Friday, January 22, 2016

Minden's best ever: Moreland ... and Dunbar

     (Part II: Sweet Lou Dunbar -- Minden to the Globetrotters)
       If you ask oldtimers, who is the best basketball player to come out of Minden, La., the answer is likely to be Jackie Moreland. But a younger group will say Louis Dunbar. Tough choice.
     Moreland, a 6-foot-7 center/forward who led Minden High School to a 1955 state championship, was so dominant in high school that he was described as "a man among boys." He was the subject of a huge recruiting battle which ultimately left several schools with NCAA penalties.
Jackie Moreland
at Louisiana Tech
     He chose North Carolina State, but never played there. Instead, he went to nearby Louisiana Tech -- after a dalliance with Centenary -- and starred for three seasons, making Little All-American and setting all sorts of Tech scoring and rebounding records. 
     He was Tech's best-ever player, certainly as a big man,  until Mike Green reset the record books in the early 1970s,
     How good was Moreland? Yes, he played in an all-white world in high school and college, but he proved he could last in the NBA. He was the No. 1 draft pick of the Detroit Pistons in 1960, the fourth pick overall.
     Here's what he did that Dunbar didn't: He played eight years of real pro basketball -- five with the Pistons and, after a year out of the game, three with the New Orleans Buccaneers of the new American Basketball Association.
     The NBA and ABA weren't as integrated as they would become, but there were a lot fewer pro teams then -- eight in the NBA in Jackie's rookie season -- and only 12 roster spots, so it was an elite league.
     Moreland was a good pro, especially popular in the ABA in his home state. He retired after the 1969-70 season and became a project engineer on the Superdome being built in New Orleans. Sadly, only a year later, pancreatic cancer quickly took Jackie at age 33.
     He was a Minden/Louisiana Tech legend, and I never saw him play except with the Pistons on TV in the early 1960s. But I knew how good a player he was -- I was told many times by Minden and Tech people -- almost everyone said he was a wonderful person.
Sweet Lou: Globetrotters' "clown prince"
     I saw how good a player Dunbar was at Webster High School (see Part I) and the University of Houston, and for 25 years, with the Harlem Globetrotters.
     I mentioned in a previous blog that I always wondered how it was he didn't play in the NBA; there were rumors he wasn't a fit for the Philadelphia 76ers, who drafted him in the fourth round in 1975. He was their fifth pick; their first two were Darryl Dawkins and World B. Free -- both significant NBA stars-to-be.
     So the word was that Dunbar could not come to terms with the Sixers. Maybe they didn't offer enough money; maybe he wanted too much. Anyway, he wound up going to play in Switzerland, played for the European League champions, and came back to a Houston Rockets summer-league team and tryout camp.
     It was there the Globetrotters scouted him, loved his game and thought he would fit well with them. The rest you know; it's 39 years later, and he's a Trotters' Legend.
     He's traveled the world many times over, met a Pope and several U.S. Presidents and other world leaders, and he's had them -- and so many fans -- laughing. And it's been a personal joy, too.
     Louis summed up his career well in an interview with Larry Guest of the Orlando Sentinel in 1998.
     "When you mention names like Goose Tatum and Meadowlark Lemon and Geese Ausbie, you're talking about the cream of the crop," he said. "To think you're doing some of the routines they did, it's really something special. You just try to go out and do your best knowing and hoping that one day people will say, 'Hey, Lou Dunbar did that.'
     "When you become a showman, you have to bring something to the party."
     Dunbar is not in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. I think he should be soon. The team he's been with hasn't lost a game in 37 years.
     Yes, Lou Dunbar did bring something to the party, and fans loved him. Going back to Webster High and Minden, he always had a fan here.


  1. Thanks for the blogs on Louis Dunbar and Jackie Moreland. My dad used to point out Jackie Moreland's house when we were driving HWY 79 between Homer and Minden. I still notice the house when I am back visiting my sister, who lives on Lake Claiborne. It's incredible the basketball talent that North Louisiana produced in that era, mostly from small towns: Moreland, Dunbar, Parish, Glynn Saulters (Lisbon), Willis Reed (Bernice), Elvin Hayes (Rayville), Karl Malone (Summerfield).

  2. From Jim Pruett: I remember reading about Sweet Lou, but never saw him play. Knew he was terrific. Saw Moreland play in high school. Dominant in a different era. He actually worked out with us at Tech a time or two during the Christmas break back in the day. I remember him as friendly, a left handed-bulldozer, and "old." Ha!

  3. From Jimmy Russell: I remember [Minden] Coach Cleve Strong took our team to see Jack play his first or second game at Tech in 1957. I was probably in the 8th or 9th grade then. Saw Jack score 42 points, maybe 44, the Tech scoring record at that time. ... He was a great player, but was not challenged at Tech and actually produced a little less each year he was there. He was great no doubt about it. Saw him play many a night at Minden [in the mid-1950s].

  4. From Richard T Priddy: I sat in old Memorial Gym and watched Moreland score 40 points in a game one night. My roomie at the time was an engineering student and he and Jackie sometimes worked on homework together. Had the biggest feet I ever saw!

  5. From Joe Harris: Jackie played at Tech while I was there. He was a friend. One of the best games I ever witnessed was Tech (Moreland) vs. Western Kentucky (King Kelly Coleman). What a show they put on. I believe Jackie and Kelly both broke the Memorial Gym scoring record that night. It's so long ago, memory might not be accurate. Saw Jackie and his family at El Chico's on Greenwood Road in Shreveport not long before his passing. He saw me and being the friend he was came to the table and met my parents. First time I saw him play was at the old Vivian High School gym. He was playing for Harris High School as an eighth grader. He put on a show there, too.
    Man, you sure touch my memory chord sometime. Appreciate it.

  6. From Ike Futch: Moreland had the smoothest shot I've ever seen. Lived across the street from his brother Joe on Cooktown Road in Ruston. We talked about Jackie a lot. Great guy.

  7. From Jamie Moreland: Good stuff. I'm probably a bit biased to comment on who was Minden's greatest.

  8. From Jenna Litschewski: Like my brother, Jamie, I might be a tad biased as well (smile emoticon). Thanks for your enjoyable blog post. After all these years, I'm awed when I still see articles being written about my father, Jack Moreland. He was a pretty fabulous guy indeed.

  9. From Carl Semmes: Your article on Louis Dunbar was linked to me by a friend. I attended Minden High from 1970-72. Played Summer Recreation League with Louis. Haha, I won the Sportsmanship Award; he won the MVP, of course. I was there in the gym when Webster High played Minden High for the very first time in history. Words cannot describe the electricity of the arena, nor the moment I witnessed what I consider the greatest basketball shot I have seen in my life. Yes, even to this day.
    I will tell the story and it brings goosebumps to the skin. The game was fairly close, probably at around 60-56 for Webster. Con L. Flournoy was left of the key and Billy Bennett was low-posted on the right side, setting a soft pick-and-roll type maneuver for Louis. Louis rolls out and goes to the baseline and is about 4 feet from the corner. The ball gets passed to him ... and the Minden player (I want to say it was one of the Walker boys) started backing up away from Lou, giving him space. I was expecting him to dribble and make a drive to the hoop. Instead, a moment forever emblazoned in my consciousness happened. Lou dropped his left leg backward, almost touching the very corner angle of the court out of bounds, in a smooth see-saw rocking motion, he comes forward, both feet together and jumps up, arms fully extended and shoots the jumper. Except, he jumped so high, when he released the ball, it had no arc, none! It travel in a DOWNWARD PATH, a straight line that entered the basket and ripped the net so it popped up on the other side. The gymnasium exploded! It was raw pandemonium, with Webster fans shouting and screaming. It was in effect, the game- winner and Webster went on to soundly defeat the Tide.
    In 1995, I was living in Iowa City, working for the Billiard Congress of America, and the Globetrotters came to Cedar Rapids. I told my co-worker, Sven Davies, that I used to play Summer Recreation basketball with one of the Globetrotters. I had a ticket for him if he wanted to go. We went and watched the game. Afterward, we waited for the players to exit, and when "Sweet Lou" came out, I yelled, "Hey Louis, I used to play summer basketball with you in Minden with Con L. Flournoy and Billy Bennett!" He stopped and gave me a few minutes of conversation, and I told him I was at the Minden game when Webster played and he made "That Shot." It was a great moment of nostalgia for him, and for me. Of course, my friend was totally shocked. He thought I made up the whole thing. Nope, it's true. All of it.
    Thanks for the trip down memory lane with Louis James Dunbar -- one of my all-time favorite players.