Ken Howard died on Wednesday at the age of 71. For millions of people who watched him
on television religiously in the late 1970's, part of their youth died with him.
Howard was, and always be "The White Shadow" to many of us. He played Ken Reeves,
a former NBA player turned teacher, mentor, and coach at a tough, ethnically mixed
institution called Carver High School. The show was appointment viewing and the first
thing every athlete in middle school talked about with their buddies on the bus ride to
school in the morning.
Reeves guided a wayward crew that included guys like Coolidge, Thorpe, Salami, Carter,
and Gomez. This melting pot of hoops even had a Jewish kid named Abner Goldstein.
(By the way, whoever came up with those names and characters was a pure genius).
The show, which dealt with not only sports but the issues high school students face, was
way ahead of its time. There was an episode about Coolidge contemplating signing with
an agent and going pro. Another one featured a kid transferring to Carver from an affluent
area being shunned because his classmates thought he was gay.
And there was Coach Reeves who gave guidance and great advice to his players. To the
viewers, Howard made his character so believable. We believed he had all the right answers
and he got his point across in a simple, yet stern way. He wasn't the kind of coach who
went all Mike Rice on his players, drilling them in the head with mid-90 mph fastballs.
He gave them life lessons, which a lot of us soaked up each and every week.
It seemed like Coach Reeves knew everybody famous in sports. After his players grew
tired of his preaching, he'd bring in a guy like Rosey Grier to let him hear the lesson
from a different voice.
Coach Reeves was tough, he was bright, and somewhat sarcastic. He had this Long Island
accent and aura about him that his players and WE (the viewers-the middle school kids)
really respected. We felt like we knew him. We felt like we wanted to run sprints and
play for him. Coach Reeves was cool, really cool. Quite frankly, we all thought he was
the perfect coach.
The final episode of our beloved "White Shadow" came in 1981, which was about four
years after it started. Coolidge, Salami, and Thorpe and couldn't stay in high school forever
so I guess the show reached it's limit. It's hard to replace Coolidge, who seemed like the
high school version of Daryl Dawkins, A.K.A "Chocolate Thunder."
But it was Howard (Reeves) who coached them all up and made the show what it was.
He made the show a small, but significant part of my youth and development as an
athlete. Millions of people around the country are probably saying the same thing today.
The flood of memories from middle-school came back to me when I heard that Ken
Howard, "The White Shadow" had died. I never met the man, but I'm thankful he made
the "The White Shadow" what it became to all of us during that era.