They may need a miracle on Saturday when they play third-seeded Arkansas in the round of 16 at the 2021 NCAA basketball tournament.
The school’s namesake was a key figure in the entrance of Pentecostalism into mainstream American religious life. With ORU, Roberts hoped to establish an institution that could educate, train, and serve as a symbol of respectability for the Spirit-filled Christians of the charismatic movement.
He also hoped to provide what he called a “whole man” education, training mind, body, and spirit—the very language used by James Naismith and the YMCA. But while Naismith saw spiritual formation as a gradual process of character development, Roberts emphasized its supernatural aspects, with the indwelling Holy Spirit working in believers in a miraculous way to produce the abundant life.
Joining Roberts’s focus on the Holy Spirit was an emphasis on physical discipline. All students, athletes or not, were expected to be physically fit, a key part of ORU’s “honor code.” Sports were part of Roberts’s plans too. The basketball team was his chance to demonstrate the benefit of the honor code on a national level, while proclaiming the gospel and gaining respectability for both ORU and the charismatic movement as a whole.
By 1970, his plan seemed on track. Sports Illustrated published a short piece that year on the “hard-driving small-college basketball team that, if Roberts has his way, is on its way to becoming major.” Roberts had hired Middle Tennessee State University coach Ken Trickey and challenged him to win a national championship by 1975. Adopting an up-tempo style he dubbed WRAG—“we run and gun”—Trickey’s teams started to win games and attention.
Sports Illustrated also took note of the true secret behind ORU’s surprising success: the presence of talented black players. Four of ORU’s five starting players were black, a rarity for predominantly white southern schools at the time, some of which had not yet integrated. Trickey’s willingness to recruit and play black players, unrestricted by quotas, allowed him to bring in quality players that his competitors weren’t recruiting.
Roberts supported these developments. While he was certainly not on the front lines when it came to racial integration, by the 1960s he had started to talk more about his Cherokee heritage, and he became more vocal in his support for civil rights. Black players, Roberts told Sports Illustrated, were “a part of us.” The testimony of ORU’s black athletes seem to support this view. Carl Hardaway, team captain, said in 1970 that players were given a “real fair shake here.” Star player Richard Fuqua was even more effusive. “For a black man,” he said in 1972, “it’s the freest place in America.”
Read the entire piece here.
And don’t forget the prophecy. 🙂