On August 8, ESPN released a 30 For 30 documentary titled “Baltimore Boys” about the special high school basketball teams at Dunbar High School in Baltimore, Md. The documentary is about triumph in the face of real-life tragedy and overcoming extreme odds to see four players off the same high school team reach their dreams of the NBA. While the documentary focuses on the humanitarian aspects of the game, we present facts about the basketball team and its on-court performance against the backdrop of this fascinating story about arguably the greatest high school basketball team of all-time.
The backdrop to this story started in 1968 when the Baltimore riots broke out following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Calvert Hall (a boys Catholic school in Towson, Md.) and other parochial schools in the area were part of the MSA then. In 1969, a black Dunbar student hit a white student from one of the parochial schools at a sporting event. After the incident, the parochial schools pulled out of the MSA and formed their own catholic league. Through the 1970s came charges of Catholic schools leading an exodus of mainly black athletes out of the inner-city. Talented players began to choose between leaving the inner-city and attending a school like Calvert Hall or staying at one of the public schools. There was definitely no love lost between these schools.
By the end of 1981 season, the rivalry between Calvert Hall and Dunbar (located in East Baltimore) had grown heated. The two teams played a classic game at the Towson Center that lasted two and a half hours, and at the end of it, Calvert Hall won in triple overtime, 94-91. Later that season, Calvert Hall was upset in the Alhambra Catholic Invitational and finished ranked No. 9 in Basketball Weekly’s national rankings with a 29-2 record. Dunbar, which lost in the Baltimore City title game to cross-town Lake Clifton in double overtime, finished No. 21 at 24-3.
Basketball Weekly, which began national rankings for the 1974-75 season, started out Calvert Hall as its No. 1 team in the fall of 1981 with Camden (N.J.) at No. 2. Camden featured the No. 1 player in the county heading into the season in forward Billy Thompson, who would go on to help Louisville win the NCAA Championship in 1986. At least two starters on that Calvert Hall team, including point guard James “Pop” Tubman and All-American Marc “Money” Wilson, chose to attend Calvert Hall over Dunbar. At the time, Calvert Hall could give out athletic scholarships.
Calvert Hall went wire-to-wire as the nation’s No. 1 ranked team in 1981-82. Calvert Hall trailed preseason No. 2 Camden late and won, 67-62. Calvert Hall won the Las Vegas Prep Invitational, won the Pepsi Cola Challenge and the Alhambra Catholic Invitational. Calvert Hall defeated DeMatha, 82-76, to win Alhambra and clinch the national title. Dunbar started out at No. 32 in the preseason Basketball Weekly rankings, No. 3 in the region behind Cardinal Gibbons of Baltimore. The reasoning was the loss to Calvert Hall, and not playing as tough an overall schedule. Dunbar was the more physically imposing than Calvert Hall and better than it was in 1980-81, but only defeated one ranked team — Camden.
When Dunbar ventured up to Camden, the fans were laughing at 5-foot-3 point junior point guard Tyrone “Muggsy” Bogues (Wake Forest), but the Poets led by 33 points at halftime and won 84-59 to end a 17-year Camden home winning streak. Dunbar’s senior leaders were 6-foot-4 Gary Graham (UNLV) and 6-foot-5 All-American David Wingate (Georgetown). Five-foot-7 Darryl Woods (Virginia Union) was a captain and only scored in half the games. The glue was 6-foot-6 junior center Tim Dawson (Miami), a leaper and tough player inside. Junior Reggie Williams (Georgetown) really came on during the 1981-82 season, as the 6-foot-6 forward may have already been the team’s best overall player. Six-foot-3 Keith James (South Carolina/UNLV) was on the bench in 1982. Bogues would just punish ball-handlers and the team was unselfish; anyone could go off offensively and nobody worried about individual scoring. Wingate had 31 points against Camden, while Dawson had zero. Muggsy finished with 15.
Some Dunbar fans point the the comparative scores between Camden as evidence that perhaps Dunbar was better than Calvert Hall. Dunbar ended up 29-0 and ranked No. 2 behind the Cardinals, who finished 34-0. That’s where preseason positioning, national schedule and what happened in the past plays a big role in national rankings. It was true then and it remains true now with the weekly FAB 50 National Team Rankings powered by Ballislife.com. What would have happened in 1981-82 if Dunbar had won that triple overtime game the prior season?
Bogues came over from Southern High after the 1981 season. Wingate came over from Northern High. Michael Brown (Syracuse/Clemson), a 6-foot-3 junior who started on the 1982-83 team, transferred over from Cardinal Gibbons after the 1982 season. Students could go to any public school if it offered the curriculum that wasn’t available at the local school. That magnet program is how Dunbar attracted players and kept up with the parochial schools that could offer athletic scholarships.
Wingate had 25 points and 13 rebounds in the 1982 Kentucky Derby Festival Classic, but did not play in the McDonald’s All-American Game. Famed scout Howie Garfinkel called Williams, “the kind of athletes candy bars are named after” following his performances at Garf’s 5-Star Camp in the summer of 1982. Dunbar coach Bob Wade said, “Williams is like E.F. Hutton, when he speaks, the other guys listen.” Williams averaged 24.3 ppg and 12 rpg as a junior. As a senior, he averaged 25.3 ppg, four apg while shooting .890 from the free throw line after shooting over 90 percent as a junior.
The 1982-1983 Dunbar team lost Wingate and Graham to graduation, but it was an easy call to begin the Poets ranked No. 1 in the country. It was the season USA Today began its weekly Super 25 and it helped spread the Poets’ national notoriety. Similar to the Calvert Hall team the year prior, Wade beefed up the schedule and everyone predicted a stellar season even though the pressure was on. It’s hard to imagine anyone, however, could have predicted just how dominant the team would be. Dunbar scored 88.3 ppg and won by an average margin of 37.1 ppg. It won the Lake Clifton Tourney and the Cap City Classic with wins over famed DeMatha Catholic of nearby Hyattsville, Md. (67-55) and a blowout of John Carroll (Bel Air, Md.). In 3 of the first four games of the season, Williams went over 30 points, then versus DeMatha he had 14 as five players
netted double figures. The Poets also captured the King of the Bluegrass Holiday Tournament right before Christmas and won the Johnstown (Pa.) Tourney right after. At the Johnstown Tournament, 6-foot-6 Reggie Lewis (Northeastern) was tourney MVP off the bench. Dunbar played nationally-ranked Flint Hill (Oakton, Va.) at Morgan State in its second to last game of the season and crushed that club, 87-59. The Poets finished the season with a 37-point performance from Williams in a crushing of cross-town Cardinal Gibbons (82-53) to stand at 31-0 with a 59-game winning streak. The Poets were No. 1 throughout the season and actually played better than expectations, if that’s possible.
Dawson averaged 12 ppg, 10 rpg and a handful of blocked shots. Brown averaged 13 ppg and James 10 ppg. Williams was named Mr. Basketball USA in a close decision over guard Dwayne “Pearl” Washington of Boys High in Brooklyn, N.Y. Washington was more impressive on the national post-season all-star game circuit, but Williams’ brilliant numbers and individual performances for the best team in the country was just too much to ignore. In light of Williams’ honors, it was actually Muggsy (who averaged eight ppg, 10 apg and eight spg) who was voted team MVP.
Lewis backed up Williams for the most part and in many games only saw garbage minutes. Lewis, who went on to become Northeastern’s all-time leading scorer, went over 10 points five times in 1982-83. Six-foot-4 Herman Harried (Syracuse) was a 1984 Parade All-American but a back-up in 1983. The backup team of Harried, Lewis, Woods, 6-foot-3 junior Derrick Lewis (Northeastern), 6-foot-2 Eric Green (James Madison) and 6-foot-3 sophomore Reggie McNeil (a member of Dunbar’s 1985 mythical national championship team) was definitely a top 25 team in the country. Wade had strict rules and the team never let up or played down to the competition. In retrospect, Dunbar had one close game in two years — a 57-52 win over a good King of New York City team at the Johnstown Tournament. They were that good.
With its incredible talent, depth and production, Garf called them one of the top five teams of all-time. Scalpers got big bucks for Dunbar tickets back then; the community knew it was a special team, but when you look back, it was probably even more special than anyone could realize at the time.
Wingate and Williams helped Georgetown win the 1984 NCAA title. Williams, who was rated the No.4 player in the country by Bob Gibbons’ All-Star Sports, was the No. 4 pick of the 1987 NBA Draft by the Los Angeles Clippers. Wingate was a second round pick (No. 44) in the 1986 Draft. Bogues went No. 12 in the 1987 Draft and is the shortest player ever to play in the NBA. When Lewis went No. 22 overall, even Wade was a bit in disbelief, but also quite proud of his former players. Their legacy of producing four NBA players off the same team only makes the team’s high school accomplishments more special as time passes.
Although four of the Dunbar players reached their dreams of NBA ball, it was not always a smooth ride. Wingate had to overcome his reputation as a partier, Muggsy’s father did an armed robbery and died 3 days after the funeral for Lewis, who tragically died from cardiac arrest at 27 years old on July 27, 1993. The former bench player for Dunbar had participated in the 1992 NBA All-Star Game for the Boston Celtics.
Dunbar’s 59-game winning steak ended in the opening game of the 1983-84 season when it lost to preseason No. 2 DeMatha, 76-73, which snapped Baltimore’s longest winning streak. Whereas Calvert Hall and Dunbar were the consensus national champions and never left the No. 1 spot, that wasn’t the case the following two seasons after Williams and company moved on to college. Despite two losses, USA Today named 29-2 DeMatha its 1983-84 mythical national champion, while the National Sports News Service (precursor to the FAB 50) went with 31-2 Long Beach (Calif.) Poly. Both teams defeated preseason No. 1 Mater Dei of Santa Ana, Calif.
USA Today named Dunbar its national champion for the second team in three seasons in 1984-85. The 1985 team lost one game, to Pooh Richardson and his Ben Franklin of Philadelphia team, 58-57, at the Sonny Hill Tournament one game after beating a Dobbins Tech (Philadelphia) team led by Hank Gathers and Bo Kimble, 73-72. Earlier in the season, Dunbar won the Ft. Worth Basketball Classic, the King Cotton Tournament and the Laker-Poet Tournament. With its 29-1 mark, USA Today made Dunbar No. 1, while the National Sports News Service went with 31-0 Spingarn of Washington, D.C., as its No. 1 team.
After Wade moved on to the University of Maryland following the 1985-86 season, Dunbar, under Pete Pompey, won its fourth mythical national crown in 1991-92. The 1992 team matched the 1983 team as Wire-to-Wire No. 1 against one of the best high school schedules we’ve ever evaluated. Players off that talented 29-0 Dunbar team, however, didn’t quite have post-high school success of the 1982-83 team.