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Jerry Harkness, former Pacer and civil rights pioneer, dies at 81

Jerry Harkness was a ground-breaking figure in college basketball, civil rights and Indianapolis.
Posted at 1:15 PM, Aug 24, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-24 13:15:26-04

INDIANAPOLIS — The world of college basketball has lost a pioneer who was a ground-breaking figure in Indianapolis.

Jerry Harkness is best known for the history he made as a Loyola Rambler.

Harkness hit for Loyola of Chicago when they won the men's national championship in 1963. He hit the shot that sent the championship game into overtime. Loyola would go on to beat Cincinnati 60 to 58.

Three years ago when Loyola went back to the Final Four, WRTV's Derrik Thomas spoke to Harkness about that game. But he also talked about a more important aspect of his Rambler team that season — the Game of Change.

Loyola had four Black starters when there was an unwritten rule that no more than three Black people could play together at once. Nevertheless, the ramblers played Mississippi State in the regional finals, a team the defied government orders that banned them from playing an integrated team.

"That was the game of change. That was more than a game. That was history being made right there," Harkness had told Thomas.

"The fact that the governor of Mississippi wouldn't allow Mississippi State to come play against a team that had four Black starters. You realize that was pretty important in the history of civil rights in the United States. Jerry was at the epicenter," Pete Cava, a friend of Harkness said.

Harkness would come to Indianapolis a few years later. Playing with the Pacers during their first two seasons in the ABA.

He would make history again in November 1967. When he hit an 88-foot shot at the buzzer to lead the Pacers past Dallas. It's still the longest game-winning shot ever made in a pro basketball game in the country.

Harkness would go on to work for the United Way of Central Indiana. He helped start the "Indiana Black Expo" and "100 Black Men of Indianapolis." He was also the first Black sportscaster on Indianapolis television.

Harkness' son announced his father's death Tuesday morning in a Facebook post.

Harkness was 81 years old.