Wichita State Shockers

‘Breathtaking and bittersweet’: WSU unveils Dave Stallworth statue at Koch Arena

Tears streamed down Gloria Stallworth’s face.

A crowd of around 100, consisting of family members, former teammates and fans of Dave Stallworth, gathered at Koch Arena on Saturday morning for the unveiling of a statue commemorating “Dave the Rave.”

Some came to pay their respects to Wichita State’s first consensus basketball All-American, who led the Shockers to their first Missouri Valley Conference championship and NCAA Tournament appearance. But for others, Stallworth was so much more than a basketball player.

That’s why Gloria Stallworth became emotional when the life-sized, bronzed statue of her late husband was revealed in front of Koch Arena.

“Because it’s him,” she said afterward. “They told me they’re going to sit a chair out there for me so I can come visit.”

Stallworth’s youngest son, Hameed Holt, had a similar reaction. Wearing his father’s commemorative 1970 New York Knicks championship jacket, Holt said seeing the statue for the first time was emotional.

“It was breathtaking and bittersweet at the same time,” Holt said. “A lot of people recognize the basketball player, but I knew the man more than the player. They tend to forget he was a great man and an earnest soul. It brought back a lot of memories that are tough to swallow.

“He never gave up on me and he always had a kind, positive word and was always very encouraging. It’s going to be missed.”

Mohamed Sharif (formerly Kelly Pete) was one of Stallworth’s former teammates from the 1965 Final Four team in attendance on Saturday. He wasn’t shocked to see so many people who made it a priority to be there for Saturday’s reveal.

“The evidence of how you lived is what you leave behind,” Sharif said. “As you can see, with what has been produced behind him, the kind of person Dave was.”

After Stallworth’s death in March 2017, former teammate Bob Powers spearheaded the fund-raising effort for the statue.

WSU athletic director Darron Boatright said he was lukewarm about the idea initially, but quickly had his mind changed after listening to story after story from Stallworth’s former teammates about his impact.

“Leadership doesn’t go away,” Boatright said. “Regardless of your role, regardless of what your job is, leaders lead. In doing so, Dave touched a lot of people. He was a selfless individual and he led by example in every way, both as an athlete and more importantly as a human being.”

Boatright was hesitant because he didn’t want to single out any one of WSU’s legends.

Cleo Littleton was WSU’s first superstar and helped break the color barrier. He came before Stallworth, but Littleton immediately gave his blessing to the statue.

“I was Dave Stallworth’s biggest fan,” Littleton said. “The things he did, they’re still trying to figure out how to do.

“After Dave, everyone wanted to be Dave Stallworth. But no one could be as mild and as meek as Dave. You would have never known he was an all-star with the way he was and that was just a fantastic way to be.”

Littleton still laughs recalling the memory after Stallworth’s final game at WSU, when he had surpassed many of Littleton’s records he had set just years prior.

“Dave, you broke a lot of my records,” Littleton said.

“Cleo, that’s what they’re for,” Stallworth said with the innocence only he could produce.

“I guess records are meant to be broken,” Littleton admitted, laughing.

Sharif, a standout player in his own right, still thinks Stallworth was one of the best basketball players he saw.

Back then, not many 6-foot-7 players could dribble, pass, rebound, defend and score as gracefully as Stallworth. The Dallas native averaged 24.3 points and 10.5 rebounds for his three-year career and was a consensus All-American in 1964 and 1965 before being drafted third overall pick in the 1965 NBA Draft by the Knicks.

But what stands out to Sharif is the basketball mind of Stallworth.

“There’s a lot of people that have talent, but not all of them understand the concept of winning,” Sharif said. “Dave knew every aspect of the game. He didn’t have any weaknesses and he was highly intellectual about the game. He could play any position, he had both hands, he could play both sides of the court, he could close a game. But he was also unselfish. He didn’t have to take the last shot. He would always find the best shot. He was just an all-around basketball player.”

Former WSU star Lynbert “Cheese” Johnson was a 12-year-old in New York City when he first met Stallworth. He had no idea he played for Wichita State or where Kansas was for that matter. Johnson was just a kid in Manhattan helping a friend wash cars when Stallworth, then a player for the New York Knicks, brought his car to them.

Stallworth made an impression on Johnson because of the respect he treated him with as just a kid who washed his car. Six years later, Johnson was recruited by WSU and came to visit in Wichita.

“I saw they had a picture of Dave,” Johnson said. “I was like, ‘Oh, Dave went here? I’ve got to come here.’ He was my idol playing for the Knicks and winning a championship.”

Johnson still recalls Stallworth’s greatness in pick-up games in Wichita after his playing days were over.

“He had a heck of a bank shot,” Johnson said. “Man, he would make that shot on me, Xavier McDaniel, Cliff Levingston. Every one of those guys probably still has nightmares about him shooting bank shots in their face like that.”

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