- The Washington Times - Monday, September 30, 2002

Longtime D.C. sports talk show pioneer and activist Harold Bell points out the irony in the fact that the recent deaths of Johnny Unitas, Bob Hayes and Mike Webster and the presumed deaths of Bison Dele and John Brisker gained so much attention from area media while the passing of Jim "Bad News" Barnes nearly two weeks ago was largely ignored.
That's not fair considering that Barnes, who lived in Silver Spring, helped put Texas Western in position to win perhaps the most significant game in college basketball history.
In the NCAA championship of March 1966 at Cole Field House, a Texas Western team with five black starters upset Kentucky's five white starters and thereby started breaking down an immense number of barriers for black athletes at predominantly white institutions. Barnes had graduated two years earlier as an All-American and then won a gold medal with the 1964 U.S. Olympic team in Tokyo.
Here's how Don Haskins, the legendary longtime coach at Texas Western (later Texas-El Paso) put it: "If anything good happened to me, it is because of him. Jim Barnes started it all," referring to Barnes' great season in 1964.
And this from Mr. Celtic, Red Auerbach: "Jim's many friends and associates affectionately called him 'Bad News' [for the damage he did to opposing teams and players], but he was always 'Good News' to me. His tenure with the Celtics was short, but I enjoyed every moment he was there. Jim was a tremendous talent who never reached his full potential as an athlete. But Jim Barnes took it one better he was a great human being."
Barnes, a native of Tuckerman, Ark., played with five NBA teams over seven seasons, including two stints with the Baltimore Bullets, before a knee injury pretty much ended his career. He was only an average pro, and when he was finished he settled in these parts and devoted much of his time to helping others.
Along with many other activities, Barnes was an active board member of D.C.-based Kids in Trouble Inc., was involved in that organization's annual celebrity tennis tournament, did school counseling, took part in conferences on youth violence, served as a volunteer basketball coach for Israel Christian Methodist Episcopal Church Northeast and once advised star Maryland running back LaMont Jordan to get serious about his studies and stay in school as an underclassman because his NFL opportunity wasn't going to vanish overnight.
In short, Bad News was a good guy, which is probably why he didn't get many headlines in life or when he died from heart problems at age 63. Maybe he should have run down a police officer with his vehicle, beaten up a few women or perhaps trafficked in drugs. Such things seem to command plenty of notoriety these days.

The Little General
The living, breathing answer to a pretty good trivia question who replaced pro football immortal Sammy Baugh as the Redskins' No.1 quarterback? turned up recently in a Fort Worth Star-Telegram story. And to know the answer, you probably had to have more than a little gray in your hair.
Eddie LeBaron was known as the Little General because he was only 5-foot-7, but a better moniker would have been the Big Magician. This guy had the fastest hands since Houdini and might have been the best faker in history. When he handed off the ball, some of his teammates didn't even know who had it.
LeBaron broke in with the Redskins in 1952 after a stint in Korea, taking over the top job from Baugh, then 37 and in his 16th and final season. Slingin' Sam wasn't the only famous football guy to cross paths with LeBaron. At College of the Pacific, Eddie's coach was Amos Alonzo Stagg, a true football pioneer then nearing 100 years of age. And when Tom Landry became coach of the expansion Cowboys in 1960, guess who he lured out of retirement as his QB (along with whippersnapper Don Meredith).
Quiet Eddie and Dandy Don must have made quite a team for the 'Boys. Recalled LeBaron: "Don and I were very close, and we're still great friends. The second year, we had the leading offense in the league."
LeBaron is 72 now, a retired lawyer who lives in Sacramento, Calif., but the competitive fires still burn: He has a 6 handicap on the golf course and recently shot his age. The mere mention of his name should conjure up memories for locals who remember when he was one of the few things the sadsack 'Skins of the '50s could boast about.

A gift for the Cowboy
Gene Autry's widow, Jackie, says the late Angels owner would be delighted with this year's team, which has ended a 16-year playoff drought. But the "Singing Cowboy" of movie fame, who died at 91 in 1998, wouldn't necessarily approve of some of the players' grooming. "I'm not sure he'd like the facial hair, because Gene would not allow facial hair period," she said.
Jackie Autry, who completed the sale of the Angels to controlling interest owner Walt Disney Co. after her husband's death, was appointed in May 2001 as honorary American League president. Last year she presented the AL Championship Series trophy to the New York Yankees, and she will be the presenter again this year.
How badly would she like to hand the bauble to Angels GM Bill Stoneman and manager Mike Scioscia? "On a scale of 1-10, about a 13."

Chick gets his due
A station on the light rail system near Staples Center in Los Angeles was named in honor of Lakers announcer Chick Hearn, who died at 85 in August.
The City Council is expected to finalize plans this week to rename 11th Street between Figueroa and Cherry streets outside Staples Center as Chick Hearn Court.
Let's see you top that, Shaq.


Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.

 

Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide