Dayton basketball great Chris Harris dies at 89

Credit: Dayton Daily News

Credit: Dayton Daily News

Guard from New York City joined UD Hall of Fame in 2013

Chris Harris, a top player for Tom Blackburn in the 1950s, a teammate and close friend of Don Donoher and the father of two Dayton Flyers, died on Sunday in Dayton at 89.

Former Dayton Daily News sports writer Doug Harris, whose UD career began 20 years after his father’s ended, confirmed his father’s passing. Doug (1975-79) and his brother Ted (1981-85) and Chris (1951-55) all played four seasons for the Flyers.

Chris was “nuts” about Dayton basketball, Doug said Monday, throughout his life. He was healthy until recent weeks and went to several games with his family in recent years.

“He would call and say, ‘Did you watch the Dayton game? Did you see it?’” Doug said. “Especially in these last few years with the way Anthony Grant has got them going, he’s just been in heaven. He had a deep love for UD — everything about UD.”

WHIO’s Larry Hansgen paid tribute to Harris on Twitter.

“Chris was a friend who embraced me when I came to town,” Hansgen wrote. “A true Flyer legend.”

Chris is survived by his wife of 67 years, Barbara (Rettig) Harris, a successful singer before starting a family that would include 10 children. They had 21 grandchildren and 10 great-grandkids.

There will be a visitation for Harris from 5-8 p.m. Wednesday at Tobias Funeral Home on Far Hills Avenue and a funeral at 1 p.m. Thursday at St. Charles on Ackerman Boulevard.

Harris was born in Southhampton, England, and moved to New York City with his family when he was 2. He grew up in Floral Park, N.Y., and joined the Flyers for the 1951-52 season, following in the footsteps of Pete Boyle, another New Yorker who invited Harris to visit Dayton and try out for Blackburn.

“I owe it all to my buddy Pete Boyle,” Harris said in 2013. “If it wasn’t for him, I wouldn’t have met my wife and my great friends and I wouldn’t have become a Dayton Flyer.”

Harris, a 6-foot-2 guard, increased his scoring average every season — from 1.3 as a freshman to 9.5 as a senior — and finished his career with 605 points. He ranks 101st in school history in scoring. Dayton was 94-30 in his four seasons. He was inducted into the UD Hall of Fame in 2013.

“I had given up on the idea,” Harris told Dayton Daily News columnist Tom Archdeacon then. “I figured it was just for the high scorers and the great rebounders and I knew I sure wasn’t a Donnie May. So every time the guys brought it up, I said, ‘Look, drop it. Just drop it. It’s not gonna happen.’ And then I got word and to be truthful I was just overwhelmed. I was humbled.”

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No one knows Chris’ career better than his son, and here’s what Doug, who was then the UD beat writer for the Dayton Daily News, wrote when his dad was inducted:

“Harris was known for being a defensive stopper on some of UD’s greatest teams from 1951-55. Assists and steals weren’t an official stat in that era, but he likely would rank among the Flyers’ all-time leaders if they were.

“A three-year starter, he averaged 9.4 points as a senior while playing in a lineup that also included fellow Hall-of-Famers John Horan, Jack Sallee and Bill Uhl. The Flyers were ranked as high as No. 4 nationally and reached the NIT finals.

“Harris and four other starters played the entire 40 minutes during an upset of No. 1 Seton Hall during his sophomore year, and helped the Flyers to another NIT trip and a 25-7 record as a junior. He later played one year in the NBA before returning to Dayton, starting his own business and serving as the Flyers’ play-by-play announcer on WHIO Radio for seven years.

Harris scored a career-high 22 points in his final home game with the Flyers on March 3, 1955, at the UD Fieldhouse.

Harris and the other seniors, Sallee and Horan, received wristwatches at halftime from the sports director at WING. They left the game, one by one, to a standing ovation in the final minutes as their coach, Blackburn, pulled them from a blowout victory against Seton Hall, honoring three men who were great players then and remain ranked among the legends of Dayton basketball.

Following his college career, Harris played one season in the NBA. He appeared in 15 games for the St. Louis Hawks and 26 games with the Rochester Royals, averaging 2.5 points in the 1955-56 season.

Donoher, who was one year ahead of Harris at UD and later coached his sons, called Harris a popular Flyer and a likable guy in a 2018 story on UD’s website by Doug.

“That helped him on the court, too, to have that type of personality,” Donoher said. “He was just a natural leader. He was very good at covering guards. He had a textbook stance, like a boxer’s stance. He could move his feet. He wasn’t lightning quick, but he could play up on an offensive player so tight. And he was the first Dayton player I remember who took charges. He was very clever at getting into position and taking a charge.”

After his basketball career, Chris opened a record store, the Chris Harris Record Rack. He later expanded the business and sold Magnavox televisions and other entertainment items. He had one store in the Eastown Shopping Center and another in the Northtown Shopping Center and later a larger one on East Stroop Road.

Chris and Barbara moved to Seattle for three years in the early 1980s when he took a job with an insurance company. They then spent 35 years in Clearwater, Fla., often traveling home to Ohio to see family. They moved back to Kettering in 2018.

In a 1978 Journal Herald article on former sports stars achieving success in business, Harris said, “I feel the name I gained through athletics has been a real asset. It has broken down barriers, but it still has not eliminated the need to produce if you wish to be a success. That recognition can mean an awful lot to anyone wishing to get into any form of sales. People still tell me they can recall when I played, and this seems to put them at east.”

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