NATCHITOCHES – Delayed but not denied, the 2020 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction class finally took center stage Saturday night inside the Natchitoches Events Center.
And despite the two years between induction ceremonies, little changed during the 61st induction ceremony.
The 11-person induction class lived up to its billing of a diverse group from different sports and eras, but the themes that permeated their presentations and induction speeches were generally similar.
From family members or coaches or teammates or co-workers – and of course, their Louisiana roots — the feelings of gratitude remained as consistent as they were before the COVID-19 pandemic, which twice delayed the group’s official entry into the state’s sports shrine.
Whether it was the self-professed “city boy” from New Orleans like Kerry Kittles, the Duck Commander himself (Phil Robertson), or the sweet, smooth shooting small-town girl from Bienville Parish (Lady Techster basketball great Angela Turner Johnson), those Louisiana roots run deep.
“Growing up in Shady Grove, it was such a small community, but we had a sense of family,” Turner-Johnson said “If someone did something wrong, our parents knew before we got home because everybody cared about everybody. Mr. Edward Mason, our principal, instilled in us to be the best we can be. He wanted us to not let our humble beginnings get in the way of us dreaming big.”
The members of the long-awaited Class of 2020 dreamed big and delivered even bigger for the Sportsman’s Paradise.
None has had the continuing impact of Minden native “Sweet Lou” Dunbar, an All-American at the University of Houston who became basketball’s Clown Prince with the Harlem Globetrotters. Dunbar led Webster High School to the 1971 Class AA state championship game, was named Louisiana’s “Mr. Basketball” after earning MVP honors in the state All-Star Game, and was a prized recruit for the University of Houston.
Despite his All-American credentials at Houston, Dunbar didn’t explode on the NBA scene. He spurned a substandard contract offer from Philadelphia and spent a couple seasons playing professionally in Switzerland before starting a still-ongoing six-decade career with the Globetrotters as a player and an administrator or coach. He took a break from training camp in Atlanta to make it to Natchitoches for enshrinement.
“I’ve been to over 90 countries,” Dunbar said. “Coming out of Minden, Louisiana, who would have thought that? I met Pope John Paul II, the 75th pope. We gave him a jersey with the No. 75. I’ll touch y’all later. I’ve been anointed.”
Along with his connection to the very top of the Catholic church, Dunbar long had been putting smiles on people’s faces during his times on the court with the Globetrotters.
“He took a cowboy hat from this guy, and the guy ran him around the gym about 20 times,” said current Globetrotter Hi-Lite Bruton. “I was a rookie, and I was laughing so hard. Everyone in the crowd, we were on the floor dying.”
As a player for Webster High and in college, “Sweet Lou” was no joke. He became world famous joking around with basketball’s traveling fun show, the Harlem Globetrotters, and it earned him a permanent place among Louisiana’s greatest sports figures.
PHOTO: A group shot of the 2020 Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame induction class. Photo by Chris Reich/NSU, for the Louisiana Sports Writers Association