A Pioneering Basketball Coach And MLK's Priceless Speech

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The nation celebrated Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Monday, bringing to mind the speech King delivered from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Aug. 28, 1963.

By now you probably know that King's went off script when he uttered the "I Have a Dream" speech's most famous words. But what does any of this have to do with sports? Sports Illustrated’s Seth Davis has written about that connection, and he joined Doug Tribou to explain.

BL: Seth, how did then-Villanova volunteer assistant basketball coach George Raveling end up with Martin Luther King Jr.’s own copy of the "I Have a Dream" speech?

When King’s speech was done, Raveling just walked right up to him and said, “Dr. King, can I have those?”

Seth Davis, Sports Illustrated senior writer

SD: History and happenstance. What happened was, Raveling at the time was working actually full time for Converse and volunteering as an assistant coach at Villanova, where he had recently finished up his playing career. He had a very good friend — a fellow African-American. And they were at his dad's house two nights before the march. The dad said, "Are you guys going to the march?" They said no. He said, "Well, I think you guys ought to be there. And take my car, and here's a couple bucks to get you through the trip."

They drove down the night before, and they were just wandering around the mall, and one of the organizers of the march saw these big, two strong, young guys and said, "Can you help us out with security?" So they said, "Sure." They showed up the next morning and they were just positioned on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.

So Raveling has always been a collector, and when King's speech was done, Raveling just walked right up to him and said, "Dr. King, can I have those?" And King, you know, flummoxed by the moment, I guess, just kind of handed them over, and that was that.

BL: We’ll get back to the speech and where the document ended up in a minute, but tell us a little bit more about Raveling's pioneering role in college basketball.

SD: Well in a lot of ways he fell into it. He had grown up in the Washington, D.C., area. His father died when he was 7-years-old and then shortly thereafter his mother became seriously mentally ill and was hospitalized, really, for most of the balance of her life, so he was kind of orphaned.

Through charitable organizations was able to go to a boarding school in Pennsylvania and was invited to play for the basketball team — hadn't really played much but was a big strong guy, rebounded a lot. And ended up getting offered scholarships and ended up at Villanova University. From there he had such a charisma about him that he had the chance to recruit African-American players — not only to Villanova but then to Maryland where he was hired as a full-time assistant to Lefty Dreissell.

In 1972, Raveling left Maryland to take the head coaching job at Washington State, making him the Pac 8’s first black coach. But it wasn’t until he took the job at USC in 1986 that he began speaking out about social issues. What changed?

SD: I just think time. For many years he was reluctant to really insert himself into — you know speaking up about issues other than pure basketball. He became an elder statesman and was very active in the National Association of Basketball Coaches. He was an assistant coach on the U.S. Olympic team. Where there was that intersection of race, education and athletics, he very  much inserted himself into that conversation.

DT: So let's get back to the pages that Raveling received from Dr. King. For nearly 20 years, Raveling forgot about them — he kept them in an autographed Harry Truman biography that was stored in his basement. Eventually a reporter learned about the documents and had them museum treated and framed for Raveling. I imagine those documents must be pretty valuable now.

Some collector called him about a year-and-a-half ago and offered him $3 million for that document and he won't sell it. He says he's the caretaker.

Seth Davis

SD: Some collector called him about a year-and-a-half ago and offered him $3 million for that document and he won't sell it. He says he's the caretaker. It belongs to the nation, it belongs to the  public, it belongs to his fellow African-American brothers and sisters. And he's hoping at some point the speech will be on display. But he has, as I mentioned in the story, put a clause into his will — because George is 77 now — that if he passes, custody of the speech will go to his son Mark. The only condition is that Mark may never sell it.

BL: George Raveling stopped coaching in 1994. His career record: 337-292, and he works as Nike’s Director of International Basketball. What is his legacy?

SD: Well, his legacy is in the relationships and the mentoring and the information that he's passed on to all kinds of coaches — young, old, black, white, everything in-between. There was a time — when he was at USC, he used to mail out a huge batch of newspaper clips, and he'd have, like, a little cover on it — I think it was called "Reading With Raveling," or something like that. And he would send them out to hundreds of coaches and young people, and they would have nothing to do with sports, nothing to do with basketball. It might be on politics, it might be on history, it might be on health care, it might be on race — it could be on anything. And he really considered himself a great portal of information.

This segment aired on January 24, 2015.



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