NBA and College Hoops Legend Dick Barnett's long quest to get his Tennessee A&I team into the Basketball Hall of Fame is the subject of the new sports documentary "The Dream Whisperer"
The Tennessee A&I men's basketball team (now known as Tennessee State University) won the NAIA Tournament in 1957, 1958 and 1959 to become the first college team on any level to win three consecutive national titles. The team was led by legendary coach John McLendon and future NBA players Dick Barnett and John Barnhill. Up until 2019, that amazing HBCU team had not been recognized by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. The only reason that all black squad made it into the Hall was the effort of one man, Dr. Richard Barnett. Barnett's long and challenging journey is now chronicled in the new sports documentary The Dream Whisperer narrated by Dick Barnett.
Dick Barnett joins WBGO Studios podcast SportsJam with Doug Doyle to talk about the award-winning documentary that makes its screening debut in NYC on June 2.
Barnett stressed his small HBCU school never got enough credit for what it accomplished in the midst of segregation in the Jim Crow South. But Barnett's persistence and perseverance made sure the Tigers legacy would no longer be forgotten.
"I think our feat was so instrumental and obviously had never been done before, I thought that would have automatically put us into the Hall of Fame. The NAIA was a forerunner to the NIT and NCAA. We really wanted to play Bill Russell and the NCAA."
Barnett, known as the Skull during his college days, was selected by the Syracuse Nationals in the first round (No. 5 overall) of the 1959 NBA Draft. The Nationals made the playoffs in Barnett's first two years before he jumped to the American Basketball League in 1961, where he led the Cleveland Pipers, owned by George Steinbrenner, to the ABL title. Barnett and his "Fall Back Baby" jump shot returned to the NBA in 1962, playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that made it to the NBA Championship Finals in two of the three years he played for them.
He was traded to the New York Knicks in 1965 and was a member of the 1970 and 1973 NBA Championship teams. The Knicks retired his No.12 jersey, which hangs in honor with those of his teammates inside Madison Square Garden. Barnett, who holds a master's degree in public administration from New York University and a PhD in education administration and supervision from Fordham University, continues to champion the battles for equity and social justice by telling his story to students, of all ages, around the country.
Eleven years in the making, The Dream Whisperer features interviews with many influential people in the sports world, some of who have died before the documentary was completed.
"I lost of number of my teammates (as he tried desperately to get the Hall of Fame to induct his college team) and that's why I felt the urgency to get this historical feat memorialized before I pass."
Barnett is 85. His older sister is in the documentary.
"My sister and I, we touch base every Friday. I call her and she calls me. We make sure that we're still well. She's excited about The Dream Whisperer."
"Fall Back Baby" Barnett is considered one of the greatest jump shooters in basketball history and it all started when he was a youngster.
"At the Friendship House, a place where I would go after school to socialize, play cards and be with the females and some of my classmates and started shooting ping pong balls, kind of tough but I became very proficient at shooting ping pong balls into a tin cup. The coaches at Roosevelt High School heard about this and said if you can do that you should be able to good enough to put this basketball into this basket and that's what transpired on the playgrounds of Gary, Indiana."
The list of interviewees in The Dream Whisperer are impressive (and once again some have passed during the film making process: Julius Erving, Hall of Fame NBA player; Walt Frazier, two-time NBA Champion; Bill Bradley, two-time NBA Champion; Phil Jackson, Hall of Fame coach; John Thompson, Hall of Fame coach; David Stern, Hall of Fame NBA Commissioner; Joanna McLendon, Coach McLendon's widow; Jim Satterwhite, Tennessee A&I championship team member; Harry Carlton, Tennessee A&I championship team member; Howard Gentry, former Tennessee State University Athletic Director; Dr. Harry Edwards, Civil Rights activist; John Doleva, President, Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame; and George Willis, sports journalist.
The Dream Whisperer masterfully weaves clips from the Civil Rights Movement into the film. The doc is executive produced by Ed Peskowitz, Penelope Peskowitz, Eric Drath, George Willis, and Grammy Award-winning hip hop producer 9th Wonder, produced by Danielle Naassana, Aaron Cohen, and directed by two-time Emmy winner Eric Drath. Drath was a past guest on SportsJam with Doug Doyle to talk about his documentary Macho: The Hector Camacho Story.
Barnett praised the director and executive producer's work in The Dream Whisperer as well as allowing him to narrate his own story.
"I'm happy that Eric and Ed recognized that and it fit perfectly in terms of telling that story."
You can SEE the entire interview with Dr. Richard Barnett here.