The act of defiance that transformed college basketball

(CBS News) INDIANAPOLIS -- A youth basketball team in Indianapolis doesn't think of its 72-year-old coach as a celebrity, but Jerry Harkness has a place in American history.

Jerry Harkness
Jerry Harkness
CBS News

The memories go back to the basketball courts of New York, where Harkness was so good he landed a scholarship to Loyola University Chicago.

It was in his senior year at a semi-final game of the 1963 NCAA tournament that a simple handshake did so much.

"I will never forget that time shaking his hand, the warmth was there -- almost to say, 'I'm here and I'm glad to be here,'" he recalls.

Watch: Forty-seven years ago, Texas Western became the first team to win the NCAA Basketball Championship with an African-American starting lineup, below.

Loyola had four black starters that day facing an all-white team from Mississippi State, including Bobby Shows.

"There's an unwritten law that no college from Mississippi can play against blacks," he says. "It was crazy stuff. If you play against them, they're going to want to play on your team. If they play on your team, they want to dance with your girls. If they dance with your girls, they're going to marry your girls."

Bobby Shows
Bobby Shows
CBS News

But Mississippi State played anyway, defying a court order to stop them from segregationist Gov. Ross Barnett.

"It's not for the best interest of Mississippi State University or the state of Mississippi or either of the races," Barnett said at the time.

The pressure was on.

"I get a letter and on the front of the letter it says 'KKK,' and I open the letter and these harsh words jumped at me," Harkness says. "The n-word and, 'You better not play against white players again,' and just very harsh."

Harkness says the black community's reaction was, "We better not lose. This is too much of an opportunity to prove we're equal to them."

But on game day, team captains Harkness and Joe Dan Gold broke the unwritten law with a show of sportsmanship: they shook hands. Loyola won the game 61-51, but the outcome is really a footnote.

"I can't remember one basket, but I can remember the handshake," Harkness says.

"They said it is the game that changed all -- not just Mississippi, not just Loyola, but everywhere," Shows says.

That's why, today, it is called the "Game of Change."

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.