I spent an August day with Don Haskins back in 1999. He took me to some El Paso joint for my maiden voyage with stacked enchiladas. My maiden voyage with the most unassuming of American heroes. The Bear died Sunday at the age of 78, never really understanding why he was such a big deal. Never really understanding why anyone would do anything besides recruit the best players available and then put them on the court. It's been a lifetime since Haskins grew up in Enid and played basketball for Henry Iba at Oklahoma A&M. A lifetime since 1966, when Texas-El Paso was known as Texas Western and basketball was known as a white man's game. A lifetime since Texas Western, sporting an all-black starting five, beat all-white Kentucky in the NCAA championship game. Late in Haskins' life, America learned the big deal. The Basketball Hall of Fame inducted Haskins in 1997; Hollywood eventually came calling, and the acclaimed "Glory Road” resulted, in 2006 "People have asked me how guys black and white could be so tight together,” Haskins told me two years ago, on the eve of the movie's premier. "How did the white guys feel about me starting five black guys? I didn't ask 'em. I wasn't thinking about asking somebody. White guys or black guys.” Haskins hit El Paso in 1961, after coaching in Texas hamlets Dumas and Hedley and Benjamin, and never left. But Haskins never cut his Oklahoma roots. One of the best personal developments in my professional life was how Haskins started calling every year or so, just to chat and catch up on OSU. We last talked in April, about the Cowboy coaching search. Haskins loved Eddie Sutton and was pulling for Sean Sutton, but he was pulling for Travis Ford, too, after Ford took over the seat once held by Iba. Into his 70s, Haskins still revered Iba. Still called him "Mr. Iba.” Haskins, more than anyone else, coached like Iba. Stern and gruff. Tough and relentless. The Iron Duke begat the Bear. But Haskins' memory went further back than Stillwater. "Enid shaped me for life,” Haskins told me a couple of years ago. "All towns were like that. Everybody had the other side of the track. "I'm disappointed (boyhood friend) Herman Carr wasn't in the movie. They had to cut something. Herman and I were playing one-on-one. We were sweating. We went to get a drink. I still see that ‘Whites Only' and ‘Colored Only' sign. That particular day, I just wasn't that damn thirsty.” Haskins ended up doing something about it in El Paso, a place where you can get damn thirsty, a place where you can find some mean stacked enchiladas and a place where an American jewel can set up shop and act like he was no big deal.
University of Texas-El Paso coach Don Haskins had deep ties to Oklahoma State. Haskins played for Hall of Fame coach Henry Iba and later was an assistant under Iba for the 1972 U.S. Olympic team in Munich. ASSOCIATED PRESS