Bowens receives Championship ring 50 years later

CJ-0116-ivyring-2COKOLONA – Tommy Lee Bowens has a new ring on his finger that has been 50 years in the making.

Okolona native Bowens was a member of the 1961 men’s basketball team at Grambling College when the team became the first from Louisiana to win the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics Championship and the team was treated to a reunion and presented their rings last fall.

Bowens has a long and colorful history with basketball and the game has influenced many of the directions his life has taken.

Bowens was attending Okolona Junior College when he was recruited by Grambling because, “the coach at Natchez Junior College didn’t want to play against me, so he called the Grambling coach and told him to get me,” laughed Bowens.

Grambling’s Coach Fred Hobdy contacted Bowens’ mother to ask when he would be ready to transfer to the Louisiana College.

“She told him he could come get me today,” Bowens said.

His transfer to Grambling marked his first trip out of the state, but it wasn’t his last. After playing on the championship team and graduating with a degree in Physical Education and Recreation, he played with the U.S. Team through Central and South America and with the Harlem Clowns.

And he still had more traveling to do.

“I got a letter from Uncle Sam and he wanted me to come with him,” smiled Bowens.

He was drafted into the Army where he played basketball and ran track for the Fifth Army unit and he credits his military career for pushing his basketball career forward even more.

“At Grambling, we had so many talented athletes,” Bowens said. “I would start or be the sixth man,” but the level of athletes prevented him from really standing out of the pack. “I really got my chance out of the Army,” Bowens said.

Following his tour, he was drafted by the Atlanta Hawks and went on to play professional ball for the Denver Rockets, New York Nets and New Orleans Buccaneers during the late 1960s.

After retiring from basketball, he went to work fro Braniff Airlines as a skycap.

“That was the best job I ever had,” Bowens said. “I made more money there than playing basketball and I still fly for free now.”

Bowens returned home to Okolona after his retirement from Braniff and was well known as a Chickasaw County Constable until he retired from that position in 2011 and he says he’s going to stay put now.

“This is my home,” Bowens said.

That doesn’t mean he won’t take a trip now and again, like the one he took to receive his championship ring.

“We finally got them 51 years later,” Bowens said. “But I never wear it. I’m afraid it will fall off my finger.”

The ring has joined the vast collection of memorabilia at Bowens’ home, where he is content to stay.

, , , , , ,

  • Donna Franks

    A well deserved honor for a wonderful person. I had the privilidge of working this man at the start of my career in Law Enforcement in Okolona. Tommy Lee was a honorable person with a sweet family. It took 50 years but it’s never too late to give to those that deserve it. Congratulations my friend!

  • A well deserved honor for a wonderful person. I had the privilidge of working with this man at the start of my career in Law Enforcement. He was such a kind and uplifting person and always had a smile on his face for everyone. I know it took 50 years but it’s never too late to give a reward to the deserving. Congratulations my friend.