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L.C. Gordon thankful to be a trailblazer at Oklahoma State

The first black basketball player in OSU history will be honored this weekend. He will receive the OSU Black Alumni Society's Trailblazer Award on Friday afternoon, then will serve as the homecoming parade marshal Saturday morning.
by Jenni Carlson Published: October 17, 2013
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L.C. Gordon is largely forgotten in Oklahoma State basketball history.

His name is not sprinkled through the Cowboy record books. His career is not celebrated like Bob Kurland or Bryant Reeves.

But his impact is significant.

And it has nothing to do with how many points he scored or how many rebounds he grabbed.

Gordon was the first black player in the program's history. When he arrived on campus in 1957, Jackie Robinson had already broken big-league sports' color barrier but Jim Crow was still the law of land. Segregation's last stand at the schoolhouse door was six years away.

“The first guy, it's always rough,” Gordon said. “But going in, I knew that.”

The change that Gordon helped bring about can be seen today on the Cowboy basketball team, on the OSU campus and all over the country.

For that, he will be honored this weekend by his alma mater. He will receive the OSU Black Alumni Society's Trailblazer Award on Friday afternoon, then will serve as the homecoming parade marshal on Saturday morning.

His name needs to be known.

His story needs to be told.

Lavalius Cyrone Gordon was born in Abbeville, Miss., but raised on the south side of Memphis.

He started playing basketball when he was in seventh grade at Porter Grammar School. Only problem was, the school had no gym. The players had practices and games at the Beale Street Auditorium.

It was five miles away.

They walked.

There were never any complaints about the walk. That's how much L.C. Gordon loved basketball.

He became a standout at Booker T. Washington High School. He could score, but he could really defend.

That caught the eye of then-Memphis State coach Bob Vanatta. As much as he would've loved to have Gordon play for him, he instead went and recruited Gordon on behalf of Oklahoma A&M. Vanatta was friends with Henry Iba, and the Cowboys' renowned coach had decided the time had come to integrate the basketball program.

Iba believed the player who would successfully break the color barrier in his program needed two characteristics above all else — be a good person and know how to play defense.

“I could do both,” Gordon said.

Gordon, who grew up without his father and knew there was little money to help him through college, committed to the Cowboys sight unseen. The first time he laid eyes on the campus — or Oklahoma, for that matter — was in the fall of 1957 when his Greyhound bus from Memphis pulled into Stillwater.

“The only thing I knew about Oklahoma was what I'd seen in the movies, you know?” he said. “Cowboys and Indians.”

Even though Gordon didn't know much about his new home, he knew plenty about his new coach. Legendary for his team's dogged defense, Iba had won two national titles and appeared in one other national championship game.

“I jumped at the opportunity to play for a man of that stature,” Gordon said. “I was so happy that I was able to play for him.”

Not that that was easy.

Iba could be rough on players. His gravelly voice would boom around Gallagher Hall, directing, scolding, cajoling. Whether during a practice or a game, he could always be heard.

Gordon was like any other player; Iba's words sometimes stung him.

But Gordon never let them derail him.

The same could be for the words that he sometimes heard from strangers. Traveling to road games and playing in hostile gyms subjected Gordon to racial slurs and ugly epitaphs.

Then again, things weren't always entirely rosy in Stillwater, either.

Gordon couldn't live with any of his teammates — whites and blacks weren't allowed to room together per university policy — and when the guys he practiced and played with every day went out to eat or see a movie, he didn't go. Blacks weren't allowed in the same parts of restaurants or theaters as whites.

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by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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I jumped at the opportunity to play for a man of that stature. I was so happy that I was able to play for him.”

L.C. Gordon,

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