Legend Emmette Bryant’s first-person account of his relationship with Jesse White

June 30, 2014

Hayley Glatter

Emmette Bryant is a former NBA star that was a member of the 1969 Championship-winning Boston Celtics. Over an eight-year career, Bryant played with the New York Knicks, the Boston Celtics and the Buffalo Braves.

Additionally, Jesse White, a Vietnam War veteran, is the current Illinois Secretary of State and the first African American to hold his position

These two men, from the political and athletic worlds, came together on June 23 when both the NBRPA and Jesse White were honored by the Simon Wiesenthal Center. But, it was not the first time Bryant and White met.

In Bryant's own words: 

“My first time meeting Jesse White was in 1954, and I was a resident in the Illinois State Training School for Boys, which is a reformatory located out in St. Charles, Illinois, and Jesse was the gym teacher there in the institution.

He was also the basketball coach, so I was the best basketball player in the facility at the time, and he also taught us tumbling. During basketball season when he would divide the squads up, he would always play with the second team against the first team to even the sides up, so he and I were matched up together all the time against each other. He was a heck of an athlete. He was all state in about three different sports. He was one of the best athletes Illinois ever produced.

He wasn’t that much older than us, either. What intrigued us was that he was one of the few black people we saw who, at the end of the day, could leave the facility and go home because all of us were doing time. So that impressed us. At that time, I don’t think either of us had a clue of what the coming years would hold in terms of where we would end up in life.”

“After I was released [from the institution], I attended DePaul University and I kept up with him by knowing where he was in terms of some of the jobs he held. He held various recreation-related jobs in communities where I lived or had friends who frequented the particular gymnasium or playground he ran. Periodically over the years, I would stop in and say hello to him. It wasn’t an on-going relationship. Although he challenged me a lot in St. Charles to improve and do better than what I was doing athletically and as a person, it wasn’t a constant mentoring thing.”

“[At the Simon Wiesenthal Awards ceremony] he was gracious. He said he was happy for me, we laughed and hugged and complimented each other on what we had become since then. But, if it hadn’t been for the dinner and both of us weren’t involved with the Simon Wiesenthal Center, then this may have never come about.”