CHICAGO – He was a leader on and off the basketball court, aiding in victories for his team and civil rights off the court.
Jerry Harkness made quite an impact during his time in Chicago while at Loyola and then in the State of Indiana in his later years, both of which are being remembered after his death at the age of 81 on Tuesday.
His son, Jerald Harkness, announced Jerry’s death on Facebook.
A native of Harlem, New York, Harkness was a star for Loyola and a captain, leading the team in scoring for three consecutive seasons. In the 1962-1963 season, he along with his teammates made history with their run to a national championship, which is the only Division 1 men’s basketball title in the State of Illinois.
In his final season, a year where Loyola went 29-2 en route to a championship, Harkness averaged 21.4 points per game while shooting 50.4 percent from the floor. That earned him consensus first-team All-American honors for that year.
Harkness would finish his Loyola career with 1,749 points with his No. 15 being retired by the school.
“All of us at Loyola have heavy hearts today,” said Loyola men’s basketball coach Drew Valentine in a statement released by the school. “Jerry was a true trailblazer not only in basketball, but in so many different walks of life, and the impact he made was immeasurable.”
Among the memorable wins in that run to the championship was the famed “Game of Change,” where the Ramblers, who started four Black players, faced an all-white Mississippi State at Jenison Fieldhouse in East Lansing, Michigan. The Maroons, who came from a state where there was an unwritten law that they would not face teams with black players, defied an injunction and snuck out of Mississippi to play that game.
Due to that unwritten rule, that was the first time the Maroons had played in the NCAA Tournament.
Harkness had a pregame handshake at midcourt with Mississippi State’s Joe Dan Gold, which became the most iconic picture of the contest. The guard would lead all scorers with 20 points as the Ramblers won it 61-51 to advance to the Elite Eight.
Loyola would then beat Illinois in East Lansing to advance to the Final Four, then defeated Duke and Cincinnati for the title at Freedom Hall in Louisville.
Drafted by the Knicks in the second round of the draft that season, he would play just one season in New York. In 1967, Harkness was one of the original members of the Indiana Pacers, who began play in the American Basketball Association that season, remaining with the team for two seasons.
Harkness was also a trailblazer off the floor, becoming the first African-American to be a salesman for Quaker Oats, the first African-American to be a fundraiser for the United Way, and the first African-American sportscaster in Indianapolis for WLWI/WTHR-TV.
He was also the executive director of the Indianapolis chapter of “100 Black Men,” an organization that helps to educate and empower African-American children and teenagers.