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Documentary about historic 1966-67 WSSU basketball team coming to CBS Sports Network in February
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Documentary about historic 1966-67 WSSU basketball team coming to CBS Sports Network in February

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Claudette Weston is looking forward to the documentary on the 1966-67 team and the late Big House Gaines.

Players from 1966-67 are part of fund-raising breakfast held this weekend

In the absence of a CIAA basketball season, a big part of league history can be seen in the form of a documentary on one of the best teams to ever play in the 109-year-old conference.

A CBS Sports Network documentary that has been in the works for nearly two years will highlight the 1966-67 Winston-Salem State men’s basketball team, which won the NCAA Division II title. The documentary will air at 7 p.m. on Feb. 11.

Not only will the documentary include interviews with players such as Earl “The Pearl” Monroe, Steve Smith, James Reid and Ernie Brown, it will feature the late Big House Gaines, the coach of that team that went 31-1.

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CBS Sports Network was on campus at WSSU in November of 2019 while working on a documentary highlighting the 1966-67 championship basketball team.

“With no CIAA basketball, this will give a lot of us something to look forward to,” said Winston-Salem business leader Claudette Weston, who was interviewed for the documentary and who befriended Gaines and that team. “Folks who don’t know much about that team other than Earl played on it will learn a lot about that magical season.”

Producers and cameras arrived at WSSU in November 2019 as the project was getting off the ground. The producers shot game footage and interviewed Cleo Hill Jr., whose father, Cleo, starred for Gaines in the 1950s. The original air date of February 2020, as as part of Black History Month, was pushed back because of another project, according to Weston, then the pandemic's surge in March 2020 caused another delay.

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The banner from that 1966-67 team hangs in the rafters at the Gaines Center on WSSU's campus.

Gaines' teams won 828 games in his 47 seasons at WSSU, and he was enshrined in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1982. Gaines and his wife, Clara, were entrenched in the community in Winston-Salem, which is why there’s a street named for him near the campus.

White and black basketball fans would go to the old Memorial Coliseum to see Monroe and the team play. Whitaker Gym was so small that only students and a handful of alumni could see the team play.

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WSSU's 1966-67 team went 31-1 and won the Division II national championship.

Weston asked Gaines one day why the games couldn’t be played at the bigger coliseum.

“So we started working together to get the games moved to the coliseum, and it worked out great,” Weston said.

Monroe, who averaged 41.5 points per game and shot 60 percent, is the CIAA's all-time leading scorer, and that was without the benefit of the three-point line.

But a better statistic than how many points the team scored, Weston said, is that every one of Gaines’ players from that team earned a college degree.

Earl's impact on the game is legendary. Known as the father of the spin move, Earl captured the imagination of the nation's basketball fans in his rookie year with the Baltimore Bullets. Before gaining national acclaim in the NBA, he had already captured the hearts of many southerners, both black and white, with his defining game and brilliant play in his four years at Winston-Salem State College (now WSSU). In the 1966-67 season Earl led his team to a national championship in the NCAA's College Division averaging 41.5 points per game. My dad always felt Earl Monroe's greatest contribution as a basketball player was helping to break down racial barriers in North Carolina.

Ralph Wiley's brilliant article, "Seeing the Game Through Pearl Vision," captures the essence of Earl's game and impact.

"Earl Monroe had better than fame. He had genius. He had rep. And he had them at all meaningful levels of the game. He was a genius at the playground level, a genius at the collegiate level, a genius at the NBA level, a genius at the upper echelon All-Star NBA level, and a genius at the NBA championship level. He is all-time. He is legend. Pearl."

"What happened then? Well ... Earl the Pearl Monroe helped integration even before Martin Luther King did -- anyway, to tell you the truth, at just about the same time. Later, as a pro, he'd read King's speeches before he played and let that inspire him. Back then, the legend went from the playgrounds of Philly moved to Tobacco Road, where tales were told about a young man with the ball on a string who could move your soul with his inspired improv."

"Earl Monroe The Pearl won an NBA title with the Knicks in 1973. The story spread underground, like wildfire, across Hoop Nation. It was said he could not be described. He could only be seen, and even then unseen. He required faith -- the evidence of things not seen. His improv was a revelation, as much science as art. You could no more describe Pearl's game than you can describe color, music or literature."

"All you can say is there's a right way to play, and a not-right way to play, and an inspired way. Earl originated the spin move, yes, and on first sighting it moved the soul like water turning to wine. But, see, the thing is ... Earl always spun toward the basket."

Wrote a blog on Early "Earl "The Pearl" Monroe's Sacrifice - From the Bullets to the Knicks" - http://cgscoutperspective.blogspot.com/2011/10/earl-pearl-monroes-sacrifice-from.html

“And they all went on to have successful lives, which is something I’m hoping the documentary highlights,” Weston said. “Big House was big on education because he knew not everybody was going to the NBA.”

After the Division II title was won in Evansville, Ind., the team flew back to Winston-Salem with everybody in tow except for Monroe. He stayed in Evansville because Gaines had arranged for Monroe, who was going to be a teacher, to take the teacher exam so he could graduate.

Monroe missed a celebration in Winston-Salem when the team returned as the first from a historically black college or university to win an NCAA championship in basketball.

“That sounds like something Big House would have arranged,” Weston said.

Monroe went on to be the No. 2 pick in the NBA Draft, behind Providence's Jimmy Walker to Detroit, and carved out a Hall of Fame career with the Baltimore/Washington Bullets and the New York Knicks.

Former CBS Sports college basketball analyst Billy Packer talks about the progress made through college basketball in Winston-Salem, NC during the 1960s.

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@johndellWSJ

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