‘Jayhawkers’ movie shows how Chamberlain changed more than basketball


By Ryan Liston, Free State HS, Lawrence, Kan.

After a long drive from Philadelphia, Wilt Chamberlain sat down in a restaurant just outside of Lawrence. A waitress comes to his table and tells him he must eat in the kitchen or leave. At first, Chamberlain thinks his height is intimidating other customers, but he soon learns he can’t eat there because he’s black.

“They changed more than the game.” That’s the tagline for “Jayhawkers,” and it explains the movie perfectly.

“Jayhawkers” focuses on Chamberlain’s arrival at KU, but it isn’t only about his basketball career there; the movie also shows how Chamberlain impacted segregation in Lawrence.

Although Kansas was admitted to the Union on Jan. 29, 1861, as a free state, when Chamberlain arrived 94 years later, Lawrence was segregated.

When Chamberlain discovers that – unlike Philadelphia – Lawrence is segregated, he threatens head basketball coach Forrest ‘Phog’ Allen that he will leave to play at a different college.

Determined to keep Chamberlain, Allen gets a group of KU staff members together, including Chancellor Franklin Murphy, to decide how to solve the problem. Eventually, they decide that Chamberlain can use his celebrity to impact his treatment, and he does.

Chamberlain decides that he won’t follow the “socially selective” laws, and, since he is a local celebrity, no one stops him. His actions bring better treatment to other African-Americans as well.

For example, while watching a movie, a theater worker tells Chamberlain he has to sit with the other black people in the balcony. When Chamberlain looks up at the “colored” section, he tells them to come down and sit in the “white” section. The theater worker tries to stop them, but he can’t.

By the end of the movie, a drastic social change occurs. The restaurant owner who wouldn’t allow Chamberlain to eat in his restaurant roots for Chamberlain in the national championship game against the University of North Carolina.

When KU loses to UNC, everyone, including the white fans, shares the pain of the defeat. The people had grown fond of Chamberlain, and his loss had become their loss.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the movie, there isn’t a large market for it outside of KU fans, people interested in Civil Rights or basketball buffs. The movie itself was slow-paced and wouldn’t be enjoyable if you don’t fall into one of the aforementioned groups.

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