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Last modified: Wednesday, November 7, 2012

IU to honor Bill Garrett, the first African American to play basketball in the Big 10

Nov. 7, 2012

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University will mark the 65th anniversary of the first men's basketball game involving an African American player in the Big Ten, IU's Bill Garrett, during the IU-North Dakota State University game on Monday, Nov. 12.

Garrett, who died in 1974 at the age of 45 of a heart condition, frequently demonstrated remarkable courage and strength of character in the face of open hostility from fans and players on other teams who did not welcome his presence on the playing court.

It was his strength of character as much as his playing skills that enabled Garrett to break the unwritten agreement barring blacks from Big Ten play.

IU Director of Athletics Fred Glass and IU Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs Ed Marshall will present a framed jersey with Garrett's number and a commemorative print to Garrett's children, grandchildren and other family members.

A poster will be distributed free of charge to the first 5,000 fans in attendance. Garrett also will be remembered with a video showcasing his achievements on and off the basketball court.

"Bill Garrett was not only a great basketball player, he was a hero of the American civil rights movement, and he deserves to be recognized for that as well," Marshall said. "Indiana University is extremely proud of the contributions of Bill Garrett on and off the court and is pleased to honor him on this 65th anniversary for what he did as both a basketball player and as a person who helped energize the struggle for inclusive excellence."

Garrett led the team in scoring and rebounding each year from 1949 to 1951 (freshmen did not play on the varsity squad in those days). He led the Hoosiers to 19-3 record and a No. 2 ranking in 1950-51, when he also was chosen as IU's most valuable player.

The Shelbyville, Ind., native was selected as an All-American player in 1951, the same year he graduated from IU. The Boston Celtics, making him the third African American ever drafted by an NBA team, drafted him. But Garrett was called to serve in the U.S. Army and two years later signed a contract with the Harlem Globetrotters, playing with them for three years.

After his playing days were over, Garrett taught and coached basketball in Indianapolis at Wood High School and at Crispus Attucks High School, where he led the team to a state championship in 1959. He was assistant dean for student services at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis at the time of his death.

Within a year of Garrett's graduation from IU, six other African Americans were on Big Ten basketball rosters.

"Bill Garrett left such a strong legacy that it could never be reversed," Wally Choice, IU's second African American basketball player, told Tom Graham, author of "Getting Open," a book about Garrett.

He was inducted into the IU Athletics Hall of Fame in 1984 and the Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame in 1974. IU's game against NDSU is part of the Progressive Legends Classic.