If I told you there was a basketball player who went to Indiana University and left and then went on to Indiana State, you'd be thinking of the great Larry Bird. But that's where the similarities between Bird and Paxton Lumpkin end. Paxton Lumpkin could've been an outstanding NBA player.
Long before there was the Fab 5, Lumpkin's DuSable High School basketball team would put its stamp on the sport, and there was a display about it in the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass for some time. The DuSable Panthers became the first black team with a black coach to succeed in the highest levels of integrated, organized sport in America. Along with Sweet Charlie Brown, who later starred with Elgin Baylor at Seattle, and Shellie McMillon, who played center in the N.B.A. for four years, Lumpkin led the team to 31 straight victories, and to the 1954 Illinois state high school championship game in Champaign againt Mount Vernon, a primarily white southern Illinois team.
The DuSable Panthers looked unusual, wearing high "pro" socks like their idols, the Harlem Globetrotters, and black capes over their black-and-red warm-up jerseys (I really think NBA players should bring capes back as their warm-up attire; and I don't mean Dwight Howard during the dunk contest). Their cheerleaders danced and cheered with eccentric, high-kicking choreography. The team played a new style of basketball called "run-and-gun," fast-breaking and using a full-court press. They averaged 80 points a game when other teams were still scoring 40 and 50 points.
Paxton is #14
The championship game was held in March 1954, just two months before Brown vs Board of Education, the landmark Supreme Court decision, which ordered that public schools be properly and swiftly integrated. The DuSable team was integrating the state tournament, as it were, and was favored to win it. But in the last 90 seconds of the game, a series of controversial calls turned the game to Mount Vernon. DuSable lost, 76-70.
Afterwords Lumpkin would go on to attend Indiana University but school fell behind basketball, dice and liquor on his priority list, and he flunked out during his first semester of sophomore year. He tried giving it another shot at Indiana State, but apparently didn't fare much better. He'd leave ISU and go onto perform for the Globetrotters where he was assigned the dribbler for the early 60s teams.
But such future National Basketball Association players as Kevin Porter and Maurice Cheeks, who played many years later at DuSable, on the South Side of Chicago, would always remember his name, and his legend.
"You know," someone from Chicago was saying recently, "whenever Lump entered a room, he lit it up, like he did the basketball court. He was still Paxton Lumpkin, the high school star. He always will be."
This past February was 20 years ago Lumpkin died of cancer. He had worked as a postal worker at the time while working with youth groups on the side. Maybe the next time you hear someone talk about guys who revolutionized the game, instead of thinking of the Fab 5, or Jordan, Bird or Magic, or the Texas Western College Basketball team, Paxton Lumpkin and his DuSable Panthers will come to mind.