How hoops legend Henry Logan overcame injuries, alcoholism and illiteracy

The former ABA guard’s career was derailed early on, sending his life into a tailspin, but getting saved changed his outlook

As Henry Logan entered the front door of the Marriott hotel in Indianapolis in April, his body nearly jerked to a halt as he was overcome by a sudden feeling of trepidation.

Strolling through the lobby just before the start of the 50th reunion of the American Basketball Association (ABA), Logan asked himself this question:

“Will anybody recognize me?”

The answer, for Logan, was swift.

“Hey, Henry Logan,” a voice screamed. Logan turned to see Doug Moe, a former teammate and three-time ABA All-Star, approaching with Dan Issel, a six-time ABA All-Star.

And the greetings kept on as players ranging from George “The Iceman” Gervin to Rick Barry, who hadn’t seen Logan since the two played together 49 years ago in the backcourt of the Oakland Oaks team that won the 1969 ABA championship. “I love this man,” Barry said as he embraced Logan. “It’s really good to see you.”

A trip that Logan, 72, was hesitant to make resulted in a weekend he’ll never forget. From posing for pictures with fans to signing pictures, basketball cards and the distinctive red, white and blue ABA basketball, the weekend Logan spent with Barry, Gervin, Julius Erving, Artis Gilmore and the other ABA greats gave Logan life.

Once, Logan was considered their equal. A can’t-miss star who put the basketball program at Western Carolina University on the map as the first black player at a predominantly white college in North Carolina. In front of packed houses — both home and away— Logan put on a show, ending his four-year career averaging a spectacular 30.7 points per game.

Many of the records Logan set at Western Carolina will never be broken.

Where Henry Logan ranks in the Western Carolina Career All-time record books:
Player Total Points
1. Henry Logan 3,290
2. Mel Gibson 2,020
Player Total Assists
1. Henry Logan 1,037
2. Casey Rogers 647
WCU single game scoring records:
Total Points Player Game
60 Henry Logan Atlantic Christian (01/07/67)
58 Henry Logan Elon (02/17/68)
57 Henry Logan Pfeiffer (01/15/66)
55 Henry Logan Appalachian State (02/14/68)
53 Henry Logan Quincy (12/29/67)
52 Henry Logan High Point (02/07/68)
46 Henry Logan Atlantic Christian (01/08/66)
46 Kevin Martin Coastal Carolina (11/22/02)
45 Henry Logan Guilford (02/12/66)
45 Henry Logan Newberry (12/15/66)

The Seattle SuperSonics of the NBA drafted Logan in the fourth round of the 1968 draft. But Logan opted to play in the ABA in Oakland, California, for a team that offered him a three-year deal worth $150,000. “One of the most lucrative first-year contracts in the history of professional basketball,” is how a newspaper account described the deal.

“We consider him the best college guard in America today,” Oakland Oaks coach Bruce Hale said after the team signed Logan. “Henry and Rick Barry will be one of the top combinations in professional basketball.”

Barry went on to become one of the greatest players in basketball history, following that ABA title with the Oaks in 1969 with an NBA championship while playing for the Golden State Warriors in 1975.

Logan’s professional career spanned just 108 games — roughly a season and a half — before it was cut short largely due to a series of knee surgeries.

While injuries denied a nation of basketball fans from seeing perhaps one of the truly gifted athletes of his era, in the western part of North Carolina the name Henry Logan remains legendary.

“I watched Henry play when I was a kid, but it wasn’t until college that I realized he was a legend,” said Brad Daugherty, a five-time NBA All-Star who grew up in Black Mountain, North Carolina, just 16 miles from Asheville. “His story? His story is just unbelievable.”

Henry Logan was a college star and an ABA champion, but his career was derailed by injuries, alcohol and illiteracy.

The single brick building elevated above South Charlotte Street just southeast of downtown Asheville is the place where Logan became known as one of the best athletes to emerge from western North Carolina.

Today it’s the Stephens-Lee Recreation Center, all that’s left of what was once Stephens-Lee High School which, when it opened in 1923, was the only secondary education facility for blacks in the region, with students attending from five counties.

Logan wasn’t just the big man on campus playing basketball for the school known as “the Castle on the Hill.” He was also a star quarterback on the football team, scoring so many touchdowns that he kept his family well-fed through a promotion offered by a local market.

“The city market gave away country hams for the player that scored the most touchdowns,” said Tracey Jefferson, who went to school with Logan. “Henry got so many hams that I would joke that he’d better be careful or he’d get high blood pressure.”

But it was on the basketball court where Logan worked his real magic, a 6-foot guard who had all the attributes for stardom: He was an astute ball handler, a good shooter and such a tremendous leaper that the stories told about him today sound like folklore.

“I was trailing him in a benefit game where a guy jumped to block his jumper, he came down, and a second guy jumped up while Henry was still hanging in the air,” said Larry “Go-Go” Grant, who grew up learning from Logan and later enjoyed a successful basketball career at Western Carolina. “It sounds fictitious, but it really happened.”

Logan grew up a fan of the Boston Celtics, identifying with the ball wizardry of Bob Cousy. “Watching Bob, I knew that’s how I wanted to play the game,” Logan said. “I wanted to be the best little man that ever played.”

As a freshman, Logan helped lead Stephens-Lee to the State Negro 4A title.

As a sophomore, he was named all-state.

By his senior year there were as many people outside the Stephens-Lee gym as there were inside for games, leading to the decision to shift some of them downtown to the larger Asheville Civic Center.

“He was the first African-American athlete that was so good that white people were very excited and interested in seeing him,” said Pastor William Robertson, who’s also known as Pastor Billy. “He became someone that we all looked up to in the black community.”

Logan averaged 28.6 points a game during his senior year, earning Western North Carolina Player of the Year honors from the Asheville Citizen-Times newspaper. He was also the first black to play in the annual Blue-White game, with that showcase for the top players in the region also forced to move to a bigger venue because of the interest in Logan.

Schools from North Carolina to Duke to UCLA to Ohio State sent letters to Logan’s home, he said, an indication in 1964 that several Atlantic Coast Conference schools were at least considering integrating their programs (Billy Jones became the first black basketball player in the ACC in 1965).

Logan would often grab the recruitment letters out of the mailbox and anxiously wait for his mother to arrive home.

Not out of deference to his mother.

Logan couldn’t read.

“Teachers just passed me along, and it got to a point where I believed that I didn’t have to study,” Logan said. “When my momma started to read those letters to me, I thought to myself, ‘I must be pretty good.’ ”

Logan was, clearly, good enough to play at some of the schools that reached out to him.

Logan, however, lacked the academic ability to attend most of them.

That left him with limited options when it came time to select a school, and he wound up selecting Western Carolina over a couple of historically black colleges and universities.

It was an interesting choice: Western Carolina, at the time an NAIA school in nearby Cullowhee, had never had a black basketball player. No predominantly white school in North Carolina had been bold enough to offer a scholarship to a black basketball player.

So why Western Carolina?

“My mother wanted me to burst the color barrier,” Logan said. “She went out there, loved the school and she said she wanted me to do that because it was all-white and it would help black people.”

After struggling with addiction and suicide attempts, Logan became a Christian in 1979, after a pastor checked in on him and he was embraced by members of a local Asheville church.

Endia Beal for The Undefeated

It wasn’t the threat of violence, which James Meredith faced when he integrated the University of Mississippi in 1962, that worried Logan on the first day of class at Western Carolina in the fall of 1964.

It was the fear of being exposed.

“I was really afraid someone would say something about me not being able to read and write,” Logan said. “But it was never brought up.”

Logan never said a word about the lack of a plan to provide him an education. On quizzes and tests, he only signed his name. He passed classes that he hardly attended.

Over four years Logan was a star, an attraction and a huge money-maker. And as long as he put bodies in the seats, he remained eligible to play.

Logan didn’t care, thinking that the money he made from basketball would one day help him overcome his learning disability.

The transition to college, for Logan, was shockingly smooth. The members of the basketball team not only accepted him, but protected him when Logan had problems with opposing teams. The students on campus were intrigued by his potential. And it helped that a high school teammate, Herb Moore, also decided to accept a scholarship at Western Carolina.

“I guess they figured if there were two of us out there, we’d have a better chance of surviving,” Moore said. “I think we were helpful in bringing the white and black communities together.”

The dominance Logan displayed in high school continued throughout his college career. He scored 27 points in his first game, and averaged 30.7 points in his first season. “From that first game, there was no question about who the leader was on our team,” said Bob Thompson, a teammate of Logan’s for three seasons. “And he lived up to that.”

Logan did so with a flair that left his teammates — even Moore — stunned.

“One day he drove the lane, threw the ball off the glass, caught it and laid it in,” Moore said. “Coach stopped practice and said, ‘What did you just do?’ Logan didn’t have an answer. He made up moves as he went along.”

At the same time Logan was thrilling his teammates, there were times he wasn’t thrilled to be in school. While Moore was adjusting fine, Logan was struggling with the fact there were very few black people with whom he could interact.

“I went back to my room one day and cried like a baby,” Logan said. “I was lonely.”

Logan (second from left) attended Western Carolina because his mother wanted him to “burst the color barrier.”

Endia Beal for The Undefeated

With Logan as the attraction, the Catamounts sold out games home and away. Opposing teams in what was then known as the Carolinas Conference doubled and tripled their attendance when Western Carolina came to town. The predominantly white schools in the entire southeastern section of the country that had shunned the signing of black players closely watched Logan and how he handled the attention.

“A lot of those games were locally televised because of the interest,” said Steve White, who served as Western Carolina’s sports information director for more than four decades. “At Western Carolina, the school remodeled the old gym to double the capacity. If you didn’t get to your games an hour before game time, you didn’t get in.”

While Moore said he never heard verbal abuse that focused on race, Logan said he heard the occasional N-word shouted at him, and he was further bothered by insensitive signs held up by fans. “It got to me,” he said. “Some of that stuff hurt.”

During one tournament in Louisiana, the local sheriff met the Western Carolina team when it arrived at the gym. “He said to our coach, Jim Gudger, ‘I have to tell you those two black players can’t dress out,’ ” White recalled of the conversation. “The reality of the time we were living in set in for us right there.”

Moore transferred to Hampton after two years, and explained it had nothing to do with problems at Western Carolina. “I wanted to be an engineer, and I needed to be at a place where I could accomplish that,” Moore said. “The support that we had on campus is something that I’ll never forget.”

He also would never forget the performances of Logan. “Henry did things I know I’ll never see again,” Moore said. “Some people said they could sit and watch Henry play all day.

“I could, too.”

Those people would come out to see Logan play in the offseason as well. During one summer after his freshman year, Logan assembled an All-Star team to face a squad led by a kid from Raleigh, North Carolina, named Pete Maravich.

That game was played at Waynesville High School, about 30 miles west of Asheville, and by the time White arrived, there were reporters and television crews from around the region set to tape highlights of the event that sold out the 3,500-seat gym.

“The show they put on that day was unbelievable,” White said. “I remember seeing the stat sheet and Maravich had 58 points, and Henry had 51 points and 20 assists.

“From that day people started calling Pete Maravich the white Henry Logan.”

Logan (center) averaged 36.2 points a game as a senior and was drafted by the Seattle SuperSonics in 1968. He chose to play in the ABA instead.

Endia Beal for The Undefeated

Basketball gave Logan a chance to see the world after his sophomore season as he joined an All-Star team that traveled 30,000 miles around the globe and included stops in Malaysia, Pakistan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Italy.

As a junior he represented the United States in the Pan-Am games, where Wes Unseld and Jo Jo White were among his teammates on the gold medal-winning team.

As a senior, Henry averaged a jaw-dropping 36.2 points a game, and in one game scored 60. He has the seven top scoring games in school history, and nine of the top 10. Some of Logan’s records – 3,290 career points (the guy in second has 2,020) and 1,037 assists (the guy in second has 647) – aren’t likely to ever be broken.

Those records came with a big price.

The educational price was that Logan left Western Carolina illiterate. Logan doesn’t blame the school, but his friends do. “That school didn’t give a damn about Henry in terms of education,” Pastor Billy said. “They used Henry; the school pimped him out.”

Logan’s inability to read and learn became public when Bob Terrell, the news columnist for the Asheville Citizen-Times, wrote in a biting commentary in 1971:

“Henry Logan was such a heavy scholar at Western Carolina University that they still tell the story of Henry and Herbert Moore on the way to a freshman English call to take an exam and Herb was overheard telling Henry, ‘Now, darn it, Henry, remember that EVERY sentence begins with a capital letter.’ ”

Athletic director Randy Eaton, who has been at the school since 2011, released this statement when asked to comment about Logan leaving Western Carolina unable to read:

“Neither I nor anyone on my staff would be in a position to know any personal academic details about a student-athlete from more than 50 years ago, even one as heralded as Henry Logan. I would be shocked if this was a completely accurate portrayal. What I can tell you is that Western Carolina University has long enjoyed a reputation of commitment to the success of our student-athletes not only in the realm of competitive sports, but more importantly in the classroom. We believe that ‘student’ is the most important part of the word ‘student-athlete.’ Since my arrival in Cullowhee, our goal has been to win every game, to graduate every student-athlete and to do it with class.”

The physical price was that Logan’s style — taking falls and always playing with a reckless abandon — left his body battered.

“After some games he’d have scratches on his face and his chest and it looked like he had been in a brawl,” Moore said. “He took a lot of punishment.”

That didn’t deter the Seattle SuperSonics and the Oakland Oaks from taking him in the NBA and ABA draft of 1968: Seattle in the fourth round, and Oakland in the second. Logan signed the deal with Oakland and, playing alongside Barry, was destined to be a star.

“We feel now with Barry and Logan,” Oaks coach Hale said at the time, “that we have the nucleus to go on and become one of the great teams in professional basketball.”

Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski (right) embraces Henry Logan (left), former Western Carolina basketball star on May 17, 2000, during a news conference at the Museum of History in Raleigh, North Carolina, where it was announced that both men will be inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame. The two are wearing their new North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame jackets.

Karen Tam/AP Photo

No one who had ever seen Logan play could have predicted his best days were behind him.

After playing four years in college as a scoring machine, Logan averaged only 12.5 points a game while playing just over 20 minutes a contest as a rookie.

Going from main option to role player alongside Barry, one of the most prolific scorers in basketball, was tough.

“In college, I was the guy making the plays,” Logan said. “I had to learn to play without the ball, and that was tough.”

That reckless style that Logan always played with was also beginning to take its toll as he developed problems with his knee that would result in 15 surgeries.

Fiscal responsibility was also an issue for Logan, who was unable to read the contract that he signed with Oakland. After buying his mother a house in Asheville, Logan bought himself a Cadillac and loaded a bunch of his friends inside for a trip to New York, where he took them all on a shopping spree.

Logan partied hard and drank excessively. His weight ballooned from the 175 pounds he carried in college to the 220 pounds he often played at in Oakland, which put more pressure on his knees.

A season after Logan won a title with the Oaks in 1969, his career was over. He played just 32 games during the 1969-70 season before his knee gave out, and he would never recover from the series of surgeries that followed.

“I thought I’d play in the league between 12 and 15 years,” Logan said. “It was over quickly.”

As a local legend, everyone knew Logan’s name.

As a former professional player with a career that ended with less than success, Logan felt shunned at home. “After I got hurt in the pros, it was hard for me to find a job and people didn’t want to talk to me,” Logan said. “That hurt.”

So Logan increasingly sought comfort in alcohol. He was arrested for driving while intoxicated multiple times. He wrecked several cars while he was under the influence. He was known as the local legend who became a town drunk.

Seeking a different type of high, Logan eventually became addicted to cough syrup with codeine. That led to one of the darkest moments of his life when he walked into the pharmacy of the Sears store in Asheville and slipped two bottles into his pocket.

“I was on my way out the door when the guard tapped me on my shoulder and asked what I had in my pocket,” Logan said. “They locked me up.”

Everybody recognized Logan when he got to the jail. “One of the inmates said ‘Henry Logan, you ain’t got no business up in here,’ ” he said. “When they slammed the doors shut, that killed me inside. Right there, I said to myself that I was never coming back.”

Even with his career finished, you could still find Logan playing basketball throughout the Asheville area. One day Logan and his friends stopped to shoot at a goal on an outdoor court in nearby Black Mountain, catching the interest of a group of local kids.

“I remember this like it was yesterday — I watched this guy jump so high that he would just hang in the air,” said Daugherty, who was about 10 years old at the time. “There were times he would almost touch his head on the goal. It was unbelievable.”

Henry Logan averaged 30 points a game in his career and helped desegregate college basketball in the southeast before injuries cut his professional career short.

Daugherty, who would become one of the greatest big men in ACC history at North Carolina, watched Logan in awe for many years. One day as he watched the older guys pick teams, he looked down at Logan’s knee.

“It was disfigured really badly with massive scars all over,” he said. “I was trying to figure it all out and thought that maybe they did something special to his knee to allow him to jump like he did. But, honestly, on the times he didn’t wear a brace, his knee looked like a hamburger.”

Logan could still find peace on the basketball court.

But off the court, Logan’s mental state was still in tatters from his failed career. He claimed he tried to kill himself several times: a couple of times when he drove his car off the road and, miraculously, escaped unscathed. Another time he chased a handful of red devil pills with two-fifths of scotch.

Logan doesn’t know how he survived that latter episode in 1979. The next day a friend, a pastor, called to check up on him.

His head was still spinning when members of the church picked him up from his apartment. For Logan, it was a great awakening: Within days he accepted Jesus into his life.

“All the hate, all the things that I thought was wrong with my life, it all left me,” Logan said. “Getting saved changed my life.”

The pastor who rescued Logan from his demons recommended he take Bible study at a church in Asheville run by Pastor Billy. When they got together, Pastor Billy realized they had known each other in high school and encountered each other in the ensuing years.

“Before I became a Christian, I was hanging out in the club and I remember seeing Henry there with a bunch of guys I knew were using him,” Pastor Billy said. “I confronted those guys in the club. We joke about that now.”

After going through high school and college being unable to read, Logan taught himself to read using the Bible after he became a Christian. “God had other plans for my life. And when I learned to read this, everything in my life changed.”

Endia Beal for The Undefeated

Bible study became therapeutic. And holding a Bible gave Logan a strong urge to read which, over time, incredibly, he taught himself to do.

“I’ve read this book many times,” Logan said, pulling out his tattered Bible from its zippered leather case. “God had other plans for my life. And when I learned to read this, everything in my life changed.”

Logan was able to work a job in recreation, and later at Rockwell Automation in nearby Arden. “I made $19 an hour there,” Logan bragged, “before my knee locked up and I had to retire.”

Today, Logan is a well-respected member of the community. His marriage to his wife, Barbara, for nearly three decades, helped to stabilize his life.

Once he was clean, the accolades poured in.

In 1990, Logan was inducted into the Western Carolina Athletic Hall of Fame — the school’s first induction class — and in 2002 his No. 10 jersey was retired.

In 2000, Logan was inducted into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.

And this year, Logan appeared in the 2018 Heritage Calendar, which honors great African-Americans from North Carolina.

“To get all this recognition is nice,” Logan said. “When I walk into the gym at Western Carolina and I see my No. 10 jersey hanging and knowing that it will never be worn again, it’s a magnificent feeling.”

When Logan returned to Asheville from his weekend in Indianapolis, he couldn’t wait to tell his friends about the experience.

“I had about six missed calls from Henry and when I called him back he was just so excited, and told me about all the guys who were excited to see him.” Grant, a lifelong friend, said. “It’s almost like he didn’t feel like he was on that level with them. That weekend made him feel like he was among the stars, instead of being someone looking up to the stars.”

Logan was still on cloud nine several months later as he talked about the weekend.

“Them superstars knew me,” Logan said, smiling. “Julius Erving, George McGinnis, Rick Barry, Spencer Haywood, they all kept saying, ‘That’s Henry Logan. That’s that little guy who could jump so high.’ ”

Months after the reunion, Barry was asked what it was like to see Logan after 50 years.

“It was great to see him,” Barry said. “I loved Henry. I was so sorry to see him get hurt.”

So were a lot of people back in Asheville, who will tell you that Logan was Michael Jordan before Jordan. “I didn’t know about his background when I first met him,” Daugherty said. “He is a legend. One of the most effortless players that I’ve ever seen.

“It’s a shame injuries kept him away from being a big star.”

That weekend in Indianapolis gave Logan a taste of what his life could have been.

“Hall of Fame people, the fans, they knew me,” Logan said. “And that I was a pretty good player.”

Jerry Bembry is a senior writer at Andscape. His bucket list items include being serenaded by Lizz Wright and watching the Knicks play a MEANINGFUL NBA game in June.