By Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal
Joe Dan Gold, captain of the 1963 Mississippi State team that defied the governor to play in that year’s NCAA tournament, died Wednesday after a long battle with cancer. He was 68.
Gold, a native of Benton, Ky., was an All-SEC selection his senior year for both his work on the court and in the classroom, and he later took over as MSU head coach at the age of 23. But perhaps what is most memorable about his career is captured in a picture of Gold shaking hands with Jerry Harkness of Loyola of Chicago, an integrated team that Mississippi segregationists, including Gov. Ross Barnett, didn’t want MSU to face.
“At that time it was simply a matter of, let’s go play ball,” said Aubrey Nichols, who played on that team and remained close to Gold over the years. “I’m not even sure if you’d asked any of the players, including me, the fact that Joe Dan was standing there shaking hands with Harkness, it was nothing different than any other ballgame.”
In 1959, ’61 and ’62, MSU had been disallowed from participating in the tournament due to an unofficial state policy against playing integrated teams. After winning the SEC title in 1963, MSU coach Babe McCarthy was determined to get his 21-5 squad to East Lansing, Mich., for the Mid-East Regional matchup.
Using some “cloak-and-dagger” tactics, as one news account termed it, the Bulldogs made their way north. As it turned out, the college board ruled that MSU could play in the event.
MSU lost the game, 61-51, and Gold broke his hand, forcing him to miss the consolation game victory over Bowling Green. The 6-foot-5 forward ended his career with averages 12.3 points and 7.8 rebounds per game.
“He was extraordinary type player,” Nichols said. “He maybe didn’t score 50 points a game, but he was always there, and in the clutch situation he was always there.”
After coaching the freshman team two years, Gold was hired to replace McCarthy, going 51-74 in five seasons. After two more coaching stops, Gold settled into high school administration in Kentucky.
He was living in West Liberty, Ky., at the time of his death. Gold is survived by his wife, Rosemary.