Jul 22, 2010 - Issue 385
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Remembering a Chicago Basketball Legend - Worrill’s World - By Dr. Conrad W. Worrill, PhD - BlackCommentator.com Columnist

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With all of the talk of basketball free agency and the controversy surrounding this issue as it relates to Le Braun James and his fellow basketball greats deciding their own fate in the game, my memory took me back to a Chicago basketball legend that we should never forget.

There are many Chicago basketball legends, but Brother Paxton Lumpkin is a stand out among them. This great basketball player, who was not called a “point guard” at that time, is probably the “Original Point Guard.” The following is an article that I wrote in 1991 following his death:

In 1954, the cease fire between the United States and North Korea was agreed upon. Also, in 1954, the great basketball team from DuSable

High School inspired the African American Community, throughout this state, with their dazzling display and execution of the game of basketball.

This team was led by one of the greatest basketball players that Chicago ever produced. His name was Paxton Lumpkin. On .Thursday, January 10th, I read in the papers that Paxton had died of cancer at the Lakeside VA Hospital at the age of 54.

I was tremendously saddened by Paxton’s death and began to call other athletes who had been influenced by the DuSable 1954 team, and Paxton. From all those athletes I was able to contact, I could feel the profound respect they all had for the contributions Paxton Lumpkin made to the game of basketball in this city.

I was in the 7th grade in 1954 when DuSable played in what was called the Sweet Sixteen State Tournament during that time, at the University of Illinois, Huff Gymnasium, in Champaign.

The entire Black community, and particularly those participants and supporters of athletics, had their eyes, ears, and spirit fixed on the 54 DuSable team as they entered the state tournament.

Like so many other African American youth, during this era, basketball was a game we were just beginning to learn to play. Most of us admired the Harlem Globetrotters and their stars, Goose Tatum and Marqus Haynes. We all tried to emulate their styles of play dribbling, shooting, passing, and rebounding.

Some of us had an opportunity to watch some of the DuSable players play on the playground, so we were somewhat familiar with the talent they possessed. We especially had great admiration for the skills Paxton exhibited in dribbling and passing the basketball and his overall leadership ability on the basketball court.

For those of us who were not able to go to the state tournament in 1954, we listened to the games on the radio. It appeared that DuSable was on its way to winning the state championship with Paxton leading the way. They were literally “blowing out” their opponents in the preliminary, quarterfinal and semi-final games.

The championship game against Mt. Vernon was televised. Sitting in the living room with my father, I can’t ever remember pulling for an athletic team to win a game as hard as I pulled for DuSable.

This championship game was one of the greatest basketball games I had ever seen. The DuSable players had so much impact on me that I can almost remember the starting line-up of Shellie McMillian, Charlie Brown, McKinley Cowsen, Carl Dennis, and Paxton.

DuSable lost the championship game to Mt. Vernon in a very close game 76 to 70. Ironically, it was an African American player for Mt. Vernon, Al Avant, who scored 30 points and provided the leadership for their winning the title game.

My heart, along with so many others, was broken as a result of DuSable’s loss to Mt. Vernon. Many of us felt the men who officiated the game called the game poorly and many of their calls were racially motivated. As I recall, Mt. Vernon had only one Black player and that was Avant.

Nonetheless, the DuSable team became the sports heroes in the African American Community of Chicago. I can truthfully say, I idolized Paxton Lumpkin. Paxton and the DuSable team influenced a whole generation of aspiring basketball players like me.

As a matter of fact, in the summer of ’54, it seemed that most of the youth in the Black community of Chicago were trying to learn to play, or trying to improve their game, on the playgrounds throughout the neighborhoods. DuSable and Paxton were on the minds of all of us as we ran up and down the concrete playground basketball courts.

There were many great basketball players before the ’54 Paxton Lumpkin led DuSable team and obviously there have been many more great players and teams to emerge from Chicago since that time. But, I don’t think there have been a player and a team that so inspired a community like DuSable. Even though they lost, they were our heroes and champions in the fight against racism in sports.

From that moment on, African American teams and players from Chicago began to dominate the annual state tournament exhibition of the best teams and players in the state of Illinois. Finally, the great Marshal High School Team of 1958 won the state tournament for the first time that a Chicago high school basketball team accomplished this feat.

Of course Marshal won the state tournament again in 1960 and then the great Carver teams began to emerge.

There is no question that Chicago and Chicago area teams have dominated the winning of the state basketball tournament the last 30 years.

All of us who love athletics, and particularly basketball, should take a moment of silence and pay tribute to one of Chicago’s greatest basketball players - Paxton Lumpkin.

We will miss you Paxton, but your spirit will live among us.

BlackCommentator.com Columnist, Conrad W. Worrill, PhD, is the National Chairman of the National Black United Front (NBUF). Click here to contact Dr. Worrill.

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