By MARK F. GRAY, Special to the AFRO
For almost 20 years there’s been one basketball jersey on the wall of Hill Field House at the Morgan State campus. In honor of the player who led them to the 1974 NCAA Division II national championship, Marvin Webster’s number 40 stands alone as the only retired jersey number that their basketball program recognizes; a chapter in a storied career where he is honored as the lone Bear to play in the NBA.
After more than four decades since leading the Bears to the historic milestone, Webster is finally being recognized for his impact on the sport. The “Human Eraser”–as Webster was known because of his ability to block shots during his basketball career–will posthumously be inducted into the Small College Basketball Hall of Fame this November.
Webster’s unique place on the roster of basketball’s all time greats will also be the subject of an ESPN presentation on multiple platforms leading up to his induction ceremony. Former Baltimore Sun Washington Bullets (now Wizards) beat writer Jerry Bembry is part of the production team that will tell the story of the mythic Charm City baller who remains one of the under-appreciated players in basketball history.
“It’s shocking how many people don’t even realize who Marvin Webster is these days,” Bembry told the AFRO. “Kids see the jersey when they step into Morgan’s gym, but they don’t have an appreciation for how great he was”.
Webster was one of the most dominant centers in college basketball history. He was the first Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference basketball superstar when the conference launched in the early 1970’s. He averaged 21 points and just over 22 rebounds during the 1973-74 season while leading the Bears to national championship. Webster’s dominance was so pronounced that many still look at him as the greatest player in MEAC history.
The three-time MEAC Player of the Year finished his Morgan career with 2,267 rebounds and still holds two single-season conference records. His 740 rebounds in 1974 and 650 in 1973 are the two highest single-season totals in Division II history. Webster remains Morgan’s all-time leader in rebounding, blocks, field goals, and free throws made.
Webster, who played at Edmondson High in Baltimore, was one of the players who was a first round draft pick in both the ABA and the NBA. He was the first pick of the NBA’s Seattle Supersonics (now the Oklahoma City Thunder) and the Denver Nuggets–then of the ABA–in 1974. Over the course of his 10-year pro career, he also played for the New York Knicks. His college coach Nat Frazier became head coach at Morgan after being an assistant with those same Knicks for their last world championship in 1973 under legendary coach Red Holtzman.
“This generation of basketball fans can’t relate to him because he was playing against Division II opponents back then,” Bembry added. “He was an amazing talent. It’s sad that he passed away before he could enjoy this moment.”
ESPN’s multi-platform content is expected to tell this story through the eyes of Webster’s biggest advocates for induction. Students at Edmonson formed a sports analytics club that researched Webster’s career and used statistics with help from Morgan State, MIT and the Washington Wizards, to build their argument.
Webster is one of two players led teams from the DMV and HBCU basketball programs who will be inducted. Earl Jones, who led the University of the District of Columbia to the 1982 Division II national championship is part of the class that also includes: Len “Truck” Robinson of Tennessee State, and former Knicks forward Charles Oakley of Virginia Union.