In 1957, nine years before Texas Western’s NCAA title victory over Kentucky, there was the Tennessee A&I (now known as Tennessee State University) Tigers. And while Texas Western became the first team to win the NCAA title with an all-Black starting lineup, Tennessee A&I was the first HBCU to win a national championship tournament.
Led by Hall of Fame coach John McLendon, and future NBA players Dick Barnett and John Barnhill, Tennessee A&I closed out the 1950s winning the NAIA Tournament in 1957, 1958, and 1959, the first college team, on any level, to win three consecutive national titles.
Fittingly, in the 65th anniversary year of the Tigers’ first national championship of that historic run, comes the 2022 release of The Dream Whisperer. Eleven years in the making, the documentary chronicles New York Knicks legend Dick Barnett’s long and often frustrating journey to have his team recognized for its achievement at the highest level — induction into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.
The Dream Whisperer, which will first be playing the festival circuit, is a not only a homage to a historic team from a small HBCU school that won three consecutive national championships in the midst of segregation in the Jim Crow South, but a testament to Barnett’s persistence and perseverance to make sure the Tigers’ legacy would be honored and remembered.
“This is a story about the first college basketball team to win three consecutive national championships. A team that almost was lost to history until I decided to do something about it,” said Barnett, who is now 85. “It’s about a legacy that needs to be protected and passed on.”
Narrated by Dr. Barnett, The Dream Whisperer features interviews with: John Thompson, Hall of Fame coach; Julius Erving, Hall of Fame NBA player; Walt Frazier, two-time NBA Champion; Bill Bradley, two-time NBA Champion; Phil Jackson, Hall of Fame coach; David Stern, Hall of Fame NBA Commissioner; Joanna McLendon, Coach McLendon’s widow; Jim Satterwhite, Tennessee A&I championship team member; Harry Carlton, Tennessee A&I championship team member; Howard Gentry, former Tennessee State University Athletic Director; Dr. Harry Edwards, Civil Rights activist; John Doleva, President, Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame; and George Willis, sports journalist.
Barnett, known as the Skull during his college days, was selected by the Syracuse Nationals in the first round (No. 5 overall) of the 1959 NBA Draft. The Nationals made the playoffs in Barnett’s first two years before he jumped to the American Basketball League in 1961, where he led the Cleveland Pipers, owned by George Steinbrenner, to the ABL title. Barnett and his Fall Back Baby jump shot returned to the NBA in 1962, playing for the Los Angeles Lakers, a team that made it to the NBA Championship Finals in two of the three years he played for them.
He was traded to the New York Knicks in 1965 and was a member of the 1970 and 1973 NBA Championship teams. The Knicks retired his No.12 jersey, which hangs in honor with those of his teammates inside Madison Square Garden. Barnett, who holds a master’s degree in public administration from New York University and a Ph.D. in education administration and supervision from Fordham University, continues to champion the battles for equity and social justice by telling his story, and the story of the courageous and talented Tennessee A&I team, on which he played, to students, of all ages, around the country.
The Dream Whisperer is executive produced by Ed Peskowitz, Penelope Peskowitz, Eric Drath, George Willis, and Grammy Award-winning hip hop producer 9th Wonder, produced by Danielle Naassana, Aaron Cohen, and directed by two-time Emmy winner Eric Drath.
The Dream Whisperer will have its world premiere at the 30th Annual Pan African Film & Arts Festival on Sat., Apr. 30 at 7 p.m. with Dick Barnett in attendance. Tickets are available here.