The story of Loyola Chicago’s first NCAA championship run
In 1963, at the height of the civil rights movement, the Loyola Ramblers not only won the NCAA tournament with two buzzer beaters (one to tie, one in overtime), they also opened the door to a new era in American sports. Ramblers is the story of that team and a milestone moment in the integration and evolution of college basketball.
Starred review: “Ramblers passionately evokes the beauty of a great game in a time of great change, and works as a metaphor for changes taking place across the nation as well. Lenehan handles the game with an ease and comfort that indicate his expertise, and Ramblers combines his passion for basketball with an intimately detailed history–including a deeply moving digression into the 1962 riots at Oxford, Miss.” –Julia Jenkins, Shelf Awareness
“Getting to know the stories behind the scores and the personalities off the court is what makes Ramblers much more than a conventional sports book. It makes it a classic.” –Rick Kogan, Chicago Tribune
“Lenehan’s success is in the telling of the greater history surrounding the Ramblers and their impact on sports during the height of the Civil Rights movement. The vivid description of the central figures is also endearing.” –Matt Caputo, SLAM Magazine
In 1963 the Ramblers represented the future of basketball: they were one of the first major college teams with four black starters, the first one ever to have five black players on the floor at the same time. They played in a fast, athletic style that presaged the high-flying game we know today.
Their opponents in the final were the Cincinnati Bearcats, the Goliaths of the game, playing for the fifth straight year in what today we would call the final four. Though they had three black starters (and four the previous year), they played a slow, deliberate game that was on its way out of style.
In the first round of the tournament Loyola faced the Bulldogs of Mississippi State University. They also played in the older style, but they represented the past in a more fundamental way. Not only were they (and the school they represented) all white, they had never even played against a black man, due to an informal state policy of athletic segregation. They snuck out of Mississippi in order to compete in the tournament.
Ramblers interweaves the stories of these three teams into a chronicle of courage and social change.
Fifty years ago basketball was played mostly on the floor, black players’ opportunities were severely limited, and our country was reeling with racial conflict. Today basketball is played mostly in the air, black players dominate, and our country is…well, still conflicted, but at least a little steadier on its feet. Ramblers is a story about how those changes came about.