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Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 165

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This is the grave of Adolph Rupp.

Born in 1901 in Halstead, Kansas, Rupp grew up poor on a Kansas farm, but managed to attend the University of Kansas, where he was a backup on teams coached by Phog Allen and James Naismith, who was Allen’s assistant at the time even though he had actually invented the game of basketball. Rupp went to Columbia for a master’s degree but here was a case of someone who would go back to the farm after he’s seen New York. He took a coaching job at Burr Oak High School back in Kansas, starting a legendary career. He moved around a lot of course as he moved up, as ambitious coaches do. He took the job at the University of Kentucky in 1930 and coached there until 1972. He turned Kentucky into one of the game’s great powers. He won four national championships, in 1948, 1949, 1951, and 1958. As one expects from Kentucky coaches, there was plenty of scandal too, most notably the 1951 point shaving incident, where at least four players took bribes to lose to Loyola in the NIT. While there was no evidence Rupp was involved in that, the subsequent investigation showed Rupp was paying his players and Kentucky got the death penalty for the 1952-53 season. Of course, the NCAA is a grotesque and corrupt institution so I really shouldn’t have a problem with paying players, except for the fact that it creates an unequal playing field. Ever since, Kentucky fans have demanded only the most ethically pure coaches for their squad, such as Rick Pitino and John Calipari.

Rupp faced a lot of accusations about racism for his all-white squads later in his career. The legendary 1966 NCAA championship, when his all-white team lost to the all-black starting lineup at Texas Western (today UTEP) coached by Don Haskins was seen as a triumph for young civil rights activists at desegregating the game. Rupp had coached black players on a high school team in Illinois early in his career, but he certainly had no interest in pushing a fan base on this issue and Kentucky fans were not exactly the most racially liberal on the planet, as some were waving the Confederate flag in the stands during the game. The Texas Western victory effectively desegregated major conference college basketball as the big boys realized they needed black players to stay on top. But hey, at least those black players don’t have to get paid, which fits certain other black work arrangements of the past that white people were also comfortable with. Moreover, as Frank Deford reported, during halftime of the 66 title game, Rupp went on a racist tirade in front of his teams, basically screaming at them for losing to black people. He would not have a black player on his team until the 1970 season, when he recruited all of one. Even as the SEC desegregated, with Vanderbilt bringing in the conference’s first black basketball player in 1967, Rupp refused to visit the home of any black recruit.

Rupp resigned in 1972 after another 20-win season, the winningest coach in college basketball history. Today, he is still 5th on that list. He died in 1977.

Also, today is the start of college basketball season. Who else can’t wait for Ted Cruz’s doppleganger Grayson Allen and his 34th year at Duke? Also, Go Ducks! Despite losing nearly the entire team from last year’s Final Four squad, Dana Altman is such a brilliant recruiter and coach that I am sure Oregon will end up in the top 25 soon.

Adolph Rupp is buried in Lexington Cemetery, Lexington, Kentucky.

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