Dolph Pulliam announced his retirement as director of community outreach and development at Drake after 24 years at the university. He retirement will be effective May 31, 2013.
Pulliam has done it all. From being idolized by the Jackson Five, to playing on a team that made it to the NCAA Final Four, to being the first African-American television broadcaster in Iowa.
None of these would have happened if Pulliam hadn’t made the decision to attend Drake University. It’s time to look back on how Pulliam got to where he is.
“My coaches (in high school) had told me I had a choice of three schools and Indiana (University) was one of the three. I was going to go to Indiana. I wasn’t supposed to go to Drake. It’s what my coaches told me to do. I wasn’t really happy about it, they didn’t do a good job of recruiting me, and they thought, ‘We got Pulliam because his coaches told him to go here,’” Pulliam said.
It wasn’t until at an Indiana all-star tournament that Pulliam participated in where he met Drake men’s basketball head coach Maury John that he became set on Drake.
“Coach John, I didn’t know who he was, came up to me and asked if he could speak to me for a moment and I said, ‘Sorry I have to go take a shower and catch the bus back to Gary, Ind.’ Then he said, ‘That’s alright, I just prayed I’d get to meet you.’ When he said that, my mother’s voice just went through my head, and said ‘Adolphus just stop’,” Pulliam said.
This led to Coach John coming back to Pulliam’s house and meeting Pulliam’s brothers and sisters.
Pulliam was the head of his household and took care of his two younger brothers. Since his older siblings had grown up and started their own lives, doing the cooking, the cleaning, the washing, the sewing, being on the National Honor Society, being the captain of both the football basketball teams, were just some of Dolph’s duties.
Coach John told Pulliam how much he admired him for that, and Pulliam’s siblings decided that he would attend Drake, and not Indiana, because of the way Coach John showed how much he cared about Pulliam and because of how he would make sure Pulliam received a quality education and graduate in four years.
During his time at Drake, Pulliam led his team to the NCAA Final Four, something that hasn’t been done since then, and faced off against the UCLA Bruins. The Bruins were being coached by John Wooden and were led by Ferdinand Alcindor Jr., also known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.
Before the big game between Drake and UCLA, Abdul-Jabbar, and a few other UCLA players, came into Pulliam and teammate Willie Wise’s hotel room and introduced themselves.
Pulliam knew better.
“They came in there to intimidate us and to let us know how big they were, and for us to be afraid of them when we finally played each other. However, it didn’t work,” Pulliam said.
The Bruins got off to an 11-2 run to start of the championship game. But it wasn’t long until the Bulldogs turned it around and chased the Bruins down. While the Bulldogs played an impressive game, unfortunately the Bulldogs fell to the Bruins, 85-82.
“The best part of the Final Four (was) how well this team played together and fought together. We were a team that did not have as much resources as UCLA, the equipment, the facilities, nor did we have the name UCLA or the Coach John Wooden,” Pulliam said. “We were nobody at least until that game started. By the end of that game, all of America and all of the world knew who Drake was. That was the most important thing that happened. We gained dignity for all of us, the state, the school, the alumni, and that was the most important thing that happened.”
When Pulliam was preparing to graduate in 1969, he received many job offers including offers from the Dallas Cowboys, the Boston Celtics, Proctor and Gamble, Westing House, General Motors Standard Oil of America and Ford Motor Company.
However, Pulliam’s professor, Jim Duncan, set up an interview for Pulliam at Channel 8 news station and helped influence his decision to stay in Iowa.
“He (Duncan) told me it was my destiny. He said that there have been others to go off and play in the pros, and this was my destiny, and he wanted me to be the first African-American broadcaster in Iowa. He said, ‘you (Pulliam) will be opening the doors for others in Iowa to go into broadcasting here.’ That was bigger than me,” Pulliam said. “The hardest part was to call Tom Landry (head coach of the Cowboys) and tell him that I wasn’t going to play for him and that I was staying in Des Moines and calling the Celtics and telling them I wasn’t going to play for them.”
After attending Drake, Pulliam went on to be a news broadcaster and have a great career. He was the only broadcaster to interview the Jackson Five when they came to Iowa State.
“Jermaine, Jackie and Tito went to my high school when I was a senior, and they would come cheer me on at football games. I was their hero,” Pulliam said. “Michael came up to me and said ‘You left Indiana before I got your autograph!’ So I signed it to him, and he had me write ‘To my best friend Michael’,” Pulliam said.
Pulliam was the only person in Iowa that was able to land an interview with them.
After retirement, Pulliam plans on moving to Maryland to work on his crafting company, Heritage Bay Studios, with his best friend Wayne Evans and his wife and their family. He will spend half of his year there, and the other half, in Chicago with his brothers and sisters.
Pulliam still plans to come back and attend events such as Halloween Hoops, and if there’s ever a Drake game out in the east coast, Pulliam will be out there supporting them whenever he can. As for advice for the basketball teams, Pulliam had a few words to say.
“When you’re on that field, you’re out on a mission to represent yourself, your family, your university, you’re going to win. When you’ve got an attitude like that you know how to win,” Pulliam said. “You don’t win individually, you win as a team. You don’t lose individually, you lose as a team. You support each other in winning and when you lose. That’s how you develop a winning attitude and a family that will fight against any team. That was my basketball team, we formed a family.”
Leaving Drake is going to be tough for Pulliam.
“That is the hardest part, I am leaving my surrogate mother, Drake University, she means so much to me. She did so much to help me to become the person that I am,” Pulliam said. “Other young people need to realize and understand that Drake University, she is a very delicate person. She needs our support, our care, to keep her alive to keep her here and to take other young people just like me to raise them. That is my legacy. Never, ever letting this university fall.”