Bob Graves Obituary
By BOB WHITE
Emeritus writer, KHSBHF
Bob Graves was a winner both on and off the basketball court during his 20 seasons as head coach at Central High School in Louisville.
Graves, who died on Nov. 30 at age 79 after suffering a massive stroke after battling Parkinson’s Disease, guided Central to seven Sixth Region titles and two KHSAA Sweet 16 state championships – 1969 and 1974– during his time as the Yellowjackets’ head man.
Graves was also a crusader for equal rights and justice during the period of 1965-85 when he led Central to a record of 445 wins and 116 losses.
It was after Central lost to Anderson County – led by future University of Kentucky star Jimmy Dan Conner – 65-62 in a closely-contested semifinal battle in the 1971 Sweet 16 in Freedom Hall that Graves filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Kentucky High School Athletic Association.
He cited that two white referees officiated that game and he felt that several calls down the stretch went against Central, a pre-dominated black team playing an Anderson County team that had mostly white players.
“It wasn’t right.” Graves said in an interview on Google on Dec. 7, 2004. “My name wasn’t on the suit. It was filed by a Rev. Hodges and the NAACP on my behalf.”
The object of Graves’ suit was to attract more black officials in the future. Graves felt that if an all-black team played an all-white team one of the referees should be black.
After Graves won the suit, he said, “It was only right. The suit was recognized in all levels of competition. Now, at least, we have a chance.”
Back in those days, only two referees worked a game. Now, the game has become so much faster that three officials are assigned a game, and at least one is black.
Graves wasn’t a popular figure in those times.
“All I got was abuse,” he recalled. “They said it showed how prejudiced I was. I took all the abuse. I don’t get any now because it’s over, but even today I don’t get recognized (for bringing equality to basketball refereeing).”
As a coach Graves was considered a strong disciplinarian. He was inducted into the KHSAA Hall of Fame in 2001 and should be admitted into the Kentucky High Schol Basketball Hall of Fame in the near future.
“What made us successful was our defensive effort,” said Graves who played under the late William L Kean when he attended Central. “I learned how to control players. That’s what Coach Kean taught me. I never heard anybody griping when Kean was coach. He kept us under control. That was the key. We only had two plays and we didn’t press the other teams He just let us play.”
Graves was an outstanding player who played at Central before black schools were allowed to join the KHSAA prior to the 1957-58 school year.
“My junior year (1955), we went 35-1 and won the Kentucky High School Athletic League (for black schools) and the national Negro championship in a 32-team tournament. My senior year (1956), we went 38-0 and won the national championship again.”
Graves took Central to the Sweet 16 state tourney seven times, winning it in 1969 with sharpshooter Ron King and a flashy point guard in Otto Petty, both of whom led Florida State to the championship game of the NCAA tourney in 1971.
Kimg scored 44 points in a 101-72 rout of Ohio County in the 1969 state final.
Five years later, when Central was sparked by 6-foot-10 Robert Miller, and guards Darryl Yarbrough Glenn Thomas, the Yellowjackets were crowned state Sweet 16 champs again. Central was so dominant that season it walloped Greenup County 92-37 in the state semifinals.
Miller went on to play at the University of Cincinnati and Yarbrough at Chattanooga.
“We could have won back-to-back state titles,” Graves said. “Shawnee won in 1973 after they beat us in double overtime in our district tournament.”
“Coach Graves was hard to play for, but I respected him,” Thomas said recently after hearing about Graves’ death. In the ’74 final, Yarbrough scored 22 points and Thomas 18 in a 59-54 title-game win over a Male team that featured talented sophomores Darrell Griffith and Bobby Turner. Male then succeeded Central as state champ in 1975.
Graves’ last Sweet 16 team was in 1978 when the Yellowjackets reached the semi-finals before losing to eventual champion Shelby County 78-54.
“We should have won eight state titles or at least six,” Graves once said, recalling his team’s near misses.