Rachel Banham’s jersey was hoisted in the Williams Arena rafters on New Years’ Day — only the second Black female basketball player to be so honored.
“I’m glad you brought that up,” responded Banham Sunday prior to the pre-game ceremony when the MSR commented on the honor. “That’s something I can tell my kids… It’s exciting that I could pave the way for that.”
Rachel, but not Kwame?
Minnesota’s Sports Pavilion, designed and christened in the 1990s as the primary home for women’s basketball and women’s volleyball among other sports, has been renamed for former AD Joel Maturi. However, we still are waiting for the late MSR senior columnist Kwame McDonald to be permanently honored.
With all due respect to a local 90-plus-year-old sportswriter, if the Vikings can name their new stadium’s media room after him, why haven’t we yet seen anything close to such an honor for McDonald? McDonald has done more in this town, such as convincing Blacks to seriously consider attending the University of Minnesota, a place historically known as an unwelcoming place for Blacks.
McDonald set the standard for women’s sports coverage, especially when it came to Black females. He was largely responsible for Linda Roberts, the first Black female Gopher basketball player, getting her jersey hanging in the Barn — no other local media person can claim such credit.
In his day job as head of the state’s civil rights commission, McDonald eventually got the Minnesota Twins to integrate its spring training housing facilities for its Black players in the 1960s.
If a fictional television character can get a statue on Nicollet Mall, surely a real live human being, a person who dedicated his life to unabashedly promoting the successes of Black people as McDonald effortlessly did during his lifetime, can be meaningfully and lastingly honored by the U of M, or by the Twins, or both.
It’s been way too long, but it’s never too late.
A game Clem would’ve loved
The Big Ten opener for both Minnesota and Michigan State men’s basketball, a December 27 one-point overtime win for the visitors at the Barn, had such a throwback feel that afterwards a couple of names from the past were conjured up by Spartans Coach Tom Izzo.
“[Mateen] Cleaves and Clem Haskins would have loved this,” admitted the Hall of Fame coach, respectfully referring to the former Spartan guard that helped him to his only national championship in 2000, and the only Gopher coach to lead the school to an NCAA Final Four and two NIT championships in the 1990s.
Izzo, now in his 22nd year, has the third-most wins in Big Ten history behind Indiana’s Bob Knight (353) and Purdue’s Gene Keady (265), both now retired coaches, and most among active league coaches.
“We found a way to win a game on the road,” noted Izzo in the post-game press conference with reporters, including the MSR. He’s now 29-10 all-time against Minnesota. “We got pushed around in the first half,” he pointed out, before outscoring the hosts 49-36 in the second half and overtime to earn the comeback victory.
It was the kind of pushing around that Haskins’ Gopher teams were most noted for years ago, often scaring the beegeebers out of opponents when they came to Williams Arena. It was good, hard-fought basketball fondly remembered last week by both this reporter and the State coach.
“I love Clem,” said Izzo to the MSR afterwards. “When I got in this league, it was Clem, Bobby and Gene. These guys scared me to even walk by them. But I loved how Clem’s teams played. He was the toughest, meanest… I see him and his wife at the Final Four.”
The longtime coach respectfully remembers Haskins’ contributions that too many around here have forgotten. “He was great for the Big Ten and great for Minnesota,” concluded Izzo.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.