Loyola Chicago basketball legend Jerry Harkness has passed away at the age of 81.
The two-time All-American and captain of the Ramblers team that claimed the 1963 NCAA championship had an “immeasurable” impact on the college basketball game. The program released a statement following the all-time great’s passing earlier this morning.
“All of us at Loyola have heavy hearts today,” current head coach Drew Valentine said. “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.”
“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. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, former teammates and countless friends,” Loyola Director of Athletics Steve Watson added.
The entire #Loyola community mourns the passing of 1963 team captain Jerry Harkness. The impact he had on the #Rambler program, the game of basketball and the world is immeasurable and won't be forgotten. RIP, Jerry. 💔🙏
— Loyola Men's Basketball (@RamblersMBB) August 24, 2021
Harkness ranks sixth in all-time scoring for the Loyola program, notching 1,749 points through his career with the Ramblers (1960-63). During his team’s national championship season in 1962-63, he averaged a staggering 21.4 points per game on 50.4% shooting from the field.
He will always be remembered for his scoring prowess — but perhaps even more so for his role in one of the most pivotal moments in sporting civil rights history.
Harkness was one of four Black starters on the Loyola team leading up to a matchup against Mississippi State. At the time, state law forbid the MSU squad from playing against an integrated team — but the Bulldogs snuck out of town in the dead of night to play the game anyways. This event would later become known as the “Game of Change.”
A photo of Harkness shaking the hand of Mississippi State captain Joe Dan Gold before tipoff serves as an iconic reminder of the historic contest.
Today we honor Jerry Harkness, a civil rights pioneer and former Loyola University of Chicago basketball team captain who played in the 1963 “Game of Change” with MSU
Harkness’s legacy of respect left an impact not only in sports, but in America.https://t.co/wsaQAQso4G
— Mississippi State (@msstate) August 24, 2021
The current College Basketball Hall of Famer was selected in the second round of the 1963 NBA Draft by the New York Knicks. After his rookie season in New York, Harkness made his way over to the ABA Indiana Pacers where he played for two more seasons. His 92-foot buzzer-beater during the 1967-68 season still holds the record for longest shot in U.S. professional basketball history.
Harkness is survived by his wife, Sarah, and two children, Jerald and Julie.
Our thoughts are with the Harkness family and the Loyola community through this difficult time.