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Mannie Jackson, former Globetrotter player and owner, gets Basketball Hall call

Illinois backcourt mate and good friend Jerry Colangelo was first to share news

Mannie Jackson has had countless telephone conversations with his close friend Jerry Colangelo since the late 1950s when they played basketball at the University of Illinois. But out of all those talks, Colangelo’s call on March 31 telling his buddy he was named to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame will likely go down as the most memorable.

The thought of the former college backcourt mates becoming teammates again in the Hall of Fame brought them both to tears.

“We were talking for about four or five minutes before Jerry mentioned it,’’ the 77-year-old Jackson told The Undefeated. “We talk regularly. I call him with a question or he calls me with a problem. We just call and socialize with each other because we’ve known each other so many years. It wasn’t quite, ‘Oh, by the way,’ but damn near that. We both kind of cried and thought isn’t it amazing how far our friendship has gone. Two guys from the same college are now in the Hall of Fame.”

Colangelo told The Undefeated: “How could you not get emotional when you have a relationship that goes back that far? He was taken aback, and so was I.”

Jackson starred for Illinois’ basketball team from 1957-60 after becoming the first African-American to play there and to earn a varsity letter. The Illinois jersey that the two-time All-Big Ten Conference player wore hangs in the rafters at the school’s Assembly Hall. Jackson also played for the Harlem Globetrotters from 1962-64.

The former high-ranking Honeywell Inc. executive rescued the Globetrotters from bankruptcy by purchasing the famous predominantly black team for $6 million in 1993. He reinvigorated interest by focusing on getting more young fans and adding more skilled players like the ones of the past. Jackson sold the Globetrotters in 2006 with their value raised to $100 million.

The former Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame chairman’s 2012 book, Boxcar to Board Rooms, recounted his rise from poverty, which included living with up to a dozen family members in a railway boxcar in Missouri. The Edwardsville, Illinois, native has given away more than $25 million to help the less fortunate and in 2015 received the Theodore Roosevelt Award, the highest honor given by the NCAA to a former athlete “who ultimately became a distinguished citizen of national reputation based on outstanding life accomplishment.”

“The difference for me being selected is that it includes my body of work that I’ve done in the community, charitable work, my basketball career, and my ownership of the Harlem Globetrotters and having played for the Globetrotters,” Jackson said. “It’s also this whole journey of an African-American having the nerve of breaking down various barriers of ownership and wealth in this world of basketball. As a role model worldwide, it means a lot to me.”

Jackson described his longtime friendship with Colangelo, who is Italian, as “the best you could have” and added that it should be made into a movie. So who will present Jackson during the Hall of Fame ceremony Sept. 8 in Springfield, Massachusetts?

“There is only one choice: Jerry Colangelo. I haven’t told him yet, but there is only one choice,” Jackson said.

Said Colangelo: “I couldn’t be happier for him being elected.”

Marc J. Spears is the senior NBA writer for Andscape. He used to be able to dunk on you, but he hasn’t been able to in years and his knees still hurt.