NewsHBCU Basketball Team Visits the White House More Than 60 Years After...

HBCU Basketball Team Visits the White House More Than 60 Years After Winning Championship

Nationwide — More than 60 years after their historic championship victories, the Tennessee A&I Tigers, the first HBCU team to claim a national basketball title, were finally honored at the White House.

Back in 1957, they made history as the first HBCU team to win a national championship and went on to win two more titles in a row. But their achievements were overshadowed by the Jim Crow era’s racism, according to Because of Them We Can.

Nine players from the team even went on to play professional basketball, but their story remained largely untold. One player, Dick Barnett, made it his mission to ensure their legacy was remembered. His efforts paid off in 2019 when the Tigers were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Fast forward to January of this year, when Rep. Gregory W. Meeks rallied over 50 congressional members to urge President Biden to invite the surviving Tigers to the White House. Vice President Kamala Harris recently welcomed six of the surviving team members to a special ceremony.

During the private event at the White House, the players, now in their golden years, met with VP Harris and toured the historic building. They presented her with a custom Tennessee A&I Tigers jersey, a symbol of their long-overdue recognition.

“This is the greatest day of my life. I thought this would never take place,” said one of the players, George Finley.

Sadly, only eight players and one assistant coach from the championship team are still alive today. Their coach, John McLendon, passed away in 1999. Finley praised McLendon as “one of the greatest coaches that ever existed.”

Vice President Harris honored the team, remarking, “There’s so much that we have accomplished as a nation because of the heroes like those that I’m looking at right now. I, like so many of us, stand on your broad shoulders, each one of you.”

Barnett continues to educate students at Tennessee State University about the team’s remarkable story. He also made history himself, playing for the New York Knicks during the franchise’s only two championship wins in the ’70s.

This year, Barnett will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, adding yet another chapter to the Tigers’ enduring legacy.


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