For a moment Sunday, parts of Harthorne Wingo’s past intersected near halfcourt in Landrum High School’s gymnasium.
There were former basketball teammates from Tryon High School, holding the Tryon High letter jacket they’d just presented him. There were current and past members of the Harlem Wizards, the basketball entertainment group where Wingo got his professional start some five decades ago.
And, in the midst of it all, stood Wingo, smiling, old memories mixing with new ones by the minute.
The Wizards came to Landrum for an exhibition against a group of local players, nicknamed Wingo’s Stars. Former Chapman baseball coach Bill Metcalf, Wingo’s teammate years ago at Tryon High, joined Wingo on the sidelines as “coaches” of the team.
Basketball, though, was very secondary on a rainy Sunday afternoon. The day was about Wingo.[foogallery id=”21080″]
Claude “Tojo” Henderson took to the court at halftime to announce that the Wizards were retiring Wingo’s jersey and inducting him into the team’s Hall of Fame, previously an honor that Henderson himself received. He played with Wingo on the Wizards’ lineups of the late 1960s, when the team’s focus was partially entertainment, but also playing competitive basketball.
“When I played with Wingo, he always worked so hard,” Henderson recalled. “He was probably the hardest working basketball player I knew. He may not have been the most talented player we had, but no one worked harder than he did.
“There was no ego. He was not a person who was self-centered. He was a great teammate and a greater person.”
Henderson said the Wizards hope to have Wingo more involved with the franchise going forward, to have him share the remarkable story of his journey from Tryon, where he was part of the first integrated class to graduate from Tryon High School, to the NBA, where he played four seasons with the New York Knicks.
It’s a story that Metcalf and others from Tryon High want future generations to remember. They also want to financially help their teammate, and Sunday’s game was the culmination of an effort more than a year in the making to do both. There may be other recognitions to come.
But as a packed Landrum High School gym echoed Wingo’s name Sunday, the “Wingo, Wingo, Wingo” chants similar to those that rang out years ago in Madison Square Garden, Harthorne Wingo’s smile said he had all the recognition he needed, that his past had led to a pretty darn good present.