(upbeat music) - [Narrator] With the success of the basketball program over the years, there have been 38 University of Connecticut players who have played in the NBA.
(upbeat music) And the first was Worthy Patterson.
(crowd cheers) - [Commentator] Connecticut wins by a point, Patterson wins the ball game on a drive.
- [Narrator] At 6'3" and 175 pounds, Patterson was a standout scorer and defender, averaging close to a double, double for points and rebounds during his college career.
He was the first black player to captain any team sport at UConn and elevated the basketball program to national prominence in the 1950s.
Patterson went on to the NBA in 1957, becoming one of the first black players to integrate the St. Louis Hawks.
- [Worthy III] He could dribble, pass, shoot, defend anywhere, and he was supremely athletic.
He was dunking at ease before, you know, dunking was pretty big.
And he was a big guard, 'cause my dad was 6'3", played the point a lot.
(upbeat music) - [Narrator]} Following his playing days, Patterson made his mark in the business world, becoming one of the first black executives in the music industry.
Working with some of the most popular artists in the world.
(crowd cheers) - [Narrator] How about Worthy Patterson?
Played from 1950 to 1954, look at how young he looks.
- [Commentator 2] He looks great.
- [Narrator] In 2012, UConn recognized Patterson's excellence in basketball, and inducted him into the Huskies of Honor.
His number 13 is up on the wall at Gampel Pavilion for all to see.
(crowd cheers) - Okay, coming to the end.
- [Instructor] Okay.
- [Narrator] At 91 years of age, Patterson continues to push boundaries.
It's emblematic of the ambition and drive that's enabled Patterson to navigate around the discrimination and racism that he's encountered during his life.
- When it's all white, and you're the only one that's not, you get comfortable in that environment.
Then you can learn how it operates.
It taught me how to maneuver in mainstream America.
- [Narrator] Patterson's grandfather, June Morman, grew up in Virginia and moved north in the early 1900's.
- [Worthy] My grandfather was a combustion engineer, and he ran a wholesale hotel laundry.
And they did all the sheets and pillowcases and stuff.
And I would see all of these people come in and talk to him.
And they were all dressed up and they had their briefcase, and then they'd go to lunch.
And all these guys always dressed up clean as the board of health, you know, it wasn't like they worked in a factory or anything.
My grandfather used say, well, you'll never be able, you'll never be able to get that kind of job.
I said, oh, okay.
But I had it filed away.
That back there that, you know, I think I wanna be one of those guys that walks around in a suit and a briefcase and goes to lunch.
I like that.
(jazzy music) - [Narrator] Patterson was born in 1931 in Greenwich, Connecticut, and grew up in this house on Northfield Street.
His mother Maye was also born in Greenwich, and graduated from Greenwich High School.
People describe Maye as a strong, sophisticated woman and an entrepreneur.
- [Worthy] She's kind of a renaissance woman.
Her business was, she was a dressmaker-tailor, of women's clothes.
She turned the dining room into the workplace.
She was really, really good.
And she didn't wanna open up a store, because she had two boys to take care of.
And her clientele were Greenwich, Fortune 500 people.
I was tailored, like everything I own was fitted.
- [Narrator] Maye was a single mother who raised Patterson and his younger brother Roland in a town that was almost entirely white.
Yet she was determined to make sure that her sons had the same opportunities as everybody else in Greenwich.
- Everything their kids did we did, but just on a less expensive level.
But we did everything.
Like we went to summer camp, we went to Broadway, we went to all the shows, we got all this expose- Museums, we did everything they did.
- [Narrator] And one of Patterson's mother's priorities was education.
- When I was a freshman, they put me in a general course, 'cause that's what they did, you know, to the minorities.
Like as soon as I came home with the schedule, the next morning we went to school together, and an hour later I was in a college prep course.
My grandfather who came from the south, he grew up in segregated Virginia.
So, you know, I got a good cross-section of what's going on by law, which was the south.
And what was going on by discrimination, which was, you know, where we were in the northeast.
If it was an incident, then you explained what happened, and they would explain to you, you know, basically why it happened.
But they're usually black and white situations.
When I was little, like in grammar school, and I was bullied all the time, my grandfather used to say, you know, you could come home crying or you could ha- Or you could handle it.
Now there's two ways to handle it.
If he's your size, punch him, and if he's much bigger, get a stick.
And my mother used to holler at him for telling me that.
(upbeat music) - [Narrator] Patterson regularly walked to the Boys and Girls Club, which was a mile from his house.
Because that's where the black kids played ball.
Meanwhile, the YMCA was only a couple of blocks away from the Patterson house, but the Y had yet to accept black members.
Until Patterson's mother made a few phone calls.
- She started doing her thing, right?
It's a little question here, question there, a little politicking here.
And next thing you know, you know, my brother and I were admitted.
But the Y was very fancy.
Basketball, we had top flight instruction, 'cause they brought in, you know, the best coaches.
You pick up the skills and where to go and what to do and how to play.
- [Narrator] With his newfound skills and athleticism as a seventh grader in 1944, Patterson remembers wanting to grow up and become a professional basketball player.
Which took a lot of imagination, given the times.
- You know, there were no Jackie Robinson, there was nothing.
And there were no, there were no black players.
Then he became more important.
And then I got into the basketball guys, right?
Earl Lloyds and Charlie Coopers, you know, who were the first and second.
Then I figured, okay, I got a, now I got a good chance, because guys, a couple guys have already been there.
So if I'm good enough I'm gonna be okay.
- [Narrator] Patterson was developing into a standout high school athlete where he played basketball, baseball, and quarterbacked the football team.
- I was a freshman in 1945.
To have a black quarterback, you know, like whoever heard of that.
The only black quarterbacks anybody had was at the black high schools, you know, below the Mason Dixon, where schools are segregated.
- [Narrator] Ultimately Patterson excelled at basketball, and became one of the best high school players in Connecticut.
And with his success came more attention and taunting.
- [Worthy] Ignored it and ignored it.
And then when I got home I'd tell my mother what happened, and she'd say, you did good, you did the right thing.
Because you're gonna get more now that you're in high school and you're playing and you're be- People are starting to know you, you're gonna get more of that.
So get ready, you know, to handle it.
High school gymnasium and arenas are small places where the people are right up on the court.
Those are brutal.
'Cause then they, when they pull your pants, they pull their hair on your leg, they call you names, you know, they were like, well, you know, they were all over you.
- [Narrator] Patterson graduated high school and headed to New Hampshire for a year of prep school at Tilton, where he continued to play quarterback.
But he knew his future was in basketball.
- I grew more, I got stronger, you know, just because I was getting older, because I had the basics and it just got better.
As well as I played, right, I had no scholarships.
- [Interviewer] And why was that?
- Because we're back to it again.
Discrimination actually is what it was.
I figured I would probably wind up at University of Connecticut, 'cause you know, I'm from Connecticut.
I think the people that were in charge of the program were progressive.
You know, there was already a black kid on the team.
They told me that I was the first recruit when they were going big time.
- [Narrator] In Greenwich, Tilton, and now on the campus of UConn, Patterson was one of the few black students.
But he remained confident, and focused on reaching his potential.
- [Worthy] University of Connecticut, I'd say we had maybe 16 or 17,000.
We had 20, you know, minority people.
You were always the only one.
And if you were uncomfortable, you had problems.
You know, you- But I was never uncomfortable, you know, I was right in the middle.
I mean sometime I didn't even know I was a minority.
I forgot about it.
Just gonna do my thing.
Not to worry.
- [Spencer] He could drive, and then just pull up for a jump shot.
And rebound with the best of 'em.
'Cause Worthy could really jump then, I don't know about today, but.
Worthy was always very cool.
He had a walk going across campus, and you'd recognize him from a mile and a half away.
And he just ambled by, not a care in the world.
And he seemed as if nothing bothered him.
He's big, handsome, charismatic star of the basketball team.
But in my mind he's, he was just my fraternity brother.
- [Narrator] In 1951, Beta Sigma Gamma fraternity was one of the first interracial fraternities in America.
- [Worthy] Some special people in this group here.
- [Narrator] And they frowned on typical frat behavior like hazing and initiation rituals.
This fraternity revolved around brotherhood.
- They didn't even consider who was next to, what their skin color.
It had nothing to do with anything.
Always carry that.
I think ever since then.
- And we had the jocks and we had the musicians.
- And we had a comic, and we had all these people, you know, that were talented that, and it was a mix.
- [Spencer] When you think about our fraternity 70 years ago, we had this group of guys living together, black, white, Japanese, Russian.
This is gonna be the exemplar for the future.
- Just similar people in a similar situation that could spread the gospel.
(soft music) - [Queen] We were looking through the class book, trying to find black men, and we would say there's one, there's one, there's one.
And that next day I was on my way to class, and I happened to look up.
And I saw Worthy coming toward me.
- [Interviewer] Were you aware that he was a basketball player?
- Oh yeah, absolutely.
- [Narrator] Queen Vaughn grew up in New Haven and had transferred to UConn from Hampton Institute in Virginia.
She and Patterson started dating as UConn students in the early 1950s, and have been married ever since.
- Also he was ROTC, so that meant he got a check so we could have nice meals at the end of the month.
- [Interviewer] So she was after you for your wallet?
- That's right, after me for my money from day one.
(Worthy and Queen laugh) - [Queen] I thought he was good looking, popular, a gentleman, and person of integrity.
I always look at their shoes, at their shine, and his fingernails if they're clean.
And they were, he met all the criteria.
Describe him as a basketball player?
Well he was smart, he had a savvy, 'cause I also played basketball every day before I met him in New Haven.
He's a good shooter, nice set shooter.
He had a set shot and made his fouls, and his legs are fantastic.
All the girls loved his legs.
(Worthy and Queen laugh) He was the king of the campus when they had the end of the year big dance.
He was the king.
I wasn't the queen, but he was the king.
But always a gentleman.
Of course the girls were always there asking for autographs on anything.
Slips, panties, whatever.
But he was never impressed.
I think his mother raised him well.
(upbeat music) - [Narrator] Early on, UConn head coach Hugh Greer recognized Patterson's potential and prescribed ways to develop his leadership skills.
- [Worthy] Coach required me to do speech and drama.
I hated the drama part.
I wasn't crazy about the speech part either.
But as we got going and it, and I got better, and it got easier then it was no big deal.
It was one of the best things that ever happened.
'Cause over my career I wound up making tons of speeches.
- [Narrator] Greer also coached the UConn tennis team.
So he took full advantage of his basketball stars athletic versatility, and had Patterson on the conference champion tennis team.
For his senior season in 1954, Patterson was named the captain of the basketball team, making him the first black captain of any sport in UConn's history.
- [Worthy] When things got tough on the floor, you know, they'd look and then say, okay, what are we doing Worth?
And away we went.
But it was, it was special.
That's my DNA.
I always want to be in charge.
I'm gonna be the best, I'm gonna be in charge.
- [Narrator] The talk about UConn becoming big time when Patterson first came to campus in 1950 had turned into reality.
In that stretch, UConn won over 80% of their games led by Patterson, who was named to the all conference in all New England teams.
Standing in UConn's way as the best team in New England was perennial powerhouse, Holy Cross.
The showdown took place in UConn's second to last game of the regular season, on February 27th, 1954.
The Saturday night game was played at Worcester Auditorium where Holy Cross had a 47 game winning streak.
- [Worthy] It was the biggest game on its schedule.
We thought Holy Cross would probably be the toughest of them, and as it turned out they were.
- [Narrator] UConn had a record of 20 and 2, and Holy Cross was 22 and 1 and ranked seventh best in the country.
The Husky's Art Quimby's basket put UConn up 76-75, with less than a minute to play.
- There was only like 10 seconds left.
And I was dribbling around, running out the clock, and they, you know, they pounced me.
- [Narrator] UConn rebounded a Holy Cross missed shot.
And Patterson was attempting to dribble out the clock, when Holy Cross's Ron Perry stole the ball, and laid it in to give the crusaders a 77-76 lead with 14 seconds remaining.
- So there was a timeout to get a, to get a ball.
That's when we set up the eye.
When I caught it there was like five seconds left.
So I just acted like I was gonna shoot it from there.
- [Commentator] Five seconds to go.
Connecticut ball, they'll put it in play with Ahearn.
- The guy came flying by, while he was still on the ground, coming.
I went right by him, and I just laid it up and it went in.
It was good, that was it.
- [Commentator] At the mid-court line, the pass from Ahearn to Patterson, Worthy drop the drive, goes in, lays it up, good.
Connecticut, one second, no seconds.
- I just came outta my seat.
It was just amazing.
- [Commentator] Connecticut wins by a point.
Connecticut wins the ball game on a drive.
- [Queen] It's just explosive.
Everybody was jumping up and down and screaming and hollering.
(crowd cheers) - [Worthy] We got back to the campus, they called off the curfew, and the whole campus was out partying.
It was a great celebration, but it was a great moment in Connecticut basketball.
'Cause this was the key to becoming big time.
- [Narrator] Patterson was also on his way to becoming big time and fulfilling his dream of playing professional basketball.
The Boston Celtics invited him to their 1954 training camp, and to play in the 16 game pre-season.
To this point in his life, Patterson had succeeded in navigating or ignoring the racial discrimination around him.
But now he was confronted with more direct attacks.
- [Worthy] I was like one of the smaller guys in training camp.
You know, they got all these guys, most of 'em are from the southeast.
'Cause they talk in the south, you know, they, the N word is like, nice to see ya'.
You know, I wasn't gonna sit still for any of that stuff.
So after a couple of days, said, okay, enough is enough.
Somebody's gonna get hit here.
Big scrimmage, and Ramsey, who was the number one draft choice, was guarding me.
He was, we went to the jump ball in the center, and, you know, he came up with the magic word.
And I hit him and he went down on his knees.
And Auerbach never, he didn't see it.
So he didn't know what the hell happened.
He just saw what's his name bent over.
So Cousy told him, "He called him the magic word", and Auerbach didn't know what that was, you know.
He said, what are you talking about?
So Cous whispered in his ear.
So he said, oh.
You know, somebody got a ahold of 'em later, and said, look man, you can't do this.
You can't talk like you talk when you're, when you're on the campus of University of Kentucky.
No one ever said anything else, and I never had a problem again.
- [Narrator] Patterson impressed Celtics coach Red Auerbach.
But no matter how well he played, he was up against institutional racism, and the unwritten rule of how many black players were allowed on an NBA team.
- One per team.
They didn't want to bring in more than one, because they thought it would affect the gate.
That's the only revenue they got, was from the gate.
And they had the- A few small sponsors, but most sponsors were not really interested in pro basketball at that time.
They were scared to have more than one black player on the team.
Thursday after practice, we sat down, they told me that I had made the team and congratulations.
And that was terrific and I was so excited.
The next day, right, we did the photos, the press, you know, the photo shoot.
So Saturday I go to practice, I think I'm gonna go to sign the contract 'cause that's what they said.
Okay, everything is good.
And they tell me, we're gonna have to let you go.
So I asked 'em like, you know, what happened?
And they said, well, Don Barksdale, who was on a retired list, came off.
He came off the retired list, so that now we had two blacks on the team.
But he was a NBA all-star with Baltimore Bullets, you know, before he went to the Celtics.
And they weren't gonna keep a rookie.
So he became the colored guy on the Boston Celtics in 1954.
And I went back to school.
- [Narrator] As Patterson now knows, those Boston Celtics were on the verge of one of the greatest NBA dynasties.
And they went on to win nine championships from 1957 to 1966.
- It was devastating in the time they told me, we're gonna have to let you go.
This is what happens, right?
This has been going on for 150 years or more.
This is what happens.
But now you got one in real life, real life, you got one.
This is what happens.
- [Narrator] Patterson returned to UConn, then it was off the Fort Sill in Oklahoma to fulfill his military obligation.
Shortly thereafter, Patterson married Queen in 1956.
- I said, that's why we got married.
He wanted somebody to be in Oklahoma in a miserable spot.
- [Narrator] It was Patterson's first time living away from the familiar confines of New England.
- [Worthy] The segregation and Jim Crow was so bad in Oklahoma that I rarely ever left the campus or the base 'Cause they got signs in the window, you know, the colored only, white only.
They had a sign in the window that said no, and then they made a list like Indians, blacks, coloreds, Jews.
They listed them right down with a big no like this.
And then they listed 'em right down.
- [Narrator] Patterson endured the hostile environment in Oklahoma and kept his basketball skills sharp by playing on the Fort Sill team.
As his time in the military was winding down in 1957, he got a letter from the NBA's St. Louis Hawks.
- And I looked at Queen and said, oh Queen, I got invited to the St. Louis Hawks training camp.
I said, we'll stop there on our way home.
So we just drove up the great Route 66.
- [Narrator] While the scenery changed from Oklahoma to Missouri, the racism and segregation remained the same.
- All my teammates were white, and they were not allowed on my side of town.
And I was not allowed on their side of town.
- [Narrator] While in St. Louis, Patterson befriended the most popular athlete in the city.
A future hall of fame baseball player.
- [Worthy] Stan Musial.
He had a restaurant, a steakhouse, best in the city.
And he invited me to come and eat there anytime I wanted.
And the first night I went, he introduced me actually to all of the top, his top patrons in that place.
So then I could- I didn't- I could go in there without being uncomfortable, because I wasn't, you know, a novelty.
- [Narrator] Patterson played well in the St. Louis training camp, and during that time, the team took advantage of his public speaking skills.
They sent Patterson to luncheons in the white community to ease their concerns about desegregating the Hawks.
- [Worthy] I had a driver, took me to all these locations, and we spoke to the Knights of Columbus.
And there must be six or seven of different ones.
Kind of let them know that there was a black player on the St. Louis Hawks team.
- [Narrator] This led to a bizarre scene for Patterson's NBA debut on opening night, when St. Louis's black organizations were protesting to integrate the team and sign a black player on the Hawks.
- The Urban League and the NAACP, and any of those other groups that you could name were all picketing the auditorium.
'Cause all the promotion I did was to the white part of the town.
And when I went to get in, you know, they, you know, they gave me a bad time, because they said, well, you know, this is why we're out here.
Is because guys like you are not in there.
So I had to get the police to get me in.
They got me through the picket line.
The cop told me that, you better be on a player's list, or you're in big trouble.
I says to myself, okay, here we go again.
- [Narrator] It really was, here we go again for Patterson.
Frank Selvy, a white player, for whom the Hawks had previously paid $30,000, had finished his military service, and was ready to return to the team.
- Well, what are we gonna do?
Well, I think we're gonna have to let the colored guy go.
30 grand against me?
No chance, again.
I said, okay, that's it.
(Worth laughs) Yeah, twice is enough.
- [Narrator] Patterson's circuitous journey to the NBA by way of Boston, Oklahoma, and St. Louis that resulted in four regular season games played, had come to an end.
In the 1960s, the Patterson family grew with the addition of Worthy III.
Queen finished her master's degree, and then started teaching school in New York City.
And Patterson was working as a salesman for Tuck Tape.
And after a lifetime of dealing with racial barriers, Patterson finally got a break, during the civil rights movement.
- You have to get prepared to get lucky.
And in my case, that's what happened.
That's when I went to RCA, and that was affirmative action.
They were filling the request by the government, Bobby Kennedy, right, to get it done.
And they told a few companies, and RCA was one of them, that they had a inte- You know, integrate at the top.
And the Urban League was a placement service, you know, for minorities.
When I showed up there, they said, oh we- This is perfect.
I wrote my own schedule, my own training schedule.
I had to learn all the tricks of the trade, which I did.
How the records get broken, you know, you gotta get 'em heard.
And you gotta take the artists around to stations and whatnot for interviews, and get 'em on the TV shows and all that stuff.
- [Narrator] In 1968 with an above average dual income, the family sought to return to Patterson's hometown.
- I looked in Greenwich 'cause that's where I come from.
I wanted to live where I grew up, and there's houses for sale.
Then they weren't giving colored people mortgages.
- [Narrator] Shut out in his hometown of Greenwich, the Patterson's finally bought a house in Sleepy Hollow, a suburb of New York City.
- It was run down and it had, you know, weeds, it had sunflowers in the front yard that were four feet high.
It looked like the ghetto.
This one house, I needed a handyman, you know, gardener, groundskeeper guy.
I got one.
He says, you know, you guys almost got burned out.
Said, what are you talking about?
He said, yeah.
He said, they burned a cross in their yard.
Couldn't care less.
I tell like one- Once we get the property, and start taking it over and look right, we'll have the one of the best looking properties in the neighborhood.
We'll be fine.
- [Narrator] As he continued to climb the corporate ladder, Patterson was now in a position to give other people of color the opportunity to succeed in the record industry.
- [Worthy] The higher you go up, the more people you could help.
If I'm the number one salesman, then they'll hire more guys that look like me.
They won't say, well the white customers won't buy from 'em.
That eliminates that immediately.
You gotta get to a point where you can help people, and I can put 'em on a payroll, on, you know, on a hope where he gets everything then.
He gets benefits.
You can get minority people in the mix.
(group chats) - [Narrator] Following his career in the music industry, Patterson retired to Santa Monica where he is surrounded by his friends and family.
While Patterson's trailblazing and place in history have yet to be widely recognized, those closest to him relish the way he's pushed boundaries to achieve success.
- [Mary Beth] Worthy is a class act.
It's a rare moment that he'll give you a tidbit of some of the challenges he had in the 50s and 60s.
And so he's handled those I think with great class and sophistication when I think others might not.
- He's not just an athlete or like a businessman, you know, he's so much more than that.
I just feel like he represents just- He's just a great person.
- My daughter did a back east college trip.
I had somebody at UConn take her to the gym and to see his retired jersey.
And that's when it kind of hit her, how big time her grandfather was.
- I'm sure there's a lot more success stories like my grandpa that also deserve to be told, but his is uniquely his because he's been able to pivot so many times.
- [Commentator] Five seconds to go 77-76 Connecticut ball.
They'll put it in play with Ahearn at center, at the mid-court line.
They pass from Ahearn to Patterson, Worthy start the drive, goes in, lays it up.
Connecticut, one second, no seconds.
Connecticut wins by a point.
Patterson wins the game on a drive.
- The story that he could give to others is that if you work hard and you're confident, if you continue and follow your path, you'll be successful.
- [Interviewer] What do you think your legacy is?
- I have no idea.
- [Interviewer] All right.
Well if you had to.
- Yeah, if I had to, I still don't have any idea.
I don't know from legacies, you know, that's for somebody else to decide what that's all about.
Take a look at the resume and you think, whatever you think it is, that's what it is.
(upbeat jazzy music) (upbeat jazzy music continues)