From Martin Luther King's speech to Michael Jordan, the story of Coach Raveling

George Raveling con Michael Jordan en 1992

George Raveling with Michael Jordan in 1992, during a break in one of the Dream Team's trainings

The week of April 2nd 2018, marked 50 years since the assasination of Martin Luther King; a great moment to remember one of history's most famous activists against racial segregation and discrimination. It is also a good moment to remember George Raveling, the man who united King with Michael Jordan.

When asked for his reason in signing with Nike, Michael Jordan named Raveling as the responsible party. Assistant Coach for the 1984 US Olympics men's basketball team, he was well respected for being one of the first African American coaches of the NCAA, as well as for his stints with the Villanova Wildcats (where he played previously), Washington State (where he trained Craig Ehlo, enemy of Jordan), Iowa (where he recruited the future Bull B.J. Armstrong), and USC (where he trained Harold Miner, nicknamed Baby Jordan). When Bobby Knight asked Raveling to accompany him to Los Angeles in 1984, Raveling began his career as a mentor to a magical generation of players. In 1988, he made another Olympic appearance in Seoul coaching together with John Thompson, and in 1992, led a university development basketball team to beat the Olympic Dream Team at a scrimmage match, before they went on to compete in the Games.

However, Raveling's influence was not isolated to just the sports world; he participated in the movement in favor of civil rights, and his fascination with public speaking led him to seek out memories and recordings of speeches by civil rights leaders. In August 1963, some of those leaders organized a March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, just a few short hours from the Villanova Campus where Raveling was coaching. In a last moment decision, Raveling decided to be one of the more than the 250.000 participants in the march, amongst other notable figures like Harry Belafonte, Paul Newman, Josephine Baker, Bob Dylan, and of course Martin Luther King; who was immortalized forever by his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. 

Ravelling en primer plano con camisa blanca junto a Martin Luther King.

                                Ravelling, (foreground) in a white shirt, next to Martin Luther King

Raveling
 had previous experience in civil rights movements and was approached, by the organizing committee of the march, to act as security for Dr. King, during his speech; which made it easy for him to witness one of the most important moments in US history. Dressed in a white shirt, Raveling appears next to Martin Luther King while reciting the “I Have a Dream” speech, which later were discovered to be impromptu words added in by Dr. King, and not in the original script shared with the press. When Dr. King left the stage, Raveling was overcome with an overwhelming feeling to ask for the speech, and so he did, and since then, that speech has been saved amongst some of Raveling's other historical keepsakes.

Honored for his merits as a coach, Raveling retired and was appointed as the Director of Grass Roots Basketball for Nike; a brand that had dressed several of his university teams. For decades, Raveling's copy of Martin Luther King's speech remained within the pages of a biography of Harry S. Truman, a copy the president himself had signed. It was not until an interviewer reminded him of his beginnings as a coach in a segregated society, that Raveling removed the copies and framed them. Not only had he taken part in the struggle for civil rights, but he held an important piece of history by the great Martin Luther King! 

 "I Have a Dream" speech, a treasure from George Raveling's collection

               The copy of Martin Luther King's speech, one of the hidden stories of George Raveling

In 2015, he was inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall Of Fame for his contributions to the game of basketball, alongside Phil Knight, the founder of Nike; and John Thompson, first African-American coach to a win major collegiate championship, the NCAA Champsionship. It is true that Raveling has achieved a great deal during his career in basketball, but his is a story with more to tell than just sneakers and sports.