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Miami community celebrates Embry family’s accomplishments

Wayne Embry with his new likeness in front of Millett Hall
Wayne Embry with his new likeness in front of Millett Hall

It looked as if the rain might ruin the day, but the sun was shining by the time Miami basketball legend Wayne Embry’s statue was unveiled for the world to see.

The unveiling was a part of Miami’s Wayne Embry Day Celebration, in which the university honored Embry, 84, and his late wife, Theresa. The couple also jointly received the Freedom Summer of ‘64 Award, given by Miami University each year to honor leaders in civil rights and social justice.

The masked and socially distant crowd in front of the South Entrance of Millett Hall included Embry’s family and teammates, as well as members of the Oxford community. Players and coaches from Miami’s basketball and softball teams were also in attendance, including men’s and women’s basketball head coaches Jack Owens and DeUnna Hendrix.

After opening remarks by Miami Athletic Director David Sayler and statements from local government officials, Miami Board of Trustees Chairman David Budig began the presentation of the Freedom Summer of ‘64 Award.

Budig spoke about the Embrys’ accomplishments. Wayne, a 1958 graduate, was one of Miami’s first Black athletes, and the first Miami player to reach both 1,000 points and 1,000 rebounds. His 12-year NBA career included five All-Star appearances with the Cincinnati Royals and a championship with the Boston Celtics.

In 1972, he was hired as the General Manager (GM) of the Milwaukee Bucks, becoming the first Black GM in the National Basketball Association (NBA). Embry won two NBA Executive of the Year Awards with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 1992 and 1998.

Theresa (also known as Terri) graduated from Miami in 1960. Budig mentioned Terri’s participation in civil rights marches from Selma, Ala. to Montgomery.

Dr. Lolita McDavid, a 1969 graduate of the Western College for Women and a friend of the Embry family, also spoke. McDavid recalled a story from when Terri and Yvonne Crittendon, the wife of Embry’s NBA teammate (and basketball legend in his own right) Oscar Robertson, called Embry while the pair was on the road.

“She said, ‘Wayne, Yvonne and I are going to Selma to march,’” McDavid said. 

Embry’s response?

“No, you’re not.”

Terri told Wayne to wait for Crittendon to tell Robertson herself about the pair’s plans to march in Alabama.

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When Embry accepted the Freedom Summer of ‘64 Award, he admitted that Terri deserved most of the credit for the couple’s activism.

“I’m only accepting about 25 percent of this award,” Embry said. “The other 75 percent goes to Terri.”

Embry went on to talk about the depths of Terri’s community activism and involvement, especially with the National Urban League, a civil rights organization with chapters across the country.

Embry’s daughter, Jill, also spoke on behalf of Terri.

After the Freedom Summer of ‘64 Award presentation, Miami University President Greg Crawford opened the unveiling and dedication ceremony for Embry’s statue. In addition to the statue, the Wayne Embry Scholarship was created, which will support men’s basketball student-athletes at Miami.

Myja White, a third-year guard on the men’s basketball team, recited a poem he wrote to honor Embry.

“A chip on his shoulder, coming in empty, he was destined to make sure his family and generation had plenty,” one line of White’s poem read.

Before his statue was unveiled, Embry got one last chance to speak to the crowd. He called his choice to attend Miami one of the best decisions of his life, saying he fell in love with the school. 

Embry thanked his teammates, coaches and even his former professors, who he said kept him accountable during his academic career.

After Embry’s remarks, White and women’s basketball sophomore Peyton Scott helped unveil the statue, which shows Embry shooting a hook shot. His likeness is the first and only statue outside of Millett Hall.

It’s a fitting honor for Embry, whose legacy is bigger than his 6’8” frame.