CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The presidential Mount Rushmore is firmly located in South Dakota.
Part of the NBA Mount Rushmore, however, is headed to Charleston.
Word is, Bill Russell, the centerpiece of the Boston Celtics dynasty of the 1960s and the most successful North American professional athlete ever, will join the festivities when West Virginia State opens its new convocation center in a couple weeks.
It's huge news - literally and figuratively - for the school, which has desperately needed a new basketball arena. Russell will make what should be a special weekend even more so.
In case you've been under, well, a rock, Russell apparently took exception when NBA star LeBron James named his NBA Mount Rushmore and left the former Celtic great off. James named Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and Oscar Robertson as his four all-time choices and added he plans to bump one off.
TNT analyst Craig Sager reported that Russell had this response to James:
"Hey, thank you for leaving me off your Mount Rushmore. I'm glad you did. Basketball is a team game. It's not for individual honors. I won back-to-back state championships in high school, back-to-back NCAA championships in college; I won an NBA championship my first year in the league, an NBA championship my last year, and nine in between. And that, Mr. James, is etched in stone."
It's made for great sports talk fodder this week. Russell and former Montreal Canadiens hockey player Henri Richard hold the record for the most championships won by athletes on North American sports teams. Russell's presence at the Institute school for the ribbon cutting Feb. 28 should make for a memorable event.
Here's the deal. The reason Russell is attending the event is to honor West Virginia State product Earl Lloyd. The latter is an NBA pioneer now 85 years old. Lloyd was the first African-American to play in the league back in the 1950-51 season. Three other black players also joined the league that year, but the Washington Capitols, Lloyd's team, had the earliest season opener.
Lloyd led State to two titles in the historically black Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association and an undefeated season - the only in the United States that year - in 1947-48.
In his honor, State will unveil a statue in front of the new convocation center. Lloyd will be there and was permitted to invite guests. Among those on the very small list was the name of Russell. Word is, the Celtic great was the first to accept Lloyd's invitation.
The first games in the new arena, by the way, will be played on March 1. The Yellow Jacket women will take to the court first that day at 2 p.m., while the men will follow at 4 p.m. Appropriately, State will host the University of Charleston in both games.
With the new arena set to open in a couple weeks, I seized an opportunity to visit State's old Fleming Hall on Monday for the D&E game. I figured I'd cover one last event there.
To be honest, it's a hole. The painted brick walls are grunge yellow. The scoreboards are old school. The clock is covered with wire. The contraptions holding up the baskets seem constructed using K'nex kits. The windows are painted over. The public address announcer sounds like Charlie Brown's parents. Music bounces off the walls and rattles in your brain. There's the recorded national anthem. And Monday's crowd was what a referee joked was a "partial sellout" of 161 fans.
Yet I've always had a soft spot for the place. Those who have played there, it seems, were the proverbial gym rats. They've played for the love of the game. Also, the banners already removed - those honoring Lloyd, Bob Wilson and the championship teams - took one back to another time.
You also never know what you're going to see. D&E's Devin Miller had 29 first-half points Monday night, finished with 41 and yet didn't start either half. State won a 5-point game.
Anyway, I'll remember Fleming Hall fondly.
But I sure as heck won't miss it.
While on the subject of neat events, Huntington Prep visits Charleston today for the Little General Shootout at the Big House.
Coach Rob Fulford has done a nice job bringing the Irish along after early stumbles. The team is now ranked No. 7 nationally within the USA Today Super 25 teams. Game time at the Civic Center for Prep's game with Riverside Christian Academy out of North Carolina is 11:30 a.m. The reason, according to Fulford, is so some of the state legislators can check it out on lunch break.
One of Fulford's top major college prospects, by the way, is JaQuan Lyle. WVU had been involved with Lyle, but, according to the coach, has dropped out of the player's recruiting process. Lyle will visit Kansas and Oklahoma State, among others.
Mountain East Conference athletic directors met on Tuesday in Bridgeport to talk about, among other issues, the upcoming league basketball tournament at the Civic Center March 6-8. Apparently, the operations are to be streamlined and updated.
Anyway, the word from there is future tournament contracts will be examined and dealt with in the summer. Those for this year were one-year deals. The hope in these parts is Charleston can land a multi-year deal for hoops soon.
The visiting team to State on Monday was Davis & Elkins, one of the former West Virginia Conference league members left to fend for themselves when the MEC was formed.
To say it's hurt teams like D&E and Alderson-Broaddus would be an understatement. D&E is now in the Great Midwest Conference (or G-MAC) along with other teams from the Mountain State, Ohio, Kentucky and Tennessee. If you don't think that's screwy, get this: The conference office is in Indiana, which has no teams in the league.
And finally . . .
When I heard Bob Huggins was on Collegeinsider.com's list of the 100 sexiest people in college hoops, I tweeted that I was going to refrain comment and allow the man to have his moment.
But I had a question I had to ask. So I texted Huggins. I asked what his wife June thought about the deal.
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