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Murrel BlandMurrel Bland
The University of Kansas Jayhawks won’t be going to the Final Four this year. The University of Michigan Wolverines knocked off the Hawks 87-85 in regional action March 29 in overtime. It was a heart-breaker for true-blue Jayhawk fans such as the Boss Lady and myself.
I would put that most recent game in the same category as the one in 1957 when the Jayhawks lost in the national championship game to the North Carolina Tar Heels 54-53 in triple overtime.
KU was supposed to win both games; however, according to the NCAA format rule, only the team with the perfect tournament record wins.
I couldn’t help but recall a very interesting story about the 1957 game and KU’s star player, Wilt (The Stilt) Chamberlain. He carried the guilt of the North Carolina defeat until he returned to Allen Field House in Lawrence in 1998 to retire his number 13.
There were certainly other reasons why Chamberlain’s return to KU took so long. Despite the attempts of the KU hierarchy to integrate Lawrence and other parts of Kansas, racism was still very much alive in the 1950s. And there were KU fans who were upset because he left early to play for the Harlem Globetrotters when he could have stayed at KU and finished his senior year.
In those days, a college basketball player could not play in the National Basketball Association until his college eligibility expired. I recall a newspaper editorial commenting about Chamberlain’s early departure. It said that it was his prerogative to leave early, but that it was unfortunate he left before neither Allen Field House nor the Kansas Turnpike was paid for.
I recall that Saturday in January 1998 when Chamberlain came back for a halftime ceremony. I was fortunate enough to be in the stands. Max Falkenstein, the long-time radio announcer who helped call KU games, introduced Chamberlain. Falkenstein cited a number of Chamberlain’s NBA records including the only player to score 100 points in a game.
Chamberlain first started to apologize for losing that North Carolina game that cost KU the national championship. In the next few minutes, it was obvious that fans let him know he didn’t need to carry the guilt of that loss. And somehow, Chamberlain forgave those who might have harbored racial hatred. Chamberlain and everyone in Allen Field House were on their feet with tears in their eyes.
“Rock Chalk, Jayhawk,” Chamberlain said as he ended his talk.
After the game, Chamberlain signed autographs for everyone who was waiting.
Murrel Bland is the former editor of The Wyandotte West and The Piper Press.