Jerry Harkness, a civil rights activist and the captain of the 1963 Loyola men’s basketball national championship team, died Aug. 24 at age 81, Loyola athletics officials confirmed in a press release.
Harkness led the team to the 1963 NCAA championship game as one of four Black starters on the roster. Despite facing discrimination — including receiving letters from the Klu Klux Klan and having to travel separately from the rest of the team — the group was dominant on the court, averaging nearly 94 points a game.
In the “Game of Change,” Harkness was one of four Black Loyola starters who played in the NCAA Regional Semifinal game against Mississippi State University. Although laws forbade the Maroons from playing integrated teams, the team snuck out of town to face the Ramblers.
“The impact he had on racial equality was unparalleled,” Loyola Associate Athletics Director Bill Behrns said. “He probably doesn’t get enough credit for the things that he did in that arena as opposed to the credit that he gets for his accomplishments in the basketball arena.”
The two-time All-American was drafted by the New York Knicks in the 1963 NBA Draft and later went on to play two seasons for the Indiana Pacers in the American Basketball Association (ABA). He holds the record for the longest shot ever made in a United States professional basketball game with his 92-foot shot during the Pacers’ 1967-68 season.
“All of us at Loyola have heavy hearts today,” Loyola men’s basketball head coach Drew Valentine said in a press release. “Jerry was a true trailblazer not only in basketball, but in so many different walks of life, and the impact he made was immeasurable.”
After his basketball career, Harkness went on to work in business and broadcasting, even becoming the first African-American salesman for Quaker Oats. He was also named to the Loyola Athletics Hall of Fame, the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame, the Chicagoland Sports Hall of Fame and the College Basketball Hall of Fame.
“As soon as I learned the story of the 1963 Ramblers basketball team, Jerry became one of my role models,” Loyola guard Lucas Williamson said in the press release. “He will be deeply missed and forever remembered as one of the best to wear a Loyola jersey.”
Harkness is survived by his wife, Sarah, and children, Jerald and Julie. Funeral arrangements are pending.