basketball season has begun and the continued tradition of great
African American athletes from Chicago continues. In the spirit of
the tradition established by so many great African American
basketball players who have come from Chicago, I thought it timely to
remember the great Paxton Lumpkin. Paxton was symbolic of so many
great athletes who descended from this city.
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 the
state with their dazzling display and execution of the game of
team was led by one of the greatest basketball players that Chicago
ever produced. His name was Paxton Lumpkin. On Thursday, January 19,
1991, I read in the papers that Paxton had died of cancer at the
Lakeside V. A. Hospital at the age of 54.
was tremendously saddened by Paxton’s death and began to call
other athletes who had been influenced by Paxton and the DuSable 1954
team. From all the 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.
was in the seventh 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.
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.
so many other African American youth during this era, basketball was
a game I was just beginning to learn to play.
of us admired the Harlem Globetrotters and their stars, Goose Tatum
and Marqus Haynes. We all tried to emulate their styles of play in
dribbling, shooting, passing and rebounding.
of us had an opportunity to watch some of the DuSable players 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.
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 DuSable was on
their 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.
championship was one of the greatest basketball games I had ever
seen. The DuSable players had so much impact on me that I can still
remember the starting line-up of Shellie McMillan, Charlie Brown,
McKinley Cowsen, Carl Dennis, and Paxton.
lost 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
heart, along with so many others, was broken as a result of DuSable’s
loss to Mt. Vernon. Many of us felt the officials that called the
game did it poorly and many of their calls were racially motivated.
As I recall,
Mt. Vernon had only one Black player and that was Avant.
the DuSable team became the sports heroes in the African American
Community of Chicago. I can truthfully say that I idolized Paxton
Lumpkin. Paxton and the DuSable team influenced a whole generation of
aspiring basketball players like me.
a matter of fact, in the summer of 1954, it seemed 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.
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 has been a player
and 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.
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 Illinois. Finally, the great John Marshall High School
team of 1958 won the state tournament - the first time a Chicago high
school accomplished this feat.
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 still miss you Paxton, but your spirit
will live among us.