Ronald Oram (34 in white) and Joe Allen (24) were two of the five black players on the 1966 Eastern New Mexico University team. (Courtesy photo: B.B. Lees)
By Jesse Wolfersberger: CNJ staff writer
The Disney movie “Glory Road” paints an inaccurate picture of 1966 Eastern New Mexico University, school officials said on Wednesday.
The movie is about Texas Western College (now the University of Texas-El Paso) and its head basketball coach Don Haskins during the 1966 season, when they became the first team with five black starters to win an NCAA Division I national championship. TWC beat an all-white Kentucky team in the finals.
That season, Texas Western opened its season against ENMU.
In the movie, which was No. 1 at the box office last week, the Miners won a close game against an all-white Eastern New Mexico State College team, then Eastern walked off the court without shaking hands in a sign of disrespect.
In reality, a Greyhound team with black players, including two black starters, lost to the Miners 89-38. Eastern coach Harry Miller, now 79, said it was memorable only because it was his first game as ENMU’s head coach.
Race was not an issue, Miller said.
“I didn’t think anything about it,” Miller said. “I don’t think that (Texas Western’s black starting five) became a big thing until the last couple of years.”
Miller, who coached the Hounds for five years, including to the NAIA national title in 1969, said he’s not seen the movie so he can’t comment on its portrayal of the Portales university.
“I do want to reiterate that there was nothing like (racial tension in that game),” he said. “… If it is like that in the movie, well, it isn’t true.”
Movie critics have reported “Glory Road” is not an accurate portrayal of the real Miners’ season in other areas as well.
“By the time the Texas Western Miners compete for the 1966 title against coach Adolph Rupp and the Kentucky Wildcats, you’ll half-expect Rosa Parks to sub in at point guard and chuck up the winning shot,” wrote a reviewer for the San Francisco Chronicle, who added the story “gets a real serious Disneyfication.”
Miller said it is true the teams did not shake hands after the season opener, but not because there was any bad blood.
“It wasn’t a custom at that time,” Miller said. “The NCAA didn’t implement that yet.”
ENMU Media Relations Director Wendel Sloan said he received a phone call from someone who had seen the movie and was upset with Eastern’s portrayal.
Sloan said he went and saw the Jerry Bruckheimer film that night.
“I paid special attention to the scenes with Eastern,” Sloan said. “Eastern had no black players on the court (in the movie) and I looked at the bench and there were no black players. That actually wasn’t true.”
Eastern’s five black players were Joe Allen, a 6-foot-3 center from Hobbs who was the Greyhounds’ high scorer against the Miners with 10 points; Jim Bridges, a 5-11 junior guard from Hobbs; Richard Coleman, a 6-5 sophomore forward from Buffalo, N.Y.; Ronald Oram, a 6-4 sophomore forward from Englewood, N.J.; and Wilson Watkins, a 6-3 junior forward from Indianapolis, Ind.
Oram and Allen were starters.
Miller said the thing he remembers most about playing Texas Western in ’66 was getting beaten — badly.
“They were tremendous, no question about it,” he said. “We were in complete awe.
“When we penetrated past the free-throw line — with a pass — Haskins called a timeout because we were getting too close to scoring,” Miller laughed.
B.B. Lees was ENMU athletic director from 1975 to 1997 and a football coach from 1956-66.
“We had blacks on our basketball team as early as 1962, and on our football team not long after,” Lees said. “Eastern was one of the first schools in the region to have integrated teams.”
Lees recalled one year when Eastern was playing Texas Western in Clovis. With the Miners enjoying a comfortable lead in the second half, Coach Haskins came up in the stands and visited Lees and his friends for awhile during the game.
“We never had any animosity toward them,” Lees said. “The year they won the national championship, we had almost as many blacks on our team as they did.”
Miller said Texas Western winning the national championship in 1966 was not as groundbreaking as portrayed in the movie. “There were several teams that won championships with a majority of black starters before then. I know for sure that Cincinnati won in 1961 or ‘62 with four black starters (Cincinnati won both years). The only thing different about Texas Western was that all five of their starters were black.”
Sloan said ENMU was not contacted by the filmmakers at any time.
“I think the general attitude is, ‘That’s Hollywood,’” Sloan said.