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.
Guest book: Don Haskins