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Flick: Doug Collins signs them ... 49 years later

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While few get independently wealthy at a newspaper job, in a lifetime of covering events, beating deadlines, doing stories and fighting large amounts of necessary routine, there also are experiences that no money can buy.

In only my own days:

Stood on an 18th green at Crestwicke as rock icon Alice Cooper putted out the morning before a concert. Sat in the back seat of a car with CBS legend Charles Kuralt as he autographed books. Had my loafers accidentally perspired upon by Larry Bird. Spent a 1982 morning in the Oval Office with Ronald Reagan. Listened to Arnold Palmer grouse about the slope of a Fox Creek green he'd also created. Checked out the Mickey Mantle card Bob Costas still carries in his wallet. Watched Barack Obama pluck a horsefly out of the air, literally, as he chatted on a sidewalk. Stood next to John Mellencamp on a LeRoy porch as he chain-smoked Marlboro reds. Was at an Urbana urinal next to Sen. Edward Kennedy, as we both then first washed afterward before shaking hands.

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The very first close encounter?

It was, I believe, 49 years ago this week, when exclaimed the editor at the Olney Daily Mail, where I worked a summer as a college freshman: “Hey, Flick. Grab a camera. There’s a basketball clinic. Doug Collins is there!”

Doug Collins?

I went.

And there he was, the 23-year-old Sports Illustrated cover boy from Illinois State and standout on the 1972 U.S. Olympics team who had just also been the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft.

On this day, in an Illinois State T-shirt, he was instead showing Olney 9-year-olds how to launch jump shots.

061922-blm-loc-flickcolumn-doug collins and the original photos.jpg

Doug Collins is pictured in these Olney Daily Mail photos from a basketball clinic in 1973.

The summer of ’73 was momentous. Roe v. Wade had just become law. The Vietnam War was finally closing. Nixon was being called onto the carpet at Congressional hearings for something called Watergate.

Then some time passed.

Now a half-century after he put ISU on a map as one of the nation’s highest-scoring basketball players, becoming a star in the NBA not only as a player and coach but later an award-winning broadcaster, Doug Collins on this Sunday past showed he still knows how to wow a crowd, as he entertained an estimated 300 people at a Marcfirst fundraiser banquet in Bloomington.

Doug Collins

Illinois State University basketball legend Doug Collins, left, was the featured speaker at the Marcfirst fundraiser on June 12 in Bloomington. Collins, pictured with Marcfirst CEO Brian Wipperman, regaled the crowd with stories from his childhood and career. 

These days a compassionate, still-discipline-minded, highly entertaining 70-year-old grandpa, Collins was wonderful in an onstage Q&A session overseen by Redbird-radio voice Dick Luedke.

“They tell me I have no time limit. So, as long as all these folk want to listen, I’ll just keep going on up here,” Collins said, after nearly an hour.

“Well,” responded Luedke, as if he eventually may want to go home, “they told me there was a time limit.”

And the crowd roared.

Five things you might not have known about ISU’s all-time most successful athlete, as revealed at the benefit:

  • His major was in education. His initial goal: to be a high school guidance counselor, and a coach on the side. He met his wife, Kathy (Steiger) of 45 years, at ISU as well.
  • His neighbor and good friend back in native Benton, a Southern Illinois town of 7,000, was “Johnny Gavin.” At least, that’s what they called him then. Full name: John Gavin Malkovich. “We obviously had no idea back then that John, who also went to ISU, would become what he is (an acclaimed actor) today.”
  • Living these days in Arizona, while Benton remains an original home, so does, he says, B-N. “If I’m ever down, I know I can come back here and feel better.”
  • Before ISU, he’d never teamed with a Black player, not to mention play under America’s first Black coach, ISU’s Will Robinson. “I remember a game at Arkansas where he got all sorts of (racial taunts) from behind the bench. As we walked off the court, I said, ‘How can you stand that?’ And he said, ‘Just wait — before long, there’ll be several Black coaches.’ And sure enough, years later (1994), Arkansas itself won a national championship … with a Black coach (Nolan Richardson).”
  • Collins’ dad was Franklin County sheriff, and he and family lived above the jail. “I was Opie,” he says, with a big smile.

And one more …

The other night, for fun and of memories for two now old guys, Collins was handed for his signing a page from an old scrapbook, of two newspaper photos. They were of Collins back at the basketball clinic. They’d made the next day’s Olney Daily Mail back in ‘73, the first time a 19-year-old wannabe journalist had ever actually made Page 1.

061922-blm-loc-flickcolumn-doug collins looking at 49 year old photos.jpg

Doug Collins, right, reacts on June 12 as Bill Flick, left, hands him a news clipping with photos of him from 49 years ago.

“This is pretty cool.”

Doug Collins said that.

You can only imagine how the other fellow felt.

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