Dr. Dick “Skull” Barnett was an integral part of three NAIA national championship teams while at Tennessee State University in the late ‘50s, and he later teamed with Walt Frazier on two NBA title winners in the early ‘70s. But today, while he has justifiable pride in his exploits, Barnett is far more interested in talking abut history and education than what life was like in the pros.
“I had a great career,” Barnett said during a recent phone interview. “I played for 15 years. The average NBA career is about three and a half years. But I understood that it was a truncated experience. I realized that you need to prepare yourself for life after sports and that’s what I did.”
Barnett eventually earned a PhD in education from Fordham University and taught sports management courses at St. John’s University for several years. But today he heads the nonprofit corporation “Sportsscope.” He’s the driving force behind a remarkable exhibit that is showing at the Maxwell House through Saturday as part of Tennessee State University’s Centennial Celebration.
“No Dream Left Behind” will blend video excerpts from the film “Black Magic” (a heralded look at the history of Black athletes, coaches and HBCU basketball programs) and of Barnett’s famed TSU and pro career. It also contains testimonials from such notables as NBA commissioner David Stern, former great players Julius Erving, Spencer Haywood and many others. In addition, Barnett adds there will be plenty of discussion about key events and personalities during the eras he was playing at TSU and in the NBA.
“We’ll be talking about the impact during that time of Jim Crow and white supremacy,” Barnett adds. “We’ll discuss such events as the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the sit-ins, the events in Arkansas when Gov. Faubus defied national law, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. The purpose of t his exhibit, which will be on the road and on display throughout 2013 at various HBCU’s, is to stress the importance of education and of knowing your history and culture. The whole reason I started this organization was because I wanted to inspire those who want to be athletes to understand what you can do with education and how you can achieve your dreams if you’re willing to look beyond just playing ball in the moment and think about the future. We’re studying and researching sports in American society, showing options and career possibilities and what you can with sports and education.”
Barnett also said the original plan was for “No Dream Left Behind” to be displayed at Tennessee State University during this week’s Centennial celebration, but that the idea was vetoed.
“The president wouldn’t give us permission to have this exhibit on the TSU campus,” Barnett said. When told that this seemed strange, he laughed and made no further comment. The exhibit is also part of Barnett’s ongoing effort to get the Naismith Hall of Fame to recognize the three consecutive NAIA titles won by Tennessee State University from 1957-59.
Barnett was twice selected Most Valuable Player during that tournament, but says his main goal in seeking recognition for the team is honoring his teammates and legendary coach John McClendon. “I’m in seven different Halls of Fame,” Barnett said. “My number has been retired by both Tennessee State University and the Knicks. I don’t need any more individual accolades. But my teammates have never gotten the recognition they deserved, nor has the school received its just due. We won three national championships in a row, and they’ve never recognized it. I think a lot of those guys (at the Naismith) are still fighting the Civil War.”
“They also inducted Coach McClendon, but not as a coach, as a contributor. That’s not right either. He deserves induction for what he did on the bench as well. So this is a fight about seeing that people get the recognition they deserve. Barnett says he still pays some attention to the current NBA, and wishes the Knicks well as an alumnus. But he’s far more interested now in getting more athletes to see the bigger picture in terms of what they could do to be positive role models. “I’m coming back to Nashville and telling stories about the importance of education,” Barnett concluded. “That’s what’s really important for me, to see more young people really achieve everything they can and understand that the road to success in life can be a lot easier with education.”
(The exhibit “No Dream Left Behind” will be shown from 4-7 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday at the Maxwell House, 2025 Rosa L. Parks Blvd.)