Vintage Wildcat Basketball Now on YouTube
Former Northwestern hoopster donates home game films from the 1950sFebruary 18, 2011 | by Wendy Leopold
“The vintage films from 1956 to 1959 feature some outstanding playing and remarkable Northwestern wins,” says University archivist Kevin Leonard. “What’s more, they include footage of the legendary Wilt Chamberlain playing against Northwestern for Kansas, NBA top-50 rebounder Johnny Green playing for Michigan State and Joe Ruklick, the former Wildcat basketball star and 1958 All-American who donated the collection.”
One of the best basketball players to come out of Northwestern, Ruklick broke 16 records at Northwestern, and his career scoring average of 19.9 points per game remains the best in Wildcat history. But Ruklick probably is best known for a single assist he made not at Northwestern but as a backup player for the NBA’s Philadelphia Warriors, for whom he played after college.
On March 2, 1962 – with 46 seconds left in a game against the New York Knicks – Ruklick’s Philadelphia Warriors teammate Wilt Chamberlain had scored 98 points. With a pass from Ruklick, Chamberlain became the first NBA player to score 100 points in a single game. Chamberlain retains the NBA record.
Chamberlain later told Ruklick that he had asked the Warriors’ coach to put Ruklick into the historic 1962 game because Chamberlain believed some white players on his team didn’t want to see him score 100 points.
Ruklick and Chamberlain first met in 1956 when Ruklick played for Northwestern against Chamberlain at Kansas. It was Chamberlain’s first college game. The two became lifelong friends.
One of archivist Leonard’s favorite games in the Ruklick collection of home games includes footage of Frank Howard -- who after college played professional baseball -- playing basketball for Ohio State. “It’s fun to see someone you associate so closely with baseball playing basketball,” Leonard says.
The Northwestern website includes Northwestern team pictures so that viewers can see the players in their numbered jerseys and match them up with their names.
Ruklick, who graduated from the School of Education and Social Policy in 1959, left the NBA after the Warriors owner made it clear to Ruklick that they wanted him on the team because he was white. If you have too many Negros, fans won’t buy tickets, the owner told him.
At 50 – after a career that included sales, editing and teaching – Ruklick returned to Northwestern to get a master’s degree at the Medill School of Journalism. He worked as a reporter and editor for the Chicago Defender, the city’s African American newspaper. His first assignment was to report on the murder of former Northwestern basketball coach Ricky Byrdsong.
Now retired, Ruklick lives in Evanston and, according to archivist Leonard, is a regular visitor to University Library. “Wilt Chamberlain was known as a kind and generous soul,” says Leonard. “It makes perfect sense that he and Joe were friends. Joe is a wonderful representative of Northwestern.”
In 1984, Northwestern University recognized Ruklick as a charter member of its Athletic Hall of Fame.