By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
"I had to catch 16 rides," he says. "The last ride was on a horse and wagon, two miles from Langston."
And, finally, people got some idea of what Marques Haynes could do with a basketball. From 1942 to 1946, under Coach Felton "Zip" Gayles, the Langston men's basketball team went 112-3, including a 54-game winning streak and two straight Southwestern Athletic Conference titles. Haynes was the all-black SWAC's high scorer from '42 through '46.
He recalls seeing the Harlem Globetrotters for the first time around 1945. The Langston Lions were playing in Oklahoma City against the Kansas City Stars, a Globetrotters farm team, and the 'Trotters were headlining the double-header. After Langston annihilated the Stars—Haynes had 23 points alone—he stuck around to see the 'Trotters.
"Really, I wasn't impressed," Haynes says. "I might have been, had we stayed for the whole ball game. But we just stayed until about the half, and to me, it was just another ball game. And I hadn't heard of them prior to that time, but I'd heard of a team called the New York Rens. I heard about them in the Chicago Defender and the Pittsburgh Courier. And I saw where 'Pop' Gates had gotten a contract from the New York Rens for $350 a month. And I said to myself, 'My God! I had no idea anybody ever got paid for playing basketball!' So that was the first time I had a thought of maybe playing professional basketball."
As Haynes continued to play basketball, word of his skills spread. There was, for instance, the 1945 SWAC tournament in Baton Rouge—the night Haynes took it upon himself to embarrass home team Southern University, which had just run all over poor ol' Sam Houston College from Austin. Not only did Southern destroy Sam Houston, by a score of 55-21, but they also razzle-dazzled 'em to death—"passing the ball behind the back, all that stuff," Haynes says. Haynes felt bad for one of Sam Houston's assistant coaches—a guy he'd talked to on the sidelines for a while, a young man just out of the Army whose name was Jackie Robinson.
As Ben Green wrote in his 2005 book, Haynes took control of the last three minutes of the game—"he dribbled behind his back and between his legs, dribbled the ball two inches off the ground and higher than his head," ran so fast and stopped so quickly other players would "slide right past him"—that it soon became out of control. Fans threw money, Green writes, and their hats and "even their shirts...in tribute." Eventually, Coach Zip Gayles could stand no more and ran onto the court, to chase down his scrawny showoff and shut him down for the night.
"Then all at once, one of my teammates said, 'Haynes! Zip is after you!' I figured he was on the bench hollering at me to stop because he didn't allow all that stuff, but another one said, 'He's behind you, Haynes!' I looked up, and Zip in fact was behind me—out on the court, chasing me! So I dribbled up and stopped real quick, and Zip tried to stop, and he had leather shoes on, and—screeeeeech!—he went right on by me. And, boy, you woulda thought that building was going to fall in with that crowd laughing."
Then, on March 4, 1946, the Langston Lions played the Harlem Globetrotters in Oklahoma City. The 'Trotters regularly played college teams and annihilated them. Most college teams just wanted to compete with the 'Trotters. But with Haynes, the Langston Lions didn't just compete, they actually won by a score of 74-70. "Haynes didn't just beat the 'Trotters, which was surprising," writes Ben Green, "he destroyed them, scoring 26 points—the second greatest performance by an opposition player in Globetrotter history."
No way the 'Trotters were letting the kid from Sand Springs get away.
There ought to be a movie about the next part of this story—and there almost was a few years back. Penny Marshall was attached to direct a screenplay about how Marques Haynes, Goose Tatum, Sweetwater Clifton, Ermer Robinson and Babe Pressley beat the mighty Minneapolis Lakers in 1948 and '49—a Lakers team that would win the first-ever NBA championship in 1950. The team featured the massive George Mikan, who could best be described as a bespectacled cross between Babe Ruth and Shaquille O'Neal.
A handful of screenplays are said to exist, and on paper, at least, it's a no-brainer—better than that Hoosiers hokum, more glorious than Glory Road. The game took place in Chicago on February 19, 1948—one of the greatest games of all time, and one of the most forgotten turning points in sports history. No one filmed it, because everyone thought it'd be a walk—Lakers by 50, give or take. No one, except maybe the 'Trotters, thought Abe Saperstein's team would beat the Lakers. But they did. By two. At the buzzer.
"It was just like all the other games," Haynes says. "99.5 percent of the public felt that the Lakers would win that. They probably thought the Lakers would destroy us. Now, we had one player on our team—my roommate, Ermer Robinson—who asked me, 'I wonder why Abe would put us against these guys. They're the champions.' And I said, 'Heck, Ermer, they can only put five guys out there at a time. They'll just have to try to shoot their best shot.' And it ends up, Ermer's the one who made the winning basket."