Tommy Bowman: A BU pioneer as Baylor’s first Black scholarship student-athlete
It was the mid 1960s. On a trip across Texas, Baylor basketball legend Carroll Dawson (BSED ’60) — then an assistant coach for the men’s team — stopped at a gas station in Athens, Texas. The attendant asked about the Baylor sticker on Dawson’s car; when he learned Dawson was a coach, he proudly noted that Athens had the best basketball player in the state: Tommy Bowman.
One thing led to another, and Dawson went to meet Bowman and his family. On the front porch, Dawson helped Tommy’s mom shell peas for an hour and half as they talked about Baylor. (Bowman later reflected that if he hadn’t gone to Baylor, his mother would have kicked him out of the house.)
In 1966, Tommy Bowman would become the first Black scholarship student-athlete at Baylor — though he says that didn’t occur to him at the time.
“Nobody made me feel as if they were pretending, or catering to me,” says Bowman. “They just received me and accepted me as one of the players, one of the students, one of the guys. I was very comfortable. I can’t recall ever being uncomfortable with the Baylor basketball team, from day one.”
Bowman (BBA ’71) played three varsity seasons at Baylor, averaging 13.7 points and 9.7 rebounds per game for his career and graduating with a degree in business. He led the Bears in scoring once and in rebounding twice, and twice earned first-team All-Southwest Conference honors. He still ranks among Baylor’s top-10 in career rebounds per game and career double-doubles. Bowman was inducted into the Baylor Athletics Hall of Fame in 1999, and into the Southwest Conference Hall of Fame in 2018.
Off the court, Bowman met his wife at Baylor and formed lifelong friendships with his teammates — including David Sibley (BA ’70, JD ’89), who — long before he served Waco as mayor and state senator — served as Bowman’s best man at his wedding. Thirty years after graduating, Bowman would return to serve on Baylor’s Board of Regents, a role he held from 2001-10.
“Looking back on it, I can see the hand of God on this thing,” reflects Bowman. “And I feel like I was preordained to be at Baylor University.”
Sic ’em, Tommy Bowman!