Former Vanderbilt basketball player Perry Wallace died Friday at 69, per a report from David Ammenheuser of The Tennessean.
Wallace was the first African-American to receive a scholarship to play basketball in the Southeastern Conference. Not only did he excel on the court for the Commodores, earning a fifth-round selection in the 1970 NBA Draft, he also excelled academically, earning an engineering degree from Vanderbilt and a law degree from Columbia University. He went on to have a distinguished career as an attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice and later as a law professor.
The Nashville, Tenn., native passed away in Rockville, Md., per Ammenheuser’s report.
Author Andrew Maraniss helped tell Wallace’s story in a book titled Strong Inside: Perry Wallace and the Collision of Race and Sports in the South. During a 2014 interview with Vanderbilt on the book, Maraniss explained some of the things Wallace had to endure as a trailblazer for so many SEC basketball players who followed in his footsteps.
“At the time Perry was playing – in the South, in the 1960s – there weren’t a whole lot of people out there promoting his story,” Maraniss said. “In the years since, he’s moved on with his life and hasn’t been one of those athletes who live off their athletic glory.
“Perry talked about his feelings before he would go off on road trips as the deepest sense of dread. He would imagine the worst that could happen, and that was to get shot and killed on the basketball court or around town before the game.”
Maraniss paid his respects to Wallace on Twitter after the news of his passing was revealed:
The world lost one of its true gentlemen today. My friend and mentor has passed away. Rest In Peace, Perry Wallace. Your influence will live on in so many of us who admired you. pic.twitter.com/qm9pb3af0g
— Andrew Maraniss (@trublu24) December 2, 2017