By Ron Wynn
Dr. Johnny Kline, initially known for his athletic feats but throughout his later years much more for extolling the values of education and history, died July 26 in Lebanon at 86.
Kline had become well known in Nashville and throughout the Mid-South for his lectures on basketball history, as well as the importance of athletes also getting their education.
Though a historic figure as a member of the Globetrotters in the ‘50s, he preferred to stress his later exploits as an educator and a curator of early Black basketball heroics.
The six-foot-three Kline earned the nickname “Jumpin’ Johnny” while at then Wayne University (now Wayne State) in the early ‘50s. A world class high jumper as well as an outstanding basketball player, Kline dropped out of Wayne State to join the Globetrotters in 1953.
He eventually had two stints with them, a tryout with the Pistons sandwiched around them in 1957. He left the Globetrotters in 1959, frustrated over what he saw as unending racism and mistreatment.
But Kline’s latter life became even more noteworthy. He overcame drug addiction and returned to Wayne State, eventually earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees, and finally a Ph.D in education.
He worked extensively in the field of drug rehabilitation, while also forming the Black Legends of Professional Basketball Foundation. This organization was and remains dedicated to getting recognition and fiscal support for the pioneers of pro basketball, many of whom are not recognized by the NBA because they didn’t play in the league.
During his lectures, Kline would spend minimal time talking about himself and the Globetrotter days, and maximum time about the importance of education, and the lack of recognition and respect given the Black pioneers of basketball.
In his eyes those two causes were far more important than his playing exploits, but those who saw him remember a gifted athlete, as well as someone whose determination to help others resulted in major accomplishments and notable exploits decades after he put away his basketball shoes.
Kline is survived by five daughters; Sharon Hill, Britt Thomas, Cheryl Thomas, Terry Dennis and Kelly Mack; four sons; Benjamin Daniels, John Kline III, Michael Kline and Alan Daniels; his brother, Ronald Colvard; 22 grandchildren; and 28 great-grandchildren.