By Jim Schutze
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Bobby Knight would like to get Haynes on Oprah Winfrey's show, so Haynes can receive his just due as one of the greatest players of all time. In May, the Texas Tech basketball coach and Tech Chancellor Kent Hance co-signed a letter to Winfrey, which ends with their insisting that the 1948 Globetrotters' story "needs to be told." Both men also insist Haynes is the only man left to tell it.
"If you asked me when I started my book, I would have said I heard the name Marques Haynes, but all I knew were Meadowlark Lemon and Curly Neal," says Ben Green, author of the 2005 definitive history, Spinning the Globe: The Rise, Fall, and Return to Greatness of the Harlem Globetrotters. "But he and the 'Trotters played in front of 19,000 at Madison Square Garden, almost causing a mass riot, and 50 years later nobody knows who they are. Nobody makes the connection between where did Magic Johnson and 'Showtime' and playing above the rim come from. But they are a black ball team, and America just doesn't care that much. They always just saw the Globetrotters are clowns, a cartoon."
So what does Marques Haynes want?
After a few silent seconds, Haynes says, "I don't know." His wife, sitting beside him in a friend's kitchen, laughs.
"We've been together 30 years, and what people don't understand about Marques is that Marques operates from the inside out, not from the outside in," she says. "So his values are above the average human being out there. I get the question all the time: 'How come he's not affected by this?' Because he's so self-reliant and self-confident and secure in himself."
He should be. He's Marques Haynes.
In a perfect world, no one would need to be reminded of Haynes' statistics or skills; no one would need to be told he changed the game, that he and his teammates were throwing down showtime ball long before the Los Angeles Lakers brought their razzle-dazzle to prime time. His are merely the impressive statistics of a life spent on the outskirts of legend. Marques Haynes was important, like Jackie Robinson. And he was good, like Michael Jordan. Important and good—that's enough for most people to remember who you are, even if they don't quite know your age.
So, maybe he was born in 1926; some figure it could have been '23. No doubt about one thing: He was born in Sand Springs, Oklahoma, a suburb of Tulsa divided by racial lines formed by all towns' trusty train tracks: whites on the north side, blacks on the south.
"All the industry was on our side of the tracks," Haynes says. "There was a steel mill between our high school and the Arkansas River." When he was 3, Marques' father took off—for Texas, it turned out, though Marques wouldn't know his father until he was a grown man—which meant Mom would be at work during the day, cleaning the houses of white families, so "much older sister" Cecil had no choice but to drag Marques along to basketball practice. He was 4, maybe 4 1/2, he insists. He'd thought the big basketball was "amazing," and he wanted to know how to bounce it. So he learned.
And for years he did nothing with his talent. He barely played any ball at all. In seventh grade at Booker T. Washington he was the basketball team's "mascot," what today you'd call team manager. But he liked it because it meant he could watch practice when no other students were allowed. So he watched. And he bounced.
"The three of us had this little rubber ball, and we'd go out to the railroad track on a regular basis and bounce it on the cross ties," he says. "It was like a contest to see who could bounce it the farthest. So one day, we found a tennis ball, and we decided to take it out there and try to bounce it on the cross ties. We found it to be easy, so we decided to try to bounce it on the railroad track, and you talk about something difficult, it discouraged us. We started to quit, but it became kind of funny. It was a challenge. Eventually, we were able to do it, and that was the beginning of a whole lot of stuff. Then we found out in practice, especially from watching my brother, that you could do a whole lot with that basketball." To this day, Haynes insists all he ever learned about dribbling a basketball came from that tennis ball and that train track.
Haynes didn't play ball until his last two years in high school, and the coaches wouldn't allow them to showboat in games (they only did it in practice and only if the coach wasn't around). He went to nearby Langston University—founded in 1897 and still the westernmost all-black college in the country—from which two older brothers had graduated. He would attend on a scholarship from his church in the amount of $25. To get there, he hitchhiked the 84 miles from Sand Springs to Langston.
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