A Championship HBCU Basketball Team Finally Gets Their White House Moment More Than 65 Years After Their Victory

A championship HBCU men’s basketball team finally got their visit to the White House more than 60 years after their big wins.

The Tennessee A&I Tigers of Tennessee Agricultural & Industrial State University in Nashville made history in 1957, becoming “the first HBCU team to win a national championship,” and then “again by becoming the first college team to win three back-to-back national titles from 1957-1959.”

Mr. Barnett, George Finley, Ernest Jones, Henry Carlton, Robert Clark and Ron Hamilton attended a private ceremony on Friday at the White House, where Vice President Kamala Harris paid homage to the team during a round-table discussion in the Roosevelt Room, The New York Times reports. It’s now been 67 years since the team’s first national title.

“There’s so much that we have accomplished as a nation because of the heroes like those that I’m looking at right now,” stated Harris. “I, like so many of us, stand on your broad shoulders, each one of you.”

Finley said, “This is the greatest day of my life,” continuing “I thought this would never take place.”

“[Winning] the championship was big, but it wasn’t as big as being here with [Vice President] Harris today,” added Finley.

The team gave Harris a custom jersey following the ceremony and received a tour of the White House.

Their path to this much belated visit was not without obstacles. According to CBS, “the team was subject to a bomb threat on the plane during their return trip home from Kansas City following their victory at the NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) championship game in 1957.”

In addition, it would also take decades for the Tigers to get inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. This honor was finally bestowed in 2019 after a years-long public relations campaign, which was covered in the PBS documentary “The Dream Whisperer.”  

Progress on this front was made in January when Congressional Representative Gregory W. Meeks (D-NY) “led a letter joined by more than 50 Members of Congress to President Biden to respectfully request that he invite the surviving members of the 1957-1959 Tennessee A&I Tigers Men’s Basketball Team to the White House. I am pleased that my request has been honored, and that the Tennessee Tigers enjoyed a long overdue commemoration to honor their historic accomplishments,” per a statement.

“The Tennessee A&I Tigers men’s basketball team broke barriers on the court while fighting injustice off it.

In 1957, they became the first HBCU to win a national championship before becoming the first team to win three in a row,” Vice President Kamala Harris wrote on Threads. “It was my honor to welcome them to the White House for the first time.”

Barnett, who also played for the championship winning New York Knicks during the 1970s, has another upcoming celebratory moment later this year. On Saturday, during the Men’s Final Four tournament, it was announced that “Barnett will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.”

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