Rev. Al Sharpton is widely known for taking up the fight on behalf of the underdog in his pursuit of justice and equality. His stances on a wide array of issues have taken him across the country and around the world.
Sharpton visited the campus of Tennessee State University to have TSU’s 1957-59 Men’s Championship Basketball Team, the first-ever to win three national titles back-to back, inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
The evening of Oct. 23, Sharpton was joined by Richard ‘Dick’ Barnett; TSU officials and staff, including President Glenda Glover; state and local officials; community leaders and stakeholders, as he presented his cause during a ceremony in Kean Hall on the TSU main campus. Sharpton also addressed other current social issues. Just before the ceremony, Sharpton addressed the media during a press conference in the Athletics Lobby, also in Kean Hall.
Sharpton became friends with TSU alumnus Dr. Barnett, a member of all three championship teams, and was compelled by the achievements of Barnett and his teammates. They were the first in collegiate history to win three consecutive national championships, and the first historically Black institution to win a title. Despite Texas Western (the team depicted in the movie Glory Road) being recognized as the first all-Black starting five to win a college national title, TSU won their title nearly a decade earlier.
Both men believe it is time for the team to become a part of basketball history, and that the university is the perfect place to begin the campaign for the hall of fame.
In 1957, the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament became the first tournament to have seeded teams, making it the first to have an upset. The unseeded TSU Tigers had four upsets in the tournament, with the most important victory being over Southeastern Oklahoma State in a 19-point blowout (92-73), thus winning the school’s first NAIA Championship. With the win, Tennessee State became the first historically Black institution to win a collegiate basketball national championship.
The 1958 Men’s NAIA Division I Basketball Tournament saw defending champions Tennessee State return as the #3 seed. The team’s closest win came in the championship finals against the #1 seed and tourney favorite Western Illinois (85-73). With the win, the Tigers became only the third team to have back-to-back championships. That year, Coach John McLendon was selected ‘Coach of the Year,’ while player Dick Barnett received the ‘Chuck Taylor Most Valuable Player Award.’
With back-to-back NAIA Championships, Tennessee State entered the 1959 Men’s Division 1 Basketball Tournament as the top seed. The team had an opportunity to accomplish a feat no other team had done, win a third consecutive title. TSU breezed through the tournament. The finals pitted the Tigers against #3 seed Pacific Lutheran University. Again, Tennessee State prevailed beating Pacific Lutheran 97-87 to capture the title. It was the first time any school had won three tournaments in a row. Barnett received his second ‘MVP Award.’
The Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame recognized the team last spring during its annual ceremony. They were honored for Significant Historical Achievement.