In casual discussions of the greatest players in Kansas basketball history, Isaac “Bud” Stallworth’s name is rarely mentioned with the Wilt Chamberlains and the Danny Mannings. But with all things considered, his career should be held in the same breath as anyone’s.
Stallworth was born in 1950 in Hartselle, Alabama. His parents both worked in education, his father as a principal and administrator and his mother a teacher. He attended Morgan County Training School, a segregated, all-black K-12 school in his hometown.
Growing up during the end of the segregation era, Stallworth had to overcome many obstacles on the path to success.
One of 32 Jayhawks with a jersey retired in Allen Fieldhouse, Dave Robisch garnered many awards as a big man. The All-American standout played under Ted Owens from 1969-71.
For instance, in his first years playing for the school team, they had no home gym. They played no true home games, had no true home crowd and had no court to call their own. They played their games in the nearby all-white school’s gym and practiced on outdoor dirt courts. When it rained, they practiced in a classroom with trashcans on either side of the room serving as baskets.
But Stallworth didn’t let that stop him. By his sophomore year, his team had their own gym. They drew a home crowd, mostly white fans who set aside race issues to watch such a transcendent player take the court. But unfortunately, Stallworth had yet to earn the respect of everyone.
Hartselle is just over 100 miles away from Tuscaloosa, home of the University of Alabama. When Stallworth visited Alabama and nearby Auburn, he claims to have been treated differently than when he visited elsewhere. He was the first black player to ever be recruited by Alabama. On his visit, he wasn’t allowed to meet the team, and had state troopers escorting him and his family.
While such situations were common at the time, Stallworth’s parents had done such an excellent job educating their children and exposing them to the world, that he knew such treatment wasn’t right.
“I don’t think they realized that I had seen other places, that I had not just grown up in this small southern town and not been exposed to equal rights and being treated equally … it’s no fault of theirs, but it was just a sign of the times,” Stallworth told David Downing of the Endacott Oral History Project at the University of Kansas.
It wouldn’t have been unusual for Stallworth to commit to Alabama. In an era before recruiting blogs, top 100 lists and highlight mixtapes, top-level players were found through one of two ways: word of mouth or discovering them in person. While talk of Stallworth’s greatness had spread across the south, it was his meeting of Jayhawk legend Jo Jo White that brought him north to Kansas — one that almost didn’t happen.
In their efforts to properly shape their children, Stallworth’s parents, in addition to education and travel, stressed the importance of music. After his older sister attended the Midwestern Music and Art Camp in Lawrence, Stallworth did the same. As a trumpet player, he’d honed his skills to the point where he often boasted about being the best musician in the area.
But of course, he still maintained his passion for basketball. Before he left for the camp, his father warned him to not play any hoops, as a face or mouth injury could severely hinder his playing abilities. But Stallworth didn’t listen, and played pick-up ball. In a combination of luck and fate, White happened to be watching and told coach Ted Owens. The rest is history.
Stallworth finished his career scoring 1,495 total points, good for No. 23 all-time in program history. In his three seasons with the Jayhawks, he averaged 18.2 points per game. As a senior in 1972, he was named both the Big Eight Player of the Year and a consensus second-team All-American.
Oddly enough, there may be no better place to start when retelling Stallworth’s on-court success than the end. In his final game in Allen Fieldhouse on Feb. 26, 1972, Stallworth exploded for 50 points against Missouri. It was the second-highest scoring performance in Kansas history, and the highest in conference play. It was second only to Wilt Chamberlain’s 52-point showing in 1956.
Max Falkenstien's jersey with No. 60 stitched on — representing the number of years he broadcasted for Kansas — hangs in the rafters at Allen Fieldhouse. The jersey retirement was a surprise to Falkenstien before a game in 2006.
Stallworth hit an impressive 19 of 38 shots, along with making 12 of 13 free throws. But it’s the context of these shots that makes his performance so much more impressive: in 1972, there was no three-point line. All of his field goals were twos.
“Think about this ... 13 of those baskets would have been three-pointers today,” Owens told the Lawrence Journal-World. “That’s 63 points.”
Thirty-three years later, Stallworth returned to Allen Fieldhouse for his jersey retirement. Appropriately, it came in a game against Missouri. After such an illustrious career, he was met with extreme praise and welcome. He’s felt similar sentiments across the country from other former players and fans and believes that’s what makes Kansas such a special place to play.
“You know, that family, that basketball family that played basketball at University of Kansas, it’s all over the world,” Stallworth told Downing. “You don’t get that everywhere.”
— Edited by Paola Alor