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Seven Stories Press

Works of Radical Imagination

Read an excerpt from Ray Scott’s brand new memoir with Charley Rosen, “The NBA in Black and White”

June 13

by Seven Stories Press

To celebrate the publication of The NBA in Black and White: The Memoir of a Trailblazing NBA Player and Coach by Ray Scott, we are proud to share an excerpt from his book, a memoir of hard lessons learned in the racially segregated NBA of the early 1960s. In this passage, Scott offers some stats about the racial demographics of the 1960s NBA as a lead-in to sharing one of his favorite memories of his fellow player, perhaps the most iconic basketball player of all time, Wilt Chamberlain.

On November 8, 1960, John Fitzgerald Kennedy was elected the thirty-fifth president of the United States. In his speeches, before and after this occasion, JFK’s “New Frontier” signaled that African Americans could now be included in the American Dream. By themselves, JFK’s words and the sentiments behind them improved the quality of lives for millions of people of color by encouraging us to feel better about who we were and what we could possibly achieve.

He didn’t live long enough to legislate what he sought, so it was left to his successor, Vice President Lyndon Baines Johnson, to fulfill JFK’s dreams.

Also, at the conclusion of the 1959–60 season, ninety-nine players appeared on the rosters of the eight NBA teams. Twenty-four of these players were African American, with the easy math coming to virtually 24 percent. However, subtracting the minuscule on-court time credited to the Celtics’ Maurice King (who only played 19 minutes in a single game), and Cal Ramsey (who played four games in St. Louis and seven with New York), the meaningful number is reduced to slightly less than 22 percent. This percentage increased every year while JFK was still in office, eventually reaching 38 percent in the year he was assassinated.

A huge step was also taken with the record number of African American players named to the 1964 Olympic team, which I believe had a great deal to do with the words and deeds of both JFK and LBJ. The 1960 team had only three Black players—Oscar Robertson, Bob Boozer, and Walt Bellamy. Four years later, Jim Barnes, Joe Caldwell, Walt Hazzard, Luke Jackson, and George Wilson constituted nearly half of the twelve-man squad.

This major change in the Olympics signaled a similar change in the NBA. In the subsequent 1964–65 season, 48.7 percent of NBA players were African Americans. This represented an increase of 10.7 percent over the previous 1963–64 campaign.

Even so, the African American presence back in that 1959–60 season was particularly revealing and important. The Celtics were in the early stage of their dynasty, yet two franchises—Cincinnati and St. Louis—demonstrated their continued resistance to this new wave of outstanding players.

Here’s a list of the total population at the time:

Boston: Bill Russell, K.C. Jones, Sam Jones, and Maurice King
Cincinnati: Wayne Embry
Detroit: Walter Dukes, Earl Lloyd, and Shellie McMillon
Minneapolis: Elgin Baylor, Alex “Boo” Ellis, Ray Felix, Ed Fleming, and Tom Hawkins
New York: Johnny Green, Willie Naulls, and Cal Ramsey
St. Louis: Sihugo Green
Syracuse: Dick Barnett, Hal Greer, and Bob Hopkins
Philadelphia: Andy Johnson, Guy Rodgers, Woody Sauldsberry, and the most impactful rookie in the history of the NBA—Wilt Chamberlain

I was fourteen when I first saw Wilt play. He was sixteen and already an amazing player at Overbrook High School back when the games consisted of four 8-minute quarters. He was 6'11", 240 pounds at the time, and could run like the proverbial deer, jump out of the gym, and single-handedly prevented layups and short-jumpers on defense. At the other end of the court Wilt averaged well over 40 points per game, often scoring 60 or 70, with his high being 90. That’s 90 points in 32 minutes!

Yet Wilt’s offense didn’t really develop during the three years he subsequently spent at the University of Kansas. In fact, it was while he spent one year with the Globetrotters that he developed his fadeaway bank shot that made him such a dynamic scorer when he got into the NBA.

In my junior year at West Philadelphia High School, we finished the season with a record of 17–3. We would have gone undefeated but for the three losses to Wilt’s Overbrook dynasty. We seldom guarded each other, but he scored his usual 40-plus (and I was usually in foul trouble when he did), while I struggled to put up double figures.

My all-time favorite memory of Wilt took place when I was seventeen and riding my bike to the Haddington Recreation Center to see if there was anything happening on the basketball court. Wilt was nineteen, was playing at Kansas, and was already a much-celebrated All-American. I found him on the court engaged in a solo workout. I was thrilled when he invited me to join him. For what seemed like hours we shot, retrieved misses, passed to each other, and ran some sprints (when Wilt always left me behind).

After we were done, I was ready to bike my way back home, but Wilt had another idea. He put my bike in the trunk of his car and said, “I’m driving you home.”

This meant a lot to me. He saw me as a real player but more importantly as a person. Indeed, his respect helped me to increase my own self-respect.

Philly native JOHN RAYMOND "RAY" SCOTT's college career began at the University of Portland, and he was chosen as the 4th pick in the 1961 NBA draft by the Detroit Pistons. He spent six years with the Pistons, as a stand-out rebounder and deadly shooter from the perimeter, and another five years playing for other teams. Then in October 1972, Scott was promoted from Assistant to Head Coach of the Detroit Pistons, thanks in part to the strong support from retiring coach Earl Lloyd who, a decade earlier had scouted Scott and recommended that he be the Pistons top pick. Two years later he was named NBA Coach of the Year, the first African-American to win the coveted award. From 1976 to 1979, Scott was Men’s Basketball Head Coach at Eastern Michigan University. Today, Ray lives with his family in Eastern Michigan, not far from Detroit. This is his first book. 

CHARLEY ROSEN is one of the most respected writers of books on basketball, including both fiction like NYT Notable Book The House of Moses All-Stars, and nonfiction like his telling of the Jack Molinas story in The Wizard of Odds. He has also been a sports commentator, at and He lives in Woodstock, N.Y.

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