Basketball legend Clyde Lovellette visits Wabash County Historical Museum

by Emily Armentrout

History Hunters holds monthly events hosted by the Wabash County Historical Museum, which allow people to come in and enjoy presentations on history by people who were actually a part of it. For the month of January, basketball legend Clyde Lovellette visited the History Hunters. Lovellette recounted events from his past about playing high school basketball in Indiana, fulfilling a prophecy at Kansas University, winning gold at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, success in the NBA and reaching kids here in Wabash County while working at White’s Family and Residential Services.

Lovellette entered the Wabash County Historical Museum the morning of his presentation, towering over everyone in attendance, standing 6 foot 9 inches tall. One can only imagine what it would be like facing a man with a presence like that on the basketball court, but Lovellette had a smile that let you know he was happy to share his story with the audience.

Lovellette began reminiscing about high school. As a freshman, he stood 6 foot 4, which was unusual back then, according to Lovellette.

“I don’t think there was a kid 6 foot when I was in high school,” Lovellette told The Paper.

With that type of size difference, Lovellette was an awkward teen. Basketball did not come naturally, even with his height.

“In eighth grade, I wasn’t very good, and my freshman year wasn’t good, but I worked all summer long. I was clumsy. Coach had me jumping rope and dancing, which I never liked to do. Anything to get you more agile, on your toes, more like a boxer rather than flat-footed. So my sophomore year was pretty decent,” continued Lovellette.

Junior year was when Lovellette had finally come into his own on the court. He led his basketball team to the state championship, only to lose out to Shelbyville.

His size and ability on the court made waves in the college basketball-scouting universe, and being from Indiana, Indiana University seemed like the choice college for Lovellette. Kansas University Coach Phog Allen had a different plan though. Allen attempted to contact Lovellette multiple times before Lovellette finally gave in and visited the university.

“He gave up a speech in St. Louis to come to me. I was all set to go to IU. I avoided him so much,” said Lovellette.

At one point, he even attempted to convince his parents to lie to Allen when he made a visit to their home.

“Dad and Mom, they wouldn’t lie for me. I went out there and he shared the prophecy… I went out there and met the guys. They were down to earth, the town was beautiful, and I decided to go there.”

The prophecy Allen shared was that if Lovellette joined the team, they would win a NCAA championship and go to the Olympics and win a gold medal, but that story will come a little later.

Lovellette was ineligible to play basketball as a freshman at KU, but he stuck around Lawrence, Kan. the entire year to work on his skills with his teammates. One skill that seemed to come naturally was his hook shot. Time Magazine has called Lovellette’s hook shot “unstoppable.”

“I just had a real knack of looking where the basket is and releasing the ball and just had that nice touch that was pretty accurate and that’s all I shot in college,” Lovellette told The Paper.

Though Lovellette spent almost all of his time at the university, one thing he says he kicks himself for is not applying himself when it came to his education.

“I had to get my education after I got done playing. I received my master’s degree at Ball State and I learned to study more in my master’s program than in my undergraduate classes. I think I wanted to be there and I got grades, and I went to class but I didn’t really apply myself as I should have.”

All his hard work paid off in 1952. The Kansas University Jayhawks won the 1952 NCAA championship, fulfilling the first part of Allen’s prophecy. Lovellette was and is the only basketball player to lead the nation in scoring and win the NCAA championship in the same year.

After winning the championship, Lovellette was playing amateur ball when he and six of his KU teammates were selected to compete in the 1952 Helsinki Olympics.

“I fault the Olympic committee now for taking all the pros. We played against national teams. Every team we played was supported by their country. They’ve got the pros in there and that reduces the chance for an amateur ball player to win the gold or play in the Olympics,” said Lovellette.

The Americans ended up facing and defeating the Russians for the second time in the games, clinching the gold medal for the United States, and completely fulfilling Allen’s prophecy.

“If you take all of what I have done and all the awards I have won, I think that tops the list. You are representing the United States, not a team or a state, the whole United States. There is no better reward but to represent the United States,” Lovellette said of winning Olympic gold.

After the Olympics, Lovellette was drafted by the Minnesota Lakers, a team with which he won his first of three NBA championships and became the inaugural member of basketball’s “Triple Crown Club,” an accomplishment that never even crossed Lovellette’s mind. The Triple Crown Club is made up of seven basketball players who have won an NCAA Championship, an NBA Championship, and an Olympic Gold Medal.

“That reward and you buying me a cup of coffee would be the same to me. It’s good to get rewards and be recognized, don’t get me wrong, but winning the gold medal for the United States, that’s important.”

Lovellette also joked that Kobe and Lebron can make all that money, but they’ll never be apart of that club, but awards and accomplishments like the triple crown club or being the only basketball player to lead the nation in scoring and win an NCAA championship in the same or his three NBA championships, his 11,947 points in the NBA or being inducted into multiple hall of fames do not compare to winning a gold medal for the United States in Lovellette’s eyes.

“Gold medal is the best. I keep coming back there,” added Lovellette.

When Lovellette decided to retire, he found himself in multiple job positions before finding his second calling. He went into radio and television announcing, was sheriff of Vigo County and even moved to Massachusetts where he taught history and coached girls’ basketball for a year. Finally, Lovellette ended up at White’s Family and Residential Services. Lovellette found his second calling working with the kids at White’s.

“The greatest experience at White’s is just like the scripture says, you plant seeds. I think the greatest thing we can do is plant seeds for kids who have never heard about the Lord. Their one mindset is bad, but to change a kid around, and you won’t really know. There were a lot of kids who would accept Christ, but you don’t know.”

There is one reward, other than his gold medal, that Lovellette holds in high esteem.

“The greatest reward is when a student calls you down the road and says, ‘Coach, I’m married now, I have kids, I go to church, and I love the Lord.’ That’s the reward later down the road.”

Working with the kids at White’s and his own personal experiences as a student athlete allows Lovellette to leave current students with this advice,

“If you don’t do your academics before basketball, you’re doing an injustice to two things: your family and yourself,” said Lovellette. Basketball is something that is not going to be with you all your life, but the education is going to make you more valuable to society than basketball.”

Lovellette retired from White’s in 1995 and currently resides in North Manchester, where can frequently be seen attending Manchester University basketball games. 

Posted on 2014 Jan 28