Basketball

The Greatest Game Ever Played

Lew Alcindor throws down a slam dunk in the 1965 game between Power Memorial Academy and DeMatha Catholic at Cole Field House. Dematha won the game and ended Power Memorial's 71 game winning streak. (Photo source: The Washington Star)

Fifty years ago tonight Dematha Catholic High School clashed with the aptly-named Power Memorial Academy out of New York City. Led by 7'1" center Lew Alcindor (who later became the all-time leading scorer in the history of the NBA as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), Power Memorial was riding a 71-game winning streak and had been tabbed as the mythical #1 high school team in the nation.

Dematha, which had made a name for itself in the Washington area prep circuit under then 33-year-old coach Morgan Wooten, was no slouch either. The Stags were riding a 23-game winning streak of their own. Still, it was clear Wooten's squad would have its hands full with the New Yorkers and, in particular, Alcindor, "a 17-year-old who is not only big but quick, smooth and agile" who was drawing comparisons to Wilt Chamberlain.

What happened that night at Cole Field House has been called the greatest high school basketball game ever played.

Alexandria's Earl Lloyd broke the color barrier in professional basketball when he debuted for the Washington Capitols on October 31, 1950. (Photo source: NBA.com)

Alexandria's Earl Lloyd Breaks Basketball's Color Line

Earl Lloyd was a rising basketball star at West Virginia State College, but little did he know how soon he would become an important part of sports history. Toward the end of Lloyd’s senior season he was heading to class with a classmate and she told him she heard his name on the radio that day. Unaware of what she was referring to, Lloyd simply asked what she heard. She told him some team in Washington called the Washington Capitols had drafted him.

“You’re going to Washington and they’re going to try you guys out, so show them your best,” said Lloyd’s college coach, Marquis Caldwell. Being from Alexandria, Virginia, it was almost a homecoming party for Earl Lloyd. Before he was at West Virginia State, he graduated from Parker-Gray High School in 1946, Alexandria’s only African-American high school.

Coach "Lefty" Driesell puffed on a cigar while his players huffed and puffed around the track at midnight on October 15, 1971. (Photo source: NCAA.com)

Midnight Madness Starts at Maryland, 1971

Coaches are always looking for an edge on the competition but former University of Maryland basketball boss, Charles “Lefty” Driesell may have been the best – or at least the most original. Case and point: October 15, 1971.

In an effort to keep everything fair and just, the NCAA has rules. [Insert your own joke here.] One of those rules concerns when teams are allowed to begin practicing at the start of a season. In 1971, the magic date was October 15 and Driesell wasn’t about to let any time go to waste.

So, at 12:03am – when presumably the competition was sleeping… or doing what college kids do in the wee hours of the morning – he blew the whistle to start his team’s first practice. In doing so, he unknowingly created a fad, which took off – first at Maryland and, soon, at other schools.

Len Bias

Remembering Len Bias

The court was closed off to students like it always was after basketball season was over. A sign over the floor read “Keep Off” and there was a still darkness inside of Cole Field House.

Students sat quietly in the top rows of the yellow seats in the arena, thinking, wondering. While some stared down at the court with wide eyes, others leaned back in their seats with their eyes closed.

Raw emotion spread across the arena as they came to remember the Maryland Terrapin legend, Len Bias.

Just a few days before, Bias had been on top of the world, the second pick in the NBA draft by the famed Boston Celtics.

Host to History: 1966 NCAA Final Four at Cole Field House

Texas Western's NCAA Championship victory over all-white Kentucky at Cole Field House in 1966 went way beyond sports. (Photo source: El Paso Times)

Nowadays the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four is played in huge football stadiums that can seat 50,000 or more fans. But that wasn’t always the case. Back in the day, the games took place in much smaller, on-campus arenas and the media coverage was paltry compared to what we see now. Such was the case in 1966, when the University of Maryland’s Cole Field House hosted college basketball’s final weekend.

That might not sound like a big deal, but with the way the tournament unfolded, the 1966 championship game proved to be a major event in the civil rights movement.

The Washington Coliseum, seen from the Red Line. Photo by Elvert Barnes, via Wikimedia Commons

Uline Arena, AKA Washington Coliseum: DC’s forgotten venue

If you ride the Red Line Metro, you've probably seen it out the window at the New York Avenue stop: A massive, rust-colored structure with a curvilinear-trussed roof. It looks like an abandoned warehouse or factory, or a repair shop for ancient locomotives. You’d probably never suspect that 50 years ago in February, the Beatles played their first U.S. concert there.   It also was the home of Washington’s first NBA team, and hosted events ranging from figure skating and midget auto racing to Dwight Eisenhower’s 1957 inaugural festival and a 1959 speech by Nation of Islam founder Elijah Muhammad.