In the wake of Beyoncé’s Super Bowl halftime show and Kendrick Lamar’s Grammy performance, we are seeing stars use their platforms to make racial and political statements. Before that, others have used their platforms for similar reasons. For that reason, let’s go back to the 1990s, before the best casino sites were invented.
The 90s is of the best eras in college basketball. Pervaded by hip-hop culture, teams sported legendary sneakers and were fashionable while on the court. From Kerry Kittles wearing one high and one low sock to the “Fab 5” wearing long shorts with black shoes, the players were buoyant, trendsetting and audacious. During that time, however, there was one team that had a history of inducing fear into its peers due to the brashness players of the players, style of play on the court and their gargantuan, but keen, head coach.
The Georgetown Hoyas.
The Hoyas didn’t win any championships in the 90s, but they may have had one of the most influential teams in college basketball history. The Hoyas were next in line with the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels and the Fab 5. Although those teams had more success on the court than Georgetown, no team represented African heritage better than the Hoyas.
In the Allen Iverson era of Georgetown, the team wore kente cloth on the sides of their jerseys. Looking back on it the decision to wear the kente it was daring, but it is something that will always set John Thompson away from other African-American coaches in all sports.
Let’s take a look at why it was so significant that the Hoyas wore the Kente Cloth:
Draped in African Pride
The cloth is known as ‘nwentom’ in Akan, Ghana. It is a type of silk and cotton fabric made of interwoven cloth strips and is native to the Akan ethnic group of South Ghana.
The Kente cloth was originated with the Ashanti Kingdom and was adopted by the people in the Ivory Coast and many other West African countries. The cloth itself is an Akan royal and sacred cloth worn only in times of extreme importance and was the cloth of kings. Over time, the use of kente became more widespread. However, its importance has remained and it is held in high esteem with Akans. The cloth is the best known of all African textiles and has become widespread internationally.
GU is NOT an HBCU
Although it’s in Washington D.C., which is known to be the home to a huge African-American population, the University is a private institution with predominately white students. Though the number of African students has improved since the mid 90s the number of white students still double the number of African-American students that attend the prestigious school.
Leo J. O’Donovan and Joe Lang Accepted it
With the university facing scrutiny for allowing Iverson to receive a basketball scholarship while being fresh out of prison the previous year, making a controversial stance wasn’t anything new. The trio of O’Donovan, Lang and Thompson were able to reach an agreement to wear the jersey as a statement. Dawning the kente cloth on the jersey could have been an easy decision to be against, but they didn’t. Although the Hoyas only wore them for a short period, the then-president Leo J. O’Donovan and athletic director Joe Lang should receive a lot of credit for not being against the idea and allowing Coach Thompson and his team to embrace the African culture.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see why many people call Washington D.C., “The Chocolate City.” The nickname has been used for years due to the aforementioned colossal African-American population. In the era where the Kente cloth was embraced, Marion Barry was the Mayor running the city and other successful African-Americans such as Kweisi Mfume and Elijah Cummings held admirable positions in the DMV area. It was the perfect mixture to have a mostly black team, black head coach, black mayor enjoying success in a city that was predominately black.
They Won and Did it in Style
While making a fashion statement, the Hoyas were just as impressive on the court. Players such as Othella Harrington, Jerome “Junkyard Dog” Williams, Jahidi White, Victor Paige, and of course, Iverson helped to lead the Hoyas to an “Elite Eight” before losing to John Calipari’s UMass Minutemen. The team didn’t have the luxury to be crowned the official champions of college basketball, but they were definitely the swag champs.
The combination of wearing the Air Jordan XI ‘Concord’ and the Kente cloth should have earned a spot on a national runway, but it didn’t. After the 1995-1996 season, college basketball teams began to follow the trend that was set by Georgetown by rocking MJ’s kicks as a unit. Can we say trendsetters?
Social issues are a part of our everyday lives. At times, we see it on TV and social media, but we never know what form it will take. For Beyoncé, it was Afros and closed fists. For Kendrick Lamar, it was shackles and a powerful message. For the mid 90s Georgetown Hoyas, it was the kente cloth embedded into their jerseys.
Who knows what it will look like next?
Columbus, Ohio born. Ron is a first-ballot healthy hairline hall of famer. He spent the summer of ‘08 eating calamari pasta because of OJ Da Juiceman. He also loves to write about sports while listening to Sada Baby. Follow him on Twitter @Ron_Hamp