by Mark Brock
Mention (Earvin) Magic Johnson and Larry Bird, and people usually think they are two of the best all-time players in college and NBA history.
Then start talking about Panola Way Elementary Assistant Principal Travis Grant in the same breath and you might get some strange looks.
Some might even ask why one would bring him up in the same conversation, but the three are connected in a way that many will never be. The trio were inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame on Sunday, Nov. 22 at the Midland Theater by AMC in downtown Kansas City.
“This is an unbelievable honor for me to go into the Hall of Fame with probably two of the top five players in college and professional basketball history,” Grant said. “It means even more to me since coaches choose the players for this Hall of Fame.”
Grant lived for the most part in basketball obscurity since leaving the professional basketball ranks in 1978, despite being college basketball’s career scoring leader for all schools with 4,045 points. That total is 378 points more than the 3,667 scored by NCAA Division I leader Pete Maravich.
“This was a big surprise to me because I’ve been involved with the NAIA Tournament over the years by going back to Kansas City and being part of the festivities,” Grant said. “I always thought that would happen first with the records, MVP awards and three national titles we won. The NAIA has contacted me and things are in the works for a future induction.”
The 29-year veteran of the DeKalb County School System has a modest pride in his accomplishments while playing at Kentucky State in Frankfort, Ky. Following the documentary called Black Magic, which was aired on ESPN, he has emerged as one of the most forgotten superstars of his age.
“The small part I played in that film really brought the things I did in college into the spotlight,” Grant said. “A lot of what I accomplished is sinking in now with all this attention being brought to it. The thing is I was more concerned at the time with my team winning championships than with individual accomplishments.”
He set six NAIA Tournament records and was named tournament MVP twice while leading his Kentucky State team to three consecutive NAIA national championships (1970-72) under the leadership of coach Lucias Mitchell. He was also the first small college player honored with the Lapchick Award as the Sporting News College Player of the Year his senior season.
Grant scored 518 points in the three NAIA tournaments; averaged 34.5 points per game, scored 213 points in the 1972 tournament, including a tournament record 60 points in 1972 against Minot State.
This honor makes the second Hall of Fame recognition for Grant as he was inducted into the Kentucky Athletic Hall of Fame in April of this year.
The 6-8 sharpshooter, who earned his nickname of “The Machine” from Kentucky State students after entering the second half of his first game as a freshman and hitting his first 10 shots, was drafted in 1972 by the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I never thought when I went to Kentucky State I would be in the NBA,” Grant said. “I just wanted to get my education.”
He spent a little more than a year with the Lakers and went with Wilt Chamberlain to the San Diego Conquistadors of the ABA where he played two injury plagued years while averaging more than 25 points a game. Two more years were spent with the Kentucky Colonels until the ABA folded, and there appeared to be a stint forthcoming with the Seattle Sonics in 1977.
He never made it to the Sonics as contract negotiations came to a halt, and he was not invited to camp.
“I was doing my own contract and as most players do I wanted some of the money guaranteed,” Grant said. “Lenny Wilkens, the former Atlanta Hawks coach, decided not to invite me to camp. I was really looking forward to working with coach Bob Hopkins,whose NAIA scoring record I broke.”
Grant fell back on his education at that point and while doing some real estate work in Los Angeles he moved to Atlanta. He turned down his first coaching offer, an assistant basketball coaching job at Towers High School in DeKalb County.
“It wasn’t what I wanted for myself at that time,” Grant recalled. “Then one day former DeKalb County administrator Lonnie Edwards stopped me on the highway and talked to me about a possible head coaching job at Walker (now McNair).”
He took the job as head boys basketball coach at Walker and coached there from 1982-87, and when the school was changed to McNair he continued from 1988-2000, compiling a record of 287-199. He got Walker to its first state playoff appearance in 1984 and was 4-7 in state playoff games at the two schools.
“It was not just about winning with me while I was coaching,” Grant said. “It was about giving back what I was given by coach Mitchell at Kentucky State. It was about discipline and talking with the players to teach them life lessons that would help them outside the lines on a basketball court.”
All these awards and achievements still take a back to seat to his proudest accomplishment after signing with the Lakers. He was able to go back home to small Clayton, Ala., and buy his mother her first house and pay off all her bills.
“She brought up a family of four with little or no income and I was able to give her something,” Grant said. “She is 90 years old and not in good health, but she and I both remember that more than anything else.”
Getting an education through athletics paid off for Grant in more ways than just awards and on Nov. 22 in Kansas City he stepped onto a stage to be recognized as a great player in his own right along with those known as just Larry and Magic.