NORMAN, Okla. (AP) Years ago, long after David Lattin became known as ”Big Daddy,” he saw a bit of himself in his grandson as the preschooler played and ran.
Lattin told Khadeem’s mother that her son would someday be a basketball player, as he was. Grandpa was right, of course, and his pride has grown as Khadeem became the player he is now, a 20-year-old starting forward at NCAA championship hopeful Oklahoma.
Their similarities transcend the sport they love. David Lattin’s quiet strength, determination and work ethic have been passed on to Khadeem through years of support and advice from the teacher and admiration and emulation from the student. All those qualities have helped Khadeem on the court – and off.
When the Oklahoma campus was rocked by a race-tinged fraternity controversy last year, David Lattin knew his grandson was especially prepared to process what was happening. After all, Khadeem knows well his grandfather’s role in college basketball lore as one of the five all-black players who started for Texas Western in its landmark 1966 NCAA championship victory over a Kentucky team that started five whites.
Khadeem was a freshman when members of the University of Oklahoma’s Sigma Alpha Epsilon chapter were recorded singing a racist chant, video that was posted online. Suddenly, Khadeem’s lifelong education about racism became much more tangible than watching ”Glory Road” or flipping through old photos showing his grandfather and the rest of the Miners.
David reached out to offer Khadeem guidance, but the younger Lattin was prepared to respond the same way David did decades earlier – with quiet strength. He chose simply to join others on campus in a silent protest.
”I think everybody understands there’s been racial problems, and there’s never going to be a perfect world, maybe not in my lifetime, but it is what it is,” David Lattin said. ”He understands that he has to deal with it, and he’s not going run away from it, he’s going to face it head on and do what he can to help others and do his thing. I’m proud of him for that.”
David Lattin is just as proud of his team’s accomplishment 50 years ago. But he always understood that some battles would be left to future generations, even in a world where the SAE incident is the exception rather than the rule. He is thankful that his grandson could have gone anywhere to school, including those in the old South that were slow to integrate in the `60s.
”My grandfather’s story – it means a lot,” Khadeem said. ”It’s wonderful to know that a Lattin has left an enormous impact on the game of basketball in the way that it’s played and the way that people see it. I love it. It’s nice to have something like that and know that my name means something important in the world and in history.”
David, now 72, said race is part of the story when it comes to the 1966 title game, but winning is what made Texas Western’s achievement relevant. He said his teammates didn’t realize the significance of beating coach Adolph Rupp’s Wildcats until long afterward. He said he’s equally proud of both the championship and its role in race relations.
”They both go together,” David said. ”Being a national champion and what it did for everybody else, very important. Your legacy is what it’s all about. Someone said if you do something for yourself, when you die, it goes away. But if you do something for somebody else, your legacy will last forever.”
Khadeem said he wouldn’t mind adding another championship ring to the family collection. The Final Four is in Houston, the hometown for both Lattins, and the Sooners are the No. 2 seed in the NCAA West Region.
”It would be nice,” Khadeem said. ”It would be a nice story to tell my kids, and it would definitely be in the history books.”
One of Khadeem’s favorite plays his grandfather made came early in the 1966 championship game. David threw down a powerful two-handed dunk over Kentucky’s Pat Riley for Texas Western’s first points, the same Pat Riley who is president of the Miami Heat and coached the ”Showtime” Los Angeles Lakers.
”It was awesome,” Khadeem said. ”I mean, my grandfather dunked on Pat Riley. That’s pretty cool.”
Ever the teacher, David turned his grandson’s recognition of that moment into a lesson.
”He would tell me always start games like that,” Khadeem said. ”He’d go further and say start life like that. To be aggressive and go all out and make sure that your presence is known at all times.”
Khadeem hopes that someday, his grandchildren can be proud of him, too. He embraces the standard David set 50 years ago.
”He definitely took the blunt force of a lot of the negativity and all that, and he definitely paved the road for us,” Khadeem said. ”Now, my job is to make it even longer and stretch it even further. That’s my job, is to carry that lineage.”
AP Sports Writers Schuyler Dixon and Kristie Rieken contributed to this report.