Mike Glenn, 10-Year NBA Veteran, Touring Country With Exhibit About African-American Pioneers
For so many years, Mike Glenn’s passion lay on the basketball court.
He was a high school star in Georgia, a standout at Southern Illinois University and a 10-year NBA veteran. He stayed close to the game even after his retirement in 1986, most notably serving as the Atlanta Hawks’ color commentator on SportSouth and FSN from 1992-2005. Today, Glenn currently serves as an analyst on Hawks LIVE for FOX Sports Southeast.
Now the man they called “The Stinger” has another passion. Glenn has immersed himself in researching African-American sports history , displaying an artifact collection in exhibits across the country and writing several works on the subject.
We caught up with the guard-turned-historian to find out more about his Mike Glenn Exhibit – which tells the story of black pioneer athletes in America – and Tom Molineaux Awards.
NBA.com: What were the beginnings of this real passion project of yours?
Mike Glenn: It was a happenstance occurrence. It started back in 1997. I wrote my first book which was titled, Lessons in Success from the NBA’s Top Players. In that book, I often quoted famous people throughout history, started collecting books. I’d always had books. Both of my parents were educators. I had educators all in my family. Books were always a part of my family and my surroundings. But I learned about first-edition books and started collecting rare, first-edition books where these quotes were housed. I started collecting slave narratives and Harlem Renaissance books.
One of the last things I started collecting were sports books. I kind of underplayed the importance of sports despite having been in sports all my life, as my dad was a coach at Georgia School for the Deaf. And then I started collecting books, newspapers and documents on famous people throughout history. In researching Jack Johnson and Joe Louis and the other famous fighters, I kept reading a little bit about Tom Molineaux. And I said, “Now, who is this Tom Molineaux?” He obviously preceded Jack Johnson, who I knew was 1910 and who most people think was the first great black champion
Through researching countless books, going on the internet, talking with people overseas, I started collecting things about Tom Molineaux. And I found out that he was the first great athlete in American history, period. I said, “Wow, why does nobody know about him?” He is rarely mentioned in American history, black history, sports history. Nobody hardly knows about this great fighter. I became just fascinated with his story and I had to write about it and do more research about it.
From Molineaux, I went to other outstanding black athletes. It became a way to show that not only was he a great athlete, but there were so many great athletes that preceded Jackie Robinson, that the current athletes that we see today are not orphans, that we actually had people that came before us and paved the way, that made sports better and made society better. We needed to share this and emulate this and learn their wisdom and carry on their legacy. We had to get those people off the back of the bus, so that became a mission for me. I’ve used dinners, awards and exhibits to help me achieve that goal.
What specifically interested you in Molineaux?
Here was a man who became the conquering champion of America in 1809 and then took it upon himself to travel to Europe to fight for a world title, which he managed to do on Dec. 18, 1810, to challenge that champion of the world from the British Empire. What a Herculean effort! What a courageous man this was! I couldn’t get over it. I had to share this knowledge of Molineaux and team up with other people who studied and wrote about black boxers from that period and later.
Now there have been great horse racers, black ones primarily, in American history that preceded him. But to compete for a world title? Nobody had ever competed for a world title before Tom Molineaux. There was not an international hero.
You recently hosted a banquet. How have you used those types of gatherings to further your mission?
I’ve been in Atlanta. I’ve been in Alburquerque, New Mexico. I’ve been in Evansville, Indiana. I’ve been in Carbondale, Illinois. I’ve been in other cities with the exhibit, but [Oct. 3 was] the third time that I’ve had the dinner with the awards. I’ve had some wonderful recipients of my Tom Molineaux Awards.
My first one was Peanut Johnson, a female baseball player. She was good friends with Satchel Paige and she actually pitched in the Negro Leagues. We had Peanut Johnson here and I was so honored to have her as my first Tom Molineaux Award winner. Then we had James Redd Moore, who was an All-Star Negro League player with the Atlanta Black Crackers in the 1930s. They even had a James Redd Moore Day back in that area. He was an All-Star first baseman. We also had John Carlos and Tommy Smith, of course – the two from the Olympics in 1968 that raised the gloved fist up in the Olympics in Mexico. We’ve had Frank Glover, who was the first NFL referee from the South and one of the first black referees in the NFL to really sustain himself.
Often I recognize pioneers like that – like Ken Hudson, the first black NBA referee to have a sustained career there. He was my Molineaux Award winner and a pioneer. Theresa Edwards, of course, an Olympic basketball player from the University of Georgia who competed in so many Olympics. She was a pioneer for women’s basketball in America in many ways. Isabelle Daniels, who ran with Wilma Rudolph in the 1960 Olympics. We also had Larry Wiggins, a Negro League player. We had Larry “Gator” Rivers, who was a Harlem Globetrotter for 16 years. We had Walt Bellamy, who was just a great, Hall-of-Fame NBA player for many years. Nolan Richardson, of course, the great coach of Arkansas, who did such a phenomenal job with that program and with collegiate athletics. We had George Taliaferro, who was the first black drafted into the NFL. And then we had Brian Jordan.
What message do you hope to send?
Sometimes you start with those who’ve gone before you, and that helps us all to be more included – we recognize the ones that come before us. So we’ve got to praise and recognize the Al Attles. So many of them, as we see, we’re losing a lot of them. We lost so many basketball players recently. We gave a tribute to them at the beginning of the program – four great basketball players that we recognized: Caldwell Jones, Moses Malone, Marcus Haynes and Earl Lloyd. All four of those have passed recently. We want to recognize them while there here as much as we can. I’d like to do that each year, where you praise people and you praise the work that they did, and that encourages more people to do likewise. So it’s an inspiration thing, as well.
We’ve had young kids. This year, we had a 12-year-old boxer who’s trained with one of the top trainers in Atlanta, and it’s an encouragement to him. We want to encourage you to go on and be successful and make an impact in sports and in society. We talked about Joe Louis a lot, and the importance of Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson and other great athletes – not only in sports, but as a part of society, continuing this legacy of overcoming and creating broader opportunities. I think that it’s very important that we reach out for female athletes as well as male, referees as well as players. We even had a world champion chess player this year. I see this also as a way of broadening the appeal of sports and making it more inclusive – males, females, referees.
What are your plans to expand these events in the future?
One thing I want to do next year, too: We have some people who have served in the arenas. We have one gentleman who I’m thinking of in particular, and I can’t wait to recognize him. Since the Atlanta Braves moved here in I think ’66-’67, he’s been an usher ever since – world-class service he’s provided to the patrons at Atlanta’s stadium. Wherever the stadium has been, he has been there. They named a section after him; Walter Banks is his name. Everybody in that area knows him – Ted Turner recognized him and loves him. They have a Walter Banks section there named after him. We’ve had these people that have impacted sports. It hasn’t just been the home run hitters, but people who made the experience much more pleasurable. Just, “How are you doing tonight? Enjoy your seat. Did you enjoy the game?” There are people all over, and these people deserve some recognition. And you’ll find them in all sports.
I think that is important, too, even down to the high school level. We have the local awards and the national awards. Some of the local awards are guys and ladies that have been very impactful in your state, in your area, who have done great things and have not been recognized. Sometimes their records are not even merged with the new records – maybe they played in a segregated era or something like that. So we’re striving to broaden the field and be more inclusive of everybody that contributed to sports as we see it today.
What inspires you about African American athletes in particular?
It sprung from the legacy of Tom Molineaux, a guy who fought his way out of slavery. There were so many barriers to African Americans to keep them from the mainstream, to keep them small, to pretend that they didn’t have knowledge, that they didn’t do great things, to sweep them under the carpet. It arose from the need to praise these people that have played without praise, praise people that have been shoved to the back of the bus. It’s this legacy that he had to overcome. Right now we recognize primarily African Americans in athletics, but there may be a time when that may change.