On Bob Boozer, Don Matuszak and Being Color Blind

The way I understand it, the two incoming college freshman were assigned as roommates, to live in what would become dubbed “The Rat’s Nest” in the turrets at the top of the Memorial Football Stadium at Kansas State University. One was a fast talking, street wise basketball player from Cicero, Illinois and the other a gangly, short-tempered Nebraskan with great potential on the court.

The minute they met, I’m told, they clicked. It was in the late 1950’s and one man was black and the other white.ย  One of those men was my father, Don Matuszak. The other man turned out to be Dad’s lifelong, dearest friend, Bob Boozer.

Dad told me that the two of them never noticed a color difference, although there were times while traveling for basketball games that they’d see the restrictions in various establishments. Even in Manhattan, Kansas, there were some places that wouldn’t allow Bob to eat in a main dining room, which shocked my father. They didn’t make a big deal out of those occasions, simply left and found another place that would serve them.

Basketball was the centerpiece of their original friendship — they found they complimented each other very well on the court. Bob was a 6’8″ forward and my father was a 6-foot ball handler who had an uncanny knack of being able to get the ball to the best scorer, and on K-State’s team, that combo was a successful one. Their team was rated number one in the country by all polls at the time, with my dad as the captain and Bob Boozer as the star player. This is also the team that included UNC’s basketball coach Bill Guthridge and a team that as a whole formed an incredible bond of guys from different backgrounds and a team that went on to exceed expectations and break records.

Boozer, as my dad called him, graduated from college to play professional basketball and was on the U.S. Olympic Basketball team. “Tuz” as Boozer called my dad, married my mother, played semi-pro ball, became an assistant athletic director and then a successful businessman. My sister remembers Boozer coming to our home and only being able to see his chest through the peephole, because he was so tall. I remember him being my parent’s only friend who had the privilege of taking their king-sized bed when he came to visit. But we both remember the laughing friendship, the stories they’d tell, the way they’d pick up where they left off after months, or later, years, of seeing each other.

And in retrospect, I believe my sister and I were raised colorblind, quite simply because we never saw Boozer as a black man. He was just Dad’s best friend.

Mom will tell stories of how they’d feed off each other. If Boozer was short-tempered during practices, it’d be a wisecrack by Dad that would change the attitude. If one of them became a bit too big for their britches, the other would bring them back to reality. They were bookends in college, pals for life.

Gale Sayers’s book, “I Am Third” detailed his extraordinary relationship with Brian Piccolo in their football days and the movie “Brian’s Song” highlighted their relationship — a black man and a white man.

I’d contend that a decade before, Boozer and Matuszak created a bond just as special and just as impressive, but in a time that was much more tentative about racial harmony. And because of that friendship, a basketball team made history in their incredible record, two men became rich with their bond and those who were able to witness it, experienced something incredibly valuable.

Bob Boozer passed away this weekend.ย  But his legacy, his humor, his concern for others and his friendship with my father continue on…..

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19 thoughts on “On Bob Boozer, Don Matuszak and Being Color Blind

  1. I lived down the hall from Don and Bob during their last (and famous No. 1 ranked) year. I was truly inspired because of their friendship and have never forgotten them. Many years later I was fortunate to meet them and your mother again at a KSU FB game and also obtained your mom’s great book about the team. I am so sorry Bob has passed and agree the whole team MUST be included in the KSU Sports Hall of Fame. Please let me know if I can ever be of help and my best to your great parents!

    1. Thank you for your memories and comments! Yep, they are good people and we are still waiting for K-State to FINALLY acknowledge the entire team. Any emails or phone calls you can make can’t be too soon.

    1. Jill–Disney, Jill! I read your sensational resume; please consider a run for the W’Hse. And, it would be good to remove my first note. Thank you
      for displaying your fine citizenship. You must be as special as EM was, years ago. Best regards from Windermere/Bubba Watson-ville!!!

      1. I wondered if you meant Disney! ๐Ÿ™‚ I would like to think I came from good genes…on both sides of the family! My uncle was known to me as “Uncle Butch” during my childhood…He and Dad still get together to play golf.

  2. An addendum to our daughter’s story: When Bob and Don graduated they were both drafted into the NBA, but both wished to maintain their amateur status. The reasons were that the NBA was not that lucrative and it didn’t hold any guarantees of a job. They had hoped to play AAU ball together but Don signed first with the Phillips Oilers who didn’t sign black players at the time. Bob signed then with the Peoria Caterpillars. They would meet at games during the several years both played and it was always a great get-together. Don worked for Phillips, returned to K-State in the Athletic Dept. for a year, then joined IBM where he was in management. Bob played as an amateur (a requirement at the time) in the Olympics and won a gold medal.He became a successful businessman and was inducted into the Nat’l. Hall of Fame.
    This team remains the only K-State team to be named No. #1 in the nation in the end-of-season polls. Is their picture even in the Coliseum? If so, I’ve never seen it.

    1. Thanks for sharing this. I feel that I was privileged to spend one year as their roommate. Two finer men never existed. I am the better for it. Paul Sangster

  3. I would like to say further that Bob was a special gentleman, and had a great sense of humor. He’d get the giggles when he heard something funny, most surprising in such a big man. I have always regretted having lost contact with these guys and I think it is really neat that they had such a great friendship.

  4. In the fall of 1957, I was a freshman basketball hopeful at Kansas State, and was assigned the dorm room with Matuszak and Boozer. The other hopeful, much better than I, was Larry Comley. We had a great time, all four of us. I left after first year and they probably forgot me. Wouldn’t blame them. I recently saw that Bob died. What a shame. How is Don? I remember he used to say, “Whea I come from, it’s one phone call and you disappeah.”

    1. Mr. Sangster,

      I just called my dad and he said to pass along a hello to you! He did say that he remembered and wondered if you remembered the mice issue up there! Said he moved to the top bunk after the Christmas holiday because of the mice. ๐Ÿ˜‰ He is doing very well….he and my mom live north of Atlanta. Dad retired from IBM and still golfs numerous times a week. He just golfed with my husband today, as a matter of fact, who was there on business. I hold a deep desire for the entire basketball team of that time to eventually make it to the KSU Hall of Fame — seems it was an incredible group that came together from so many different backgrounds and yet meshed on the court so well….

      I hope this finds you well and you cannot know how much I appreciate your comments.

      Jill Matuszak Swain

      1. Jill,
        It’s a thrill to make contact with you. If he would be interested, I’d like to email Don. I wanted so bad to play, but I should have been quicker and taller! We had a lot of good times. Don’t remember the mice, but I do remember Don shifting to the upper bunk. I think he made Larry worry about the mice! I do remember the Asian flu. I was sicker than a dog, lying in the other upper bunk with a high fever.

      2. Mr. Sangster,

        Although Dad was an IBMer for a long time, he has never really taken to email, so I am his conduit. Now that I think of it, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him type! ๐Ÿ™‚

        I’ll be happy to convey messages back and forth if you’d like. My actual email is jswainsworld@gmail.com.

        Jill

      3. Well, I’m kind of behind in my work. I do remember the mice. I have been wondering who was the Italian guy that lived down the hall. He was from Chicago and his mom used to send him a big fat salami that he shared with everybody. Bet Don remembers him.
        I’m really sorry that I didn’t reply to your note about the memorial for the team. How is that going? What, if anything, can I do?
        Another memory. Then, as always, KU and K-State were bitter rivals. Wilt Chamberlain was the center for KU, as you probably know. He was so much taller than anybody, and I remember Tex Winter placing Bob in front of him and Jack Parr behind him to try to keep him from stuffing the ball.

  5. We haven’t met, Jill, but as a member of that team I can say without reserve, you got it right. I might add, and I’m sure you are aware, we had a great coach. The Boozer-Matuszak chemistry may or may not have worked quite so well without the catalytic effect of Tex Winter’s sensitivity and good humor.

    1. Mr. Douglas,

      I definitely know of you and know that my parents think the world of you. I of course have the 30,000 foot view of your history, but it seems to me that everything fell into place for your team. The random choices you all made that led to you being at K-State at the same time and on the team, the coach, the friendships, the way your personalities just seemed to mesh — it is all amazing to me. I can say without a doubt that none of the relationships I’ve had in my life could hold a candle to the the long-lasting friendships that you all made in college. You all are a screenplay waiting to happen….. I am truly amazed that my blog reached you and humbled that you took the time to read it.

      Jill

  6. Very nice. Now we are seeing problems with discrimination agains Hispanics and stereotyping, not all hispanics are from Mexico, illegal inmmigrants and not all are working on the crops or as a maids. Thanks!

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