Fort Worth

February 13, 2014

TCU player who broke color barrier has advice for Marcus Smart

James Cash, the first African-American athlete in the former Southwest Conference, says he hopes Marcus Smart can learn from his mistake of shoving a fan.

James Cash knows a thing or two about controlling his emotions.

As the first African-American athlete to break the color barrier in the old Southwest Conference in 1965, he endured taunts, slurs and just plain ignorance while playing basketball at TCU.

But Cash said he always managed to keep his emotions in check.

He hopes that Marcus Smart, the Oklahoma State basketball star who shoved a fan Saturday during a game at Texas Tech, will take that approach in the future.

“You can never lose control over your emotions and focus, but it takes an experience like this to help you learn that lesson,” Cash said in an email to the Star-Telegram.

Smart, an African-American from Flower Mound, was suspended for three games for shoving fan Jeff Orr after Orr said he called Smart a “piece of crap.” The incident was highly publicized and reignited a national debate about the rights of sports fans and how much abuse an athlete should have to take.

It’s a long-standing issue in sports — from high school to college to pro — that Cash witnessed firsthand in the 1960s. But he refused to let it define him.

A retired professor and senior associate dean of the Harvard Business School, where he joined the faculty in 1976, Cash travels the world, splitting time between Massachusetts and Florida. He serves on a number of public, private and not-for-profit boards, including General Electric, Wal-Mart, Chubb, the Boston Celtics and the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Before accepting a scholarship to TCU, Cash attended I.M. Terrell High School and credited his classmates, including Star-Telegram columnist Bob Ray Sanders, and basketball coach Robert Hughes for helping prepare him for the future.

“My experiences were consistent with the social revolution unfolding in the ’60s,” Cash said. “Growing up in totally segregated Fort Worth helped prepare me for many of the things I faced.”

Cash acknowledges that he has blocked out many of the negative experiences.

He recalls enduring tough crowds at the University of Arkansas while playing for TCU’s freshman team, but a tournament in 1966 in Mobile, Ala., was the hardest experience. Cash said the crowd, the lodging and even the referees worked against him.

“I tend to suppress bad memories and try to focus on positives,” Cash said. “However, I do remember having to play with a broken nose from a player’s elbow. I was called for the foul and given a foul every time down the court until our coach — Buster Brannon — took me out of the game.”

His teammate Garvin Isaacs remembers that tournament vividly.

“When the Smart thing happened, I immediately went back to Mobile in my head,” Isaacs said. “I still have a plastic paperweight we received at that tournament to remind me what happened down there.”

While in Mobile, Cash was allowed to stay in the same hotel as his white teammates. But he couldn’t eat in the hotel dining room, so he and Isaacs, who is white, ate hamburgers in their room.

When he saw Cash — whom he stills calls by his nickname, “Buddy” — get his nose broken during a game against Alabama, Isaacs said, he almost snapped.

The Frogs would lose 81-71.

“Somebody shot from the right hand side of the basket and there was a rebound and I saw Buddy Cash’s neck snap back,” Isaacs said. “I thought this was going to be an intentional foul and then they called a foul on Buddy. I was mad and I wanted to blow up and I couldn’t believe it was happening.”

Isaacs, now an Oklahoma City trial lawyer, said he has closely followed Smart’s career at Oklahoma State and won’t criticize him for what happened in Lubbock.

“I don’t want to judge Marcus,” Isaacs said. “I think Marcus is a leader and a good player. I don’t know what the guy in the stands said, but I think he said something inappropriate. I don’t have any doubt about that.”

Cash said the incident can be turned into a positive for Smart, who is projected to be a first-round pick in this year’s NBA Draft.

“I hope he learns and internalizes an important lesson from this experience,” Cash said. “If so, life presents you with bigger and bigger opportunities, and he’s lucky to learn the lesson now, before he’s on a bigger stage!”

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