Legendary guard Jerry Harkness, who led Loyola Chicago to the 1963 national championship, died on Tuesday morning. He was 81.
The university announced Harkness’ death but didn’t divulge a cause.
Harkness was a two-time All-American at the school, which was known as Loyola at the time.
“All of us at Loyola have heavy hearts today,” Ramblers coach Drew Valentine said in a statement. “Jerry was a true trail blazer not only in basketball, but in so many different walks of life, and the impact he made was immeasurable.”
Loyola upset powerhouse Cincinnati 60-58 in overtime in the 1963 title game. The Ramblers trailed by 15 with under 14 minutes left in regulation before pulling off a big comeback and forcing OT on Harkness’ late basket.
The 6-foot-2 Harkness, the team captain, was one of four Black starters on the team in an era in which many programs didn’t recruit players of color.
One of the more memorable games during the 1963 NCAA Tournament was Loyola’s matchup with all-white Mississippi State. State laws prohibited Mississippi teams from playing integrated schools but Mississippi State slipped out of town to play the game at East Lansing, Mich., and the contest became known as “The Game of Change.”
Before tipoff, Harkness and Mississippi State captain Joe Dan Gold shook hands and the exchange produced a memorable photo. Harkness scored 20 points in a 61-51 victory.
Fifty years after the championship, the 1963 Loyola team was honored at the White House.
The story of that team has become well known in recent years due to Loyola Chicago’s NCAA Final Four run in 2018.
“As soon as I learned the story of the 1963 Ramblers basketball team, Jerry became one of my role models,” current Loyola Chicago guard Lucas Williamson said in a news release. “He will be deeply missed and forever remembered as one of the best to wear a Loyola jersey.”
Harkness played three seasons at Loyola (1960-63) and still ranks sixth in program history with 1,749 points. He is a member of the College Basketball Hall of Fame.
“We are deeply saddened to have lost not only one of Loyola’s all-time great players, but also one of its all-time great human beings,” Ramblers athletic director Steve Watson said in the news release. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, former teammates and countless friends.”
Harkness was a second-round draft pick (ninth overall) of the New York Knicks in the 1963 draft. He played in just five games for the Knicks and averaged 5.8 points.
Later, he played two seasons for the Indiana Pacers (1967-69) of the ABA and averaged 7.3 points and 2.8 rebounds in 81 games.
“We are saddened to learn of the passing of Jerry Harkness, whose accolades as a gifted athlete and basketball player were outweighed only by his servant’s heart and commitment to others,” the Pacers said in a statement. “He was loved for his selflessness and service, and it was clear to all that what motivated him most was his relentless passion for growing community. Jerry was a true Hall of Famer, on and off the court.”