As March Madness heads toward its finale, the AJC on Thursday saluted an unheralded basketball coach who made a difference in many young lives.
While Arthur McAfee Jr. never received the headlines, glory and large salaries of big-time coaches, he enjoyed a long and accomplished career as Morehouse University's basketball coach. McAfee's 35 years at the black, all-male school in Atlanta included 28 years as athletics director, according to a wonderful obituary written by Bill Banks, ace freelancer for the AJC.
McAfee, who died March 7 at age 88 and whose funeral was held Wednesday as four teams arrived in Atlanta for the South finals of the NCAA Tournament's Sweet 16, led his 1990 team to the Final Four of the NCAA's Division II with a 26-7 record. As Banks reports, McAfree said then that although he didn't have a TV deal, shoe contract or large budget, he considered his life a success.
While McAfree won 517 games leading the Maroon Tigers, he counted as his greatest success a 90 percent graduation rate for his players. There was also a legend that he encouraged Spike Lee to turn to other pursuits after the 5-5 future filmmaker tried out for Morehouse's team.
McAfee, known as Sonny, grew up in Wichita, Kansas, during an era of severe segregation. Banks' obituary gives an insightful snapshot of the obstacles black families had to overcome.
Each of McAfee's siblings had successful careers; his sister was head of UCLA's hematology lab; and his brother, Charles, founded a successful architectural firm based in Wichita. Charles provides fascinating family details for Banks' piece, which reaches the level of a fine historical essay.
McAfee's legacy of sports and family accomplishment live on: his son, Arthur III, is an NFL executive.
When I watch young black players in the Sweet 16 this weekend, I'll think of McAfee and the foundation he helped build for them.