As a third grader in Miss Cain's class at Park Knoll Elementary in St. Louis Park, the emergence of Bill Musselman's Gopher basketball team was electrifying.
The excitement began with a Sports Illustrated pre-season ranking of number 20 which I celebrated with my brother at Town Drug, one of the anchors of Texa-Tona shopping center. There were my parents traveling to Hawaii with the team to the Aloha Classic and returning with a precious program autographed by the Minnesota team.
Emotion ran even higher after a stunning victory over fourth ranked Indiana in the Big Ten opener before an unbelievable 19,000 people at Williams Arena. I listened to Ray Christensen call the game with Bob Nix's winning free throws in the last seconds, pacing my grandparents' living room--their console radio playing at full volume.
Truthfully, also, to a nine year old, the fight with Ohio State only heightened the drama of the "Iron Five" winning the 1972 Big Ten championship which ignited nearly thirty years of passion at Williams Arena.
Nor did I see Corky Taylor, in my grade school years, as the primary antagonist for his role in the fight. Ohio State’s Luke Witte elbowed Bob Nix in the face at halftime precipitating the second half fight. That was our world view in elementary school. Reading Ray Christensen's account of the fight years later in his biography--"Golden Memories" was sobering as he described the responsibility of the Gophers for the fight.
Yet, Corky never ran away and, indeed, returned to the community after his basketball career ended. He never tired of trying to better the Twin Cities. Clyde Turner, his teammate and friend of 40 years, eulogized Corky as “courageous beyond imagination, rich with wisdom and generosity who was a ‘big brother’ to him.” Clyde noted that only a few months before his death, Corky joined the board of Sabathani Community Center where Clyde is the executive director.
I had a chance to observe many of his marvelous qualities as Corky was a family friend dating back many years. Later in life there were lunches at Dayton's to discuss all manner of things.
Corky had multi-dimensional vantage points. He was a skilled photographer (his picture of the statue in front of original Harry's hangs in my father's law office); a jazz raconteur; Talking about life in Detroit in the 1960s with an African American community--much of it second generation from the great migration from the south after World War I--gaining traction in the unions and cross over music from Motown. (Corky had great stories and Detroit connections to Barry Gordy, Jr. and Aretha Franklin among others. In her eulogy for Corky, Pastor Cecilia Williams of Sanctuary Covenant Church referenced a famous sermon by Rev. C.L. Franklin – father of Aretha – “The Eagle Stirreth Her Nest.”)
He was a devoted husband and father of Christopher and Kellen. I sat with Corky at Williams Arena while he took pictures of his son, Christopher, playing for Brown against Minnesota. He was proud of seeing his son play Ivy League basketball for a Division I program on the very same raised floor where he played with the likes of Clyde Turner, Jim Brewer, Ron Behagen and Keith Young.
Corky was always a Golden Gopher as reflected in the statement of Tubby Smith thanking him for his many efforts on behalf of the basketball program. Fortunately, the University honored the 1971-1972 Big Ten Basketball champions-the first title since 1937-- at a game this year as a long line of people snaked along a corridor at Williams Arena waiting for autographs and a chance to say thank you.
Most of all with Corky there was always an opportunity to be in the presence of a person who was seemingly always kind, serene and at peace despite the turbulence of the times in which he lived and his thirty years of service to the City of Minneapolis in Civil Rights. Harvey Mackay eulogized Corky saying if 100 people met Corky 100 people would love him starting with his “one million megawatt smile.” In short, Corky possessed so many of the “paths” a man should follow in the words of the Talmud, as a “good friend,” a “good neighbor,” and with a “good heart.”
These qualities must have drawn Corky and Luke Witte together after thirty years for truth-telling and reconciliation. (As reported last week by Kent Youngblood in the Star Tribune.) Pastor Williams noted Corky’s love of Psalm 91 in her eulogy. One verse of the psalm reads: “I will say of the Lord, who is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.”
A deep faith in God must have guided Corky and Luke (who became a minister) as they reached out to each other despite the pain of the past. In life, Corky and Luke chose a path of righteousness through reconciliation which is a memory and a reality that will inspire all of us.