Jack Moore's pioneering days at La Salle

Posted: July 11, 2014

JACK MOORE was working in a paper factory after his Overbrook High days were over. He wanted to get right into the workforce rather than continue his education. He quickly realized that academia might be the way to go after all.

"When I finished high school, my plan was not to go to college," Moore said. "I really did not have an interest in it. After working in a paper factory that summer, working 8 to 10 hours a day, and for the pay I was getting and being tired from the heavy lifting, I reconsidered."

Moore had a scholarship offer on the table from La Salle University to play basketball. He was a 6-5, 190-pound forward at Overbrook, where he led the Panthers to three straight Public League titles from 1948 to '50. Even before he got to Overbrook, people around him saw his potential.

"I started playing in junior high school," Moore said. "Then it was in the neighborhood. Guys I went around with were playing and I just joined the group. We started playing, and my cousins, who were my first coaches, Buzz Thompson and Dan Jordan, were the ones who saw and felt like I had an unusual talent. They took me under their wing and coached me."

With his cousins' help, he went on to be a great high school player and earned the offer from La Salle. Moore had the choice of continuing to work in the paper factory, or become the first African-American basketball player ever for the Explorers.

"I had the scholarship offer, so I came and saw Mr. [Jim] Henry, he was the athletic director at the time and I talked to him," Moore recalled. "He said the scholarship was still open, and they were very proud to have me come. Shortly after that, Mr. Henry and Dean Stanislaus were at my house talking to my parents about the scholarship and what was expected."

What was expected was obviously proficiency on the court, but so much more than that. Moore paved the way for black players to play at La Salle. He accepted the challenge, and everything that came with it.

Life was fine for Moore when he got to La Salle. He had no problems with his teammates as the only African-American on the team. The hardest part for Moore was actually making the team and earning some playing time. The problems with race started when the games did. La Salle helped Moore in any way possible, even if it meant canceling games.

"La Salle had a standard that if I was not accepted and able to stay with the team, the team did not go," Moore said. "There were several games they canceled and did not go to because of that."

Moore also experienced prejudice when he stepped on the court, playing against opponents who were not ready to change their mindsets.

"Playing-wise, I had several injuries as a result of playing," Moore said. "I had some stitches around my eye. I lost a couple teeth because of getting hit, especially when we played teams from the South and they came here. I remember getting hit real hard under the boards. A lot of times, they would get on my teammates and my coach Ken Lefler. He would get on the referees because of the roughness that was going on."

Moore and his team persevered, and won the 1952 NIT championship. Even then, they overcame the odds to succeed.

"At that time, only 16 teams were picked for the NIT," Moore said. "We were the last team to be picked. The New York Daily News sports column said that the NIT reached to the bottom of the barrel to get La Salle into the tournament. We were very upset about that. We thought it was an insult to us, and to our abilities. It was a big, big, big motivator for us to go through."

Moore recalls the NIT championship run as one of the best moments in his basketball career. He said the team had "a ton of talent," and a lot of that had to do with his teammate, Mr. All Around, Tom Gola. Moore became good friends with Gola, who died in January at age 81.

"I first played against him in a scrimmage between Overbrook High and La Salle," Moore said of Gola. "I couldn't find him on the court because he was bringing the ball up and I was a center. He was a different type of ballplayer. Meeting him at La Salle and really getting to know him, he was a really nice fella. A wonderful guy, a good friend, an excellent ballplayer, and we got along very well together."

From La Salle, Moore took the next step in his basketball career. He went to the NBA and played for his hometown Philadelphia Warriors from 1955 to '57. But he ran into troubles then because there were few African-American players in the league.

"I did run into a lot of prejudices in different cities and ended up staying in different places because I was not allowed to stay in the hotel because they said they didn't take blacks, so they had to find another place. That was the basic difficult part," Moore said.

"It was somewhat difficult playing against guys in the league because there were a lot of Southern ball players, and they weren't used to playing against blacks," he added. "Many of them took offense to it. There were not that many blacks in the league, and they were saying that we were taking their jobs, not realizing that it was a job to us, too."

Moore took his job very seriously. While he only averaged 2.6 points in the NBA over his career, he did win an NBA championship, on the same team as Gola, in 1956. He also served as a mentor to the person most synonymous with Philadelphia basketball, Wilt Chamberlain.

"They say that I was his mentor because I kind of took him under my wing in his early years," Moore said. "He was up at Haddington Rec; we used to go up there and play outside, and they had a small basket for the younger kids. I looked over there and here is a big, tall fella over there dunking the ball, but he didn't have to jump because the basket was not as high as a regulation basket, so I went over and talked to him. I told him you need to be over here with us, so he came over and we kept him with us, where the older guys played."

Moore's playing days were over in 1960, and he moved to Charlotte, N.C., where he currently resides. He recently was inducted into La Salle's Hall of Athletes.

Moore said he is proud his contributions at La Salle will not be forgotten and called it the "best moment of his career." Moore's legacy of breaking down barriers from his days at Overbrook to La Salle to the NBA live on.

On Twitter: @AndrewJAlbert01

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