Jim Brown, college basketball star
Jim Brown was a basketball star at Syracuse, and averaged 15.0 points per game as a sophomore, which was second on the team, just behind another sophomore, Vin Cohen, who led the team with 15.8 points per game. But Brown wasn’t even a full-time starter, with just 11 starts in 21 games. Brown shared the guard position with Manny Breland. Cohen, Breland, and Brown were the only African Americans on the team.
The following year, Breland was out with tuberculosis. Senior and team captain Ron Gillespie moved to the point guard position after playing mostly forward the previous three years. The Orange got a big year from Jim Snyder at center with 14.8 points per game, and Gary Clark at power forward, averaging 14.0 points per game. Brown started 19 of 22 games that year.
Donald Staffo, in Jim Boeheim and Syracuse Basketball: In the Zone, writes that Syracuse had an informal policy of limiting African American presence on the court to two. A version of the story is repeated by Devon Patton, writing in Spectrum News, as well as by orangehoops.org. With Breland coming back in 1956-57, they would not both be starters alongside Cohen, their top scorer.
Jim Brown did not accept such a disagreeable policy, and did not play that year.
Syracuse had a shot at the national title in 1957, and made it to the Elite Eight, although back then, probably nobody called it that. They were knocked off by the North Carolina Tar Heels, the eventual champion.
The Orange faithful and the players were not particularly happy with how the season turned out. They had their ethnic policy intact, but they also had no national championship. No doubt that inspired considerable internal introspection and debate. The team went 6-22 the next two years.
Brown’s basketball accomplishments are impressive enough. But wait, there is more. Jim Brown was a superstar in lacrosse.