Archdeacon: Miami unveils statue of hoops icon Embry

NBA executive, late wife honored with Freedom Summer of ‘64 Award

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

OXFORD – One Springfield guy was calling to show some love and honor to another.

Randy Ayers – now an assistant coach with the Phoenix Suns, who are preparing for the NBA playoffs – wanted to talk about Wayne Embry, who had not just paved the way for him from Clark County to Miami University and then the NBA, but, more importantly. helped show him how to carry himself as a man, especially an African American man.

“What he did away from basketball is even more important than all his accomplishments on the court,” said Ayers. “When I’ve talked to him or spent time with him, I’ve realized later some of the thoughts and concepts he left me with are things I’ve been able to fall back on and draw on when I need them later in life.”

In part that’s why Embry, along with his late wife Terri, also an MU grad, were being honored outside Millett Hall on the Miami campus Tuesday.

The large crowd that gathered for the affair included, among others, some of the Embry family members, especially daughter Jill who spoke passionately about her mom, Wayne’s old Miami teammates, many current RedHawks athletes – including the NCAA Tournament-bound women’s softball team – the fifth grade class from Kramer Elementary, in Oxford, a representative of Governor Mike DeWine (also a MU grad, as is his wife Fran), the mayor of Oxford and Miami Valley hoops legends like Don Donoher and Bill Hosket Jr.

The Embrys – who were married 62 years until Terri’s death last August – received the prestigious Freedom Summer of ’64 Award, which is given annually to notable leaders who have set an example while championing civil rights.

And while Wayne endured slights and even threats at times as a pioneering black athlete at Tecumseh High, Miami University and then the Cincinnati Royals, Boston Celtics and Milwaukee Bucks before becoming the first black general manager and then team president in the NBA, Terri made her mark marching for civil rights with Dr. Martin Luther King in 1965 from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, and later working with the Urban League and in schools and other social agencies in the cities where Wayne’s career took them.

The award pays tribute to the 800 students who gathered for two weeks in June of 1964 at the Western College for Women in Oxford – it’s now a part of Miami University – to be trained non-violent techniques to use when facing threats while registering African American to vote in the South and especially in Mississippi.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

The inaugural award went to the late Congressman John Lewis in 2018. Since then the Mt. Zion United Methodist Church in Philadelphia, Mississippi has been honored as have broadcaster Joe Madison, a proponent of voting rights, a former NAACP board member and a Dayton Roosevelt grad, and civil rights advocate Carolyn Jefferson-Jenkins.

Along with the Summer Freedom award, it was announced Tuesday that a privately-funded scholarship in Embry’s name will be awarded to Miami men’s basketball players.

And then came the afternoon’s big reveal.

That’s when the red tarp was pulled off the towering statue – made by sculptor Tom Tsuchiya – that had been erected in front of Millet.

It showed an oversized likeness of the 6-foot-8 Embry in his No. 23 Miami jersey and laced-up high tops, surging upward, his right arm extended to the heavens as he’s unleashing his trademark hook shot.

Later, Embry admitted the origins of the patented shot: “Just up the street…I spent many hours up there at Withrow Court (the home of Miami basketball before Millet and later an auxiliary gym) practicing my hook shot and when I perfected the right one, coach said, ‘Now go work on the left one because they’re going to play your right side so you won’t be able to shoot the right.’”

Embry went on to become the greatest basketball presence Miami has ever produced.

After scoring over 1,400 points and grabbing over 1,100 rebounds at Miami, he went to the NBA where he was a five-time All Star and won three NBA titles, one as a player and two with the front offices of the Milwaukee Brewers and Toronto Raptors. At 84, he’s now been a part of the league for 63 years.

Yet, the biggest thing he got out of Withrow came even before he started working on his signature shot.

When he left his family farm outside Springfield and came on his very first campus visit to Miami, he toured Withrow.

“I walked the court and they showed me (the wall with pictures of) Weeb Ewbank, Paul Dietzel, Woody Hayes, Walter Alston, Red Blaik (all Miami greats of the past) and it kept going on and on, They were all people I’d heard of and I said, ‘Boy, if they came to Miami!’ It inspired me to come, too.”

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

And he said he’d do it all over again: “Miami was very important to me. It made me who I am.” And that’s what he hopes his statue will do for other young students now and in the future:

“When they walk by that statue I hope it inspires them the way those pictures inspired me. The whole purpose is to inspire student athletes to be the best they can be.”

Miami president Dr. Gregory Crawford was instrumental in getting the Embrys honored both for their social justice and civil rights work and for getting that statue to stand so magnificently in front of Millett.

The private funds that were raised came from several sources, especially Gordon Gund and his wife Llura. He is the former owner of the Cleveland Cavaliers, especially during Embry’s pioneering front office days.

Much of the other fund raising was led by Ayers, who Crawford called “the wind behind this project.”

“The statue honoring your legacy will inspire others visiting the campus,” Crawford said as he turned from the podium to look at Embry who was seated next to an empty chair that was draped with a Miami blanket and had a red rose on the seat.

Credit: Nick Graham

Credit: Nick Graham

That was for Terri and a couple of times during the ceremony, a moved Embry quietly reached over and patted the arm of the chair …and his wife’s memory.

“They will learn your story and of your leadership, your character and of your success,” Crawford continued. “Your contributions to Miami University reach far beyond the basketball court.”

He told of Embry’s 14 years on the Board of Trustees, his work with the College of Education and his several fundraising efforts.

Ayers compared Embry to an onion and said there are many layers to him: “With each one you find something even more remarkable.”

Women’s basketball player Peyton Scott, a second team All Mid-American Conference selection, gave a stirring tribute to the Embrys – especially Terri – and the example they set for athletes and young women like her.

Men’s basketball player Myja White read a poem capturing the spirit of Wayne Embry.

Before the ceremony men’s basketball coach Jack Owens said all his players know about Embry: “He spoke to our team twice in the past and this summer they’re all reading his book (on basketball and race).”

In fact, President Crawford bought 600 books for every athlete at the school.

“We look to Wayne and Terri as examples to carve our own path during and after our time at Miami,” Scott said. She mentioned how they stood resolute to all the threats and hate directed at them and added:

“In the uplifting words of Wayne Embry himself, ‘it is only significant if it is significant to others.’

“The impact that you and your wife had here at Miami University and far beyond were nothing short of significant.

“Thank you for showing students like myself what it looks like to live out Miami’s code of ‘Love and Honor,’ athletics’ mission of graduating champions and also leading, impacting and changing the lives of many.”

Soon after she and White joined Embry at the tarp-covered statue.

The day had been overcast and gloomy and there had been on-again, off-again sprinkles through the morning. But as the red covering was removed and the crowd gave a collective exhale of approval and applause, you couldn’t help but notice that the clouds had parted and moment was bathed in sunshine.

The statue already was working its magic.

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