cheer them on.

The bad, bad Tigers are back.

Breaking a 44-year drought

Before 1955, teams from smaller cities and towns, some so small they were barely on the map, routinely won the state title. No school from Indianapolis – Indiana’s largest city and its the state capital – had won the championship in 44 years of organized high school basketball.

But in 1955, our Crispus Attucks Tigers had an opportunity to change all that – because we were in the state’s Final Four for the first time.

Attucks had been a source of pride for Indianapolis’ black community ever since its doors opened. Our parents, our teachers and our community had taught us pride in ourselves, inner dignity and resilience in the face of adversity. Our school was known as much for its academic excellence as its athletic achievements.

We had lost only one game all season, and we were not going to lose this game. We were comfortable playing at Butler Fieldhouse, where we played many of our “home” games anyway. (Our school gym was too small to host basketball games.) And we were eagerly looking forward to the traditional champion’s ride on the fire truck and a big celebration downtown. Or so we thought, anyway.

No Indiana farm boys here

Butler Fieldhouse was packed with 15,000 fans on that Saturday night, but it seemed eerily quiet as we took the floor against Gary Roosevelt High School, led by burly center Wilson Eison and future NBA star Dick Barnett.

Even Attucks fans, confined as always to a corner of the fieldhouse and surrounded by police, seemed more subdued than usual as they cheered for their “bad, bad Tigers.”

For the first time, two all-black schools were meeting for the state championship. Not only might Indianapolis have its first state champion – Indiana would have its first all-black state champion. That would also be a first for the entire country.

The mythological image of Indiana basketball for many years was that of the skinny farm boy shooting at a rusty hoop nailed above the barn door. But there were no skinny farm boys on the court that night. Both teams were made up of kids who had developed their games on inner-city public playgrounds.

We had changed the game. We had proven emphatically that our up-tempo style of basketball could be just as effective as the plodding, feet-on-the-floor approach many coaches still favored.

And we thought we might have also changed the culture as well. Our fan base was now spreading throughout the city. Luke Walton, the radio play-by-play announcer, was now referring to us as “Indianapolis Attucks.” Perhaps we had opened a small crack in the walls of segregation and discrimination that stood at the time.

The Klan ‘brings us together’

From the time it opened in 1927, Crispus Attucks had been a segregated school. Front organizations for the Ku Klux Klan had pressured the Indianapolis school board into moving black high school students out of the general student population into a separate school of their own. All-black high schools were built in Gary and Evansville as well.

Even in the mid-’50s, the Klan had tremendous influence in Indiana politics, business and education. At one point, an estimated 25 percent of all white men in Indiana were members. One of the Grand Dragons of the Klan was based in Indianapolis, from which he oversaw a fiefdom of 23 states.

Our school was named for a man of color – part African-American, part Native American – who was the first casualty of the Boston Massacre in 1770 and by extension, the American Revolution. According to legend, the Klan marched past our school in a victory parade when the school opened.

But the move to segregate us backfired spectacularly at that time.

Attucks was overcrowded, and its facilities substandard compared with other schools. But most Attucks teachers had advanced degrees, and some had doctorates. Excluded from teaching at white schools, these dedicated men and women were determined to create a superior academic environment within the confines of a segregated school system.

Academics shaped everyone at Attucks

The impetus for academic excellence came from Russell A. Lane, Attucks’ principal from 1930 to 1957. He had a law degree and a doctorate in education, and believed that Attucks should set the standard for secondary school education. He expanded the curriculum accordingly, with college prep courses included.

Lane also emphasized cultural pride, discipline and respect. Athletes were students first and foremost, and enjoyed no special privileges. They were also reminded that any time they stepped on a court or an athletic field, they were representing not just Attucks, but the entire black community.

And while we may not have been aware of it at the time, our quest for a breakthrough on behalf of all-black schools was part of the larger social context of the mid-’50s.

The Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education had legally put an end to school segregation in 1954, although it would take years for the law to be fully implemented.

Earlier in 1955, Marian Anderson – denied the right to sing in Washington’s Constitution Hall 16 years previously – had become the first black artist to sing at the Metropolitan Opera.

Later that year, Emmett Till was brutally murdered in Mississippi, and his killers were never brought to justice. Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus and set off the Montgomery bus boycott that accelerated the civil rights movement.

Ray Crowe speeds up the game

On that evening in Butler Fieldhouse, however, all we were thinking about was winning a state championship. Attucks had come close once previously, reaching the final four in 1951 in Ray Crowe’s very first year as head coach.

For its first six years, Attucks was not allowed to play against member schools in the Indiana High School Athletic Association (IHSAA), and it took 15 years to gain admittance to IHSAA membership and the “Hoosier Hysteria” that was state tournament competition.

Before 1951, Attucks had been focused more on “legitimacy,” on gaining acceptance in the larger community. Its basketball teams played a technically sound but passive, nonconfrontational game so as not to upset anyone.

All that changed when Crowe, a math and physical education teacher, was promoted from assistant coach into the head coach position and, against all odds, launched Attucks’ period of greatest athletic success.

Crowe was totally on board with the Attucks philosophy of academic excellence above all else. That did not mean he was comfortable with the status quo when it came to basketball. He noted that “Some of the older teachers still thought we needed to avoid being too aggressive and confrontational. I needed to make them understand that the worst disgrace we could bring to the school was to lose when we had a chance to win.”

Crowe installed the more up-tempo style of play that his players were already playing on the playgrounds. It was faster, louder, more stop-and-go, more improvised – a style that, like jazz, allowed for individual excellence within a team context.

You had to be in great shape to play for Crowe. You ran on offense, pressed on defense. I think he had probably learned from the visionary coach John McClendon that you could play an all-out running game and score a lot of points while minimizing turnovers and maintaining discipline, good fundamentals and strong defense.

How the ‘Dust Bowl’ shaped our teams

 

My family – dad, mom, older brothers Bailey and Henry, and me – had moved to Indianapolis from the farms of central Tennessee in 1942, when I was 4 years old. Indianapolis was hostile territory if you were black. I was naïve about the depths of segregation in Indianapolis and in the world.

We kids being black, poor, and unwelcome outside our own neighborhood, our activities were pretty much limited to school, church, and sports. And basketball was the king of all sports. Guys played from sunrise to sundown.

There was a vacant lot near our house, and someone put up a backboard and a hoop. Our games would kick up clouds of dust, so the lot became known as the Dust Bowl. Even when we started playing on asphalt courts at the nearby Lockefield Gardens housing project, “the Dust Bowl” became the generic name for anywhere we played outdoors.

Players from Attucks dominated at both the Dust Bowl and the Senate Avenue YMCA, where indoor pickup games were played. The older players didn’t want to play with us younger kids, so we had to keep challenging them until we were competitive enough to stay on the court.

The Dust Bowl was the crucible in which my game was forged. I learned the importance of playing against people who were better than you, so you can learn from them and improve your own game.

Every moment we weren’t on the court, I was off to the side, working on my game. I started developing a side-step, fadeaway jump shot, releasing it above my head so it wouldn’t be blocked by taller players. I would even shoot at night by moonlight until the neighbors would tell me to go home.

Tom Sleet – coach, mentor, inspiration

I could practice all day and night, but I still needed someone to give me direction and structure. That person was Tom Sleet, who coached my seventh- and eighth-grade teams at Public School No. 17 and freshman basketball at Attucks. He taught us the critical importance of the fundamentals – that athleticism and gamesmanship, aka basketball intelligence – don’t mean anything unless you can execute consistently.

We learned how to pivot, how to box out under the boards, how to set a pick, how to pass and cut, how to move without the ball. Basically, we were running what is now known as the triangle offense in the seventh grade. Coach Sleet also emphasized the importance of defense and taught us how to play a tough, intense man-to-man game.

More importantly, he showed us how to become good citizens, and gave us self-confidence, a winning attitude and the encouragement to believe that we could succeed on the court and in other facets of life.

My first experience facing white players on the same court came when I was in the seventh grade at P.S. No. 17. In the eighth grade, we won the city’s first junior high school tournament.

People started taking notice, including Attucks coaches who were in the stands. Some of the older players at the Dust Bowl, seeing how serious I was about my game, started taking me under their wings and giving me helpful tips.

Following our tournament win, we got even more good news in our household: my oldest brother Bailey, better known as “Flap,” was chosen for Crowe’s first varsity squad at Attucks.

Flap was always a better shooter than I was. And where I was quiet and reserved, keeping my true feelings internalized, he was always vocal in speaking up for himself, which often put him at odds with his coach. He went on to star at Indiana Central University, setting an Indiana collegiate scoring record that stood for many years. Then he played for the Globetrotters and briefly for the NBA’s Syracuse Nationals and Cincinnati Royals, but I felt he never got the shot at the pro game that he truly deserved. He died much too young, in 1996.

Flap puts Attucks on the map

But Flap made a lasting contribution to the lore of Indiana high school basketball. His last-second shot capped a 10-point comeback against perennial powerhouse Anderson in the 1951 semi-state finals and put Attucks in the Final Four for the first time.

Even though the team lost in the semifinals and would not make it to the Final Four again for four years, this win was a turning point for Attucks basketball.

Attucks teams brought a new flair to the game, which horrified basketball purists. Having played pickup games at the Dust Bowl for years, they could play “positionless basketball” long before that term was in vogue. They had been further schooled by Sleet and Albert Spurlock, who taught industrial arts and coached track, cross-country and junior varsity basketball. All Crowe had to do was apply the finishing touches.

Crowe ran very few set plays, but his teams still played with discipline – focusing on team success, sharing the ball, working for good shots, deferring to the better shooters, playing within themselves without showboating.

And he emphasized that whatever the fans, your opponents, or the officials threw at you, you were to maintain your poise and composure. Keep your cool. He was not going to lose a game on a technical foul, and his players were not either.

Starting in 1951, Crowe’s teams were burned by bad calls in the state tournament three years in a row. He became determined that referees not be allowed to influence the outcome of a game. (This was a tall order, since there were no black officials in the Indiana Officials Association.) He stressed the need to build an early lead and keep it. His mantra was, “The first 10 points are for the refs … the rest are for us.”

He also allowed his tallest players to dunk the ball during warm-ups, alternating right and left hands, giving opponents a little preview of what they were up against before the game even began.

Attucks’ visually exciting style of play coincided with the emergence of television, and tournament games were now shown live statewide on TV.

I had seen very few varsity games up to this point. But when I watched Attucks beat Anderson on TV, I got a vision of what I could achieve.

Following in my brother’s footsteps

In 1953, Bailey graduated and went on to Indiana Central University. And, thanks to puberty and another summer of work on the farm, I grew from 5-8 to 6-3 and packed on some muscle. As a sophomore, I joined the junior varsity group lined up for tryouts. But Bill Mason, a senior guard I knew well from the Dust Bowl, kept beckoning to me. “Come on over here, Oscar,” he said. “This is where you belong.”

I was the last person chosen for the varsity, and assigned my brother’s old number, 43. Even if you were among the chosen, Crowe made it clear that your first priority was academics. All players from grades nine to 12 met in his homeroom first thing every morning. He called the roll and talked us through our homework assignments. If grades had been issued, he posted them for all to see. And then we were off to the other courses on our schedules. The day was interrupted by a second roll call at midday. The city fathers wanted to make sure we were all “in our place” and not out wreaking havoc.

I enjoyed school – the process of learning, the wisdom our teachers passed on, the personal attention and encouragement they gave us. I was naturally shy and did not raise my hand to volunteer answers, but I was ready if called upon. And bit by bit, I came out of my shell and learned to interact with people in settings other than the basketball court.

Stars Hallie Bryant and Willie Gardner had graduated along with my brother, and we were considered an unknown quantity for 1953-54. I was assigned to play forward and, sometimes the pivot as well. I came off the bench to score 15 points in our opener and started after that.

My game wasn’t yet as consistent as I wanted it to be, but we were winning – despite season-ending injuries to Willie Merriweather, Winford O’Neal and Sheddrick Mitchell, our three tallest and most talented players. By this point, I was assuming more of a leadership role, and coach moved me to guard so I could bring the ball up and create more movement on offense.

Even without our star threesome, we were still competitive till the very end of the season. In the semi-state finals, however, we lost 65-52 to tiny Milan High School, which was en route to a 32-30 championship win over perennial powerhouse Muncie Central, thanks to “the shot” by Bobby Plump.

And we took at least one small step on the culture side. As we advanced through the tournament, superintendent of schools H. L. Shibler arranged for cheerleaders from all the Indianapolis schools to join forces with our cheerleaders for the first time. That became a tradition from that point on.

1955 could be our year

As Attucks’ popularity grew, our “team without a gym” cut down on the road trips and began playing more Indianapolis schools – sometimes at the Arsenal Tech gym on the east side of town, and more and more often at Butler Fieldhouse. We could draw up to 11,000 people for our games, and were supposedly the best-drawing high school team in the country. The money went right back into improving conditions at our school.

Going into the 1954-55 season, our expectations were high. O’Neal had graduated, but Merriweather and Mitchell were back from their injuries. We had a solid, deep squad and another year’s experience playing together.

We finished the regular season 20-1, losing only at Connersville, where we had fallen too far behind to mount a comeback on their wet, slippery court and came up one point short. Then it was on to the sectionals, the regionals, and the semi-state, where we faced basically the same Muncie Central team that had lost to Milan the previous year.

Stealing the ‘game of the century’

Central and Attucks had traded No. 1 rankings all season long, and some of the media were calling this “the game of the century.” And it was a close, hard-fought battle. After numerous lead changes, Central had the ball for a last shot with 10 seconds left, but I deliberately played well behind my man and then leapt forward to steal the pass and seal a 71-70 win.

In the first afternoon game of the finals, New Albany put up a good fight, but we pulled away at the end and won 79-67. In the second game, Gary Roosevelt had its hands full with Fort Wayne North before winning 68-66.

Between the afternoon and evening games, neither Attucks nor Roosevelt teams were permitted to rest in Butler University’s dorms during the break, although white teams had always done so during previous tournament weekends. The Roosevelt players stayed with families in town, while our team was crowded into a downtown hotel room.

We figured Roosevelt would be tired in the second game, and we were right. We pressed them from the beginning, jumped off to an early lead and never looked back. We were up 21 at the half, and the only suspense was about whether we’d score 100 points. Final score: Attucks 97, Roosevelt 74.

Eison, who went on to be named Indiana’s “Mr. Basketball,” had 32 points and set a three-game tournament scoring record. I had 30 with a bit of time left, but when I saw a little-used senior forward named Willie Burnley open near the basket, I felt it was more important for him to get into the championship game scoring column than it was for me to tie the record.

A celebration denied

When the final horn sounded, we could not contain our jubilation as we raced onto the court. There’s a picture of me on a ladder, cutting down the net with a mile-wide smile on my face. But our win came with a bittersweet aftertaste.

As we climbed aboard a fire truck for the traditional ride downtown, followed by a caravan of our fans cheering for their “bad, bad Tigers,” we had a strange feeling about the trip.

And when we got to Monument Circle, we didn’t stop and get off and join our fans in celebration. There would be no downtown celebration. Instead, Mayor Alex Clark read a brief tribute, we took another lap around the circle, and then our parade was redirected to Northwestern Park in the black section near Attucks, where 25,000 people celebrated around a huge bonfire.

That’s when it hit me. It seemed like it was OK for us to win for the city, and bring pride to the general population, but we were still considered second-class citizens. I hung around for a while, but I wasn’t really in much of a mood to celebrate, so I went home.

Soon enough, we learned that city officials had called Lane before the finals and informed him that there would be no celebrating downtown. Merchants and city officials were concerned that if our “colored” fans were permitted to celebrate at Monument Circle, they would riot, loot and destroy businesses, shoot out the streetlights, and engage in all other sorts of unspeakable mischief.

Can’t bring back the thrill

Once we learned what the city fathers had done to us, I was furious. To this day, I cannot forget the pain of being rejected in my own hometown. Our Attucks championship teams have since been celebrated many times, but there’s no way to bring back the innocent excitement our group of deserving black teenagers – who had earned the traditional celebration – was looking forward to at that point in time.

The following year, when we won our second consecutive state championship, capping off an undefeated season and a record 45-game winning streak, I refused to take part in another bogus, second-class celebration, and just went home after the game.

It was obvious that if basketball’s popularity discouraged racial discrimination, the public at large still had not gotten the memo. Athletic excellence might change attitudes on a personal and cultural level, but it could not by itself end institutionalized segregation and discrimination.

Fortunately for history, Bob Collins, a sports reporter for the Indianapolis Star, accurately chronicled all Indiana high school athletic teams – including Crispus Attucks basketball – despite enduring continued harassment from whites.

And that first Indiana state championship remains one of the highlights of my playing career, along with the gold medal won by our undefeated 1960 U.S. Olympic basketball team and the Milwaukee Bucks’ first and only NBA title in 1971. Against all odds, we had accomplished something that could never be taken away.

The ‘bad, bad Tigers’ are back

Attucks’ success had unintended consequences. Middle-class blacks began enrolling their kids in schools other than Attucks, and those schools also snapped up the black student athletes who lived in their districts.

Despite his 179-20 record over seven years, and three consecutive trips to the state finals, Coach Crowe was never named Indiana Coach of the Year. Bill Garrett, a former “Mr. Basketball” who had been the first black player at Indiana University, succeeded Crowe as coach in 1957 and led Attucks to its third state title of the decade in 1959. Crowe had been promoted to athletic director when a new principal replaced Lane.

The traditional fire truck ride downtown was discontinued more than 45 years ago, when the state finals were moved from Butler Fieldhouse to Indiana University’s Assembly Hall.

Lockefield Gardens and the Dust Bowl no longer exist, having given way long ago to the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis and IU Health University Hospital.

Attucks was spared the wrecking ball but was downgraded to a junior high school, then became a medical magnet high school serving the hospital. For many years, its days of basketball dominance were but a distant memory.

But now the program has been rejuvenated, and I’m betting that Saturday’s visit to the state finals will not be their last. The “bad, bad Tigers” are back.

Daily Dose: 3/16/17 Could Congress benefit from a Rooney Rule?

It’s another radio days, kiddos. Today, the gang from The Morning Roast will be filling in for Bomani Jones from 4-7 p.m. EST. So, if you want to hear us pontificate about the NCAA tournament and other stuff, you should tune in!

Yeah, this travel ban isn’t going to happen. Why, because President Donald Trump’s people couldn’t stop going on television and talking about how effective their little executive order was going to be. Turns out, a lot of people watch the news, so all these remarks don’t just fly off into the wind. When it comes to court cases like this, trust that everyone is paying attention. Now, the day before the second ban was supposed to take effect, a court in Hawaii has struck it down. Trump has no idea what checks and balances are, so now he’s implying that the courts are overreaching.

We all know the Rooney Rule. It’s the mandate in place in the NFL that requires teams to interview minority candidates for head coaching positions, for the purpose of breaking the cycle of coaching in-breeding that pervades so many franchises. There’s been a fair amount of controversy as to whether this is necessary, but it has been at least marginally effective. Is it possible that such a movement could help in other places too, like, say Congress? It’s an interesting idea.

Speaking of hyperracist stuff, how about Hollywood, yeah? We all know that when it comes to actors of certain racial descent, the battle to not be stereotyped is extremely difficult. If you’re a person of Middle Eastern or South Asian heritage, many screenwriters don’t look at you as nothing more than just a funny voice. Sidebar: There’s a new season of Master of None on the way, which is awesome. That said, actor Kal Penn decided he was going to go back through some old scripts, just to see exactly how ridiculous this gambit is.

Brackets, brackets, step right up, and get yer brackets! I have to admit something: Before noon today, I hadn’t looked at a single one. A couple of years back, I took a pledge to stop filling them out and to just enjoy the basketball. So, this season, I took it a step further. I have no idea who’s in what region or anything at all. Let’s see if I can still enjoy this basketball tournament. Northwestern fans whose team has finally made it in to the big dance will be unbearable, but here’s who most people have their money on, in Vegas.

Free Food

Coffee Break: Feminism, when it comes to black women, isn’t exactly equitable. That also goes for things that strike us as more immediately dangerous, such as sexual assault. There’s a new study out that says white women feel less compelled to help rape victims if they think they’re black.

Snack Time: I try to avoid putting randomly stupid videos here, but the homey Macka B is just too strong. He raps about health food. I’m not even kidding. This banger will have you dancing at the juice bar. And I hate cucumbers.

Dessert: If you don’t know who Lee “Scratch” Perry is, do yourself a favor and check out this primer to his work.