1966. It was a Landmark Night.
More than 40 years later, we remember - and cherish - the game that changed basketball forever. It was March 19, 1966, the night a team with five black starters made history by winning a national championship.
Texas Western College, now UTEP, defeated the University of Kentucky. That win accelerated the advancement of black athletes in the South. All-white leagues like the Atlantic Coast Conference, Southwestern Conference and Southeastern Conference became integrated within the next two years.
Although the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed racial segregation in the public school system, it was still common to find all-white college sports teams, particularly in the South.
But in the remote desert city of El Paso, where a melting pot of cultures on the U.S-Mexico border had existed for years, race was not an issue for the Texas Western basketball team. Winning was.
Led by Don Haskins, a gruff, straight-talking coach known as "The Bear," the Miners lit up the 1965-66 regular season with a 23-1 record. A tight-knit group of blacks, whites and one Hispanic, the team finished the season ranked third in the final AP college basketball poll.
In the tournament's first round, Texas Western defeated Oklahoma City, 89-74. The team beat Cincinnati in the second round, 78-76, in overtime. Victories against Kansas, 81-80, in double overtime in the Midwest regional, and Utah, 85-78, in the national semifinals set the stage for the team's game for the ages.
The Miners had to face the top-ranked, all white, University of Kentucky Wildcats led by its legendary coach Adolph Rupp for the championship. The game was played at the University of Maryland's Cole Field House in College Park, Maryland.
Haskins made history by starting five African-American players. It was the first time that had been done in a NCAA basketball championship game. The Miners took the lead midway through the first half and never relinquished it, although the Wildcats closed to within a point early in the second half. The Miners won, 72 -65, capturing the NCAA crown and finishing the year with a 28-1 record.
When asked about his decision to start five African-American players, Haskins downplayed the significance of his choice.
"I really didn't think about starting five black guys. I just wanted to put my five best guys on the court," Haskins said. "I just wanted to win that game."
After the 1966 championship, college teams throughout the South aggressively began recruiting black athletes, ending years of shameful segregation.
Haskins, a humble and private man who did his best to avoid the public spotlight; always said skin color was never an issue when he put his Miners on the court against Kentucky.
"I was simply playing the best players I had. It was what I had done all year," Haskins said.
Haskins went on to produce many more winning teams and many NBA stars before retiring from UTEP in 1999.
Important Events of 1966 *
January 12 - United States President Lyndon Johnson states that the United States should stay in South Vietnam until Communist aggression comes to an end.
January 13 - Robert C. Weaver becomes the first African-American Cabinet member, by being appointed United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
January 17 - Carl Brashear, the first African-American United States Navy diver, is involved in an accident during the recovery of a lost H-bomb, which results in the amputation of his leg.
February 3 - The unmanned Soviet Luna 9 spacecraft makes the first controlled rocket-assisted landing on the moon.
February 8 - The National Hockey League awards Pittsburgh, Pa. with a second NHL franchise, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
February 14 - The Australian dollar is introduced at a rate of $2 per pound, or 10 shillings per dollar.
March 8 - Vietnam War: U.S. announces it will substantially increase its troops in Vietnam.
March 19 - The Texas Western Miners defeat the Kentucky Wildcats with five African-American starters, ushering in desegregation in athletic recruiting.
March 26 - Demonstrations are held across the United States against the Vietnam War.
April 21 - An artificial heart is installed in the chest of Marcel DeRudder in a Houston, Texas hospital.
April 29 - U.S. troops in Vietnam total 250,000.
May 16 - In New York City, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. makes his first public speech on the Vietnam War.
June 1 - The final new episode of The Dick Van Dyke Show airs (the first episode aired on Oct. 3, 1961).
June 13 - Miranda v. Arizona: The Supreme Court of the United States rules that the police must inform suspects of their rights before questioning them.
June 30 - The National Organization for Women (NOW) is founded in Washington, D.C.
July 4 - President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Freedom of Information Act, which goes into effect the following year.
July 18 - The Hough Riots break out in Cleveland, Ohio, the city's first race riot.
July 29 - Bob Dylan is injured in a motorcycle accident near his home in Woodstock, N.Y. He is not seen in public for over a year.
August 5 - Martin Luther King Jr. leads a civil rights march in Chicago, during which he is struck by a rock thrown from an angry white mob.
August 5 - Caesar's Palace hotel and casino opens in Las Vegas.
August 10 - Lunar Orbiter 1, the first U.S. spacecraft to orbit another world, is launched.
August 29 - The Beatles play their very last concert at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, California.
September 8 - Star Trek, the classic science fiction television series, debuts with its first episode, titled "The Man Trap."
September 16 - The Metropolitan Opera House opens at Lincoln Center in New York City to the world premiere of Samuel Barber's opera, Antony and Cleopatra.
October - Bobby Seale and Huey P. Newton found the Black Panther Party.
October 15 - U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signs a bill creating the United States Department of Transportation.
October 26 - NATO moves its HQ from Paris to Brussels.
November 8 - Actor Ronald Reagan, a Republican, is elected Governor of Calif.
November 24 - The Beatles begin recording sessions for their landmark Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album.
November 27 - The Washington Redskins defeat the New York Giants 72-41 in the highest scoring game in NFL history.
December 15 - Walt Disney dies while producing The Jungle Book, the last animated feature under his personal supervision.
December 18 - How the Grinch Stole Christmas, narrated by Boris Karloff, is shown for the first time on CBS, becoming an annual Christmas tradition.
December 26 - The first Kwanzaa is celebrated by Maulana Karenga, founder of Organization US (a black nationalist group) and later chair of Black Studies at California State University, Long Beach from 1989 to 2002.