RIP: Joe Gibbon, 83, one of state’s greatest two-sport athletes
By Rick Cleveland, Mississippi Today
In 1957, Joe Gibbon scored more points than college contemporaries Wilt Chamberlain and Elgin Baylor. Three years later, Gibbon helped the Pittsburgh Pirates win baseball’s championship, defeating the New York Yankees in the World Series.
Joe Gibbon, one of the greatest multi-sport athletes in Mississippi history, died Wednesday at his home in Newton. He was 83.
Gibbon, born in the Newton County town of Hickory, was an All-American basketball player and an All-SEC baseball pitcher for Ole Miss in the mid-1950s. Later, he played 13 season in the Major Leagues and, as a rookie in 1960, was a contributor to the World Series champion Pittsburgh Pirates.
At Ole Miss, Gibbon was better known for his basketball skills. A 6-foot-4 forward, he finished second in the nation in scoring in 1957 with a 30.2 points per game average. Gibbon averaged a whopping 14 rebounds a game that same season. Grady Nelson of South Carolina led the nation at 31.2 points per game. Here’s what is more impressive: Baylor, who played college ball at Seattle, was next among the nation’s scoring leaders at 29.7, followed by Chamberlain of Kansas at 29.6. Ahead of both Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain? That’s rare company.
Gibbon also played against rare company in the Ole Miss-Mississippi State rivalry when he went against the great Bailey Howell in 1957. What does Howell, another basketball All-American who averaged 27 points and 17 rebounds for his college career, remember about Gibbon?
“Well, it’s been – what, 67 years? – but I do remember Joe could shoot the lights out of the gym,” Howell said. “He was left-handed and was a really, really good athlete. I saw him pitch against the Mississippi State baseball team, and I remember he hit one of the longest home runs I ever saw that day.
“We played against him twice my sophomore year,” Howell said. “He was either leading the nation in scoring or was second. I was in the top 10 and my teammate Jim Ashmore was in the top 10, as well. That’s was really something when you think about it: three of the top 10 scorers in the nation on the floor at the same time in Mississippi.”
Curtis Wilkie, Mississippi author and award-winning newspaper reporter, was a high school student at Corinth during Gibbon’s days at Ole Miss. He saw Gibbon play often.