CMU Basketball Team Honors ’Secret Game’ of 1944

A seminal game in U.S. basketball history happened with no one watching from the bleachers. 

On a Sunday morning in March 1944, a group of trailblazers - members of the North Carolina College for Negroes (now North Carolina Central) and the Duke medical school basketball team - defied Jim Crow segregation laws and faced potential jail time and physical threats to play an exhibition game behind locked doors. 

On a Sunday morning 80 years later, a group of basketball players at Carnegie Mellon University paid tribute to what came to be known as " The Secret Game ," acknowledging the courageous steps that helped build the foundation for modern basketball, during their Feb. 4 contest against the University of Chicago.

"I feel like basketball, through my life, has been a great unifier. It doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t pick and choose based on skin color," said  Josiah Smith , a senior on the team studying statistics and data science in the  Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences. "It’s important to recognize how far the game has come, and what more we can do, on and off the court, to recognize each others’ differences and increase diversity." 

This was  the second year that the Tartans have honored The Secret Game , part of a nationwide effort organized by the coaches’ collective  Eracism since 2020. Head Coach Tony Wingen said his players showed tremendous enthusiasm in bringing awareness to the game’s significance.

"The courage displayed by John McLendon, his players and the Duke students is a remarkable story that remained a ’secret’ for almost 50 years," Wingen said. "Basketball is now a global game, played by all people, regardless of race, gender or ethnicity. As basketball competitors and enthusiasts, it is vital to understand the history of our sport. Coach McLendon’s vision to hold The Secret Game is an important example of the intersection of sport, history and racial justice."

The Tartans wore special warmup shirts that read, "This Game is No Secret," and stood side by side as "Lift Every Voice and Sing" played before "The Star-Spangled Banner." CMU was joined by Head Coach Mike McGrath and his players from the University of Chicago in the effort. 

"One of the messages of The Secret Game is that basketball, and sport, can transcend competition and allow connections among different people. This is something we pride ourselves on doing as members of the UAA ( University Athletic Association ) and this collaboration around this important moment emphasizes that," McGrath said. "We are honored to participate in this recognition with the basketball program at Carnegie Mellon."

Jack Stone , a senior studying business administration in the  Tepper School of Business , scored 12 points off the bench and made two of the team’s five three-pointers. While that wasn’t enough to stave off the victorious Maroons, Stone said he has taken something more valuable away from learning about The Secret Game. 

"Watching and learning about this game - these guys were so eager just to play basketball and compete that they would do something at the time that was unheard of," Stone said. "I’m starting to learn that I can’t take anything for granted when I play basketball. This is an awesome opportunity. As soon as you put on the uniform, pick up the ball, we’re all the same people. We’re all out here to compete." 

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