EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – UTEP hosted a public memorial for 1966 Texas Western legend Willie Cager on Friday night at the Don Haskins Center.

Friends and family of Cager’s from around the world flew in for the occasion and friends and fans from El Paso also showed up to honor Cager.

Cager died last month on March 19 at the age of 81. That same day marked the 57th anniversary of Texas Western’s historic victory over Kentucky in the 1966 men’s basketball national championship game. That game was the first time a team starting five black players won a national title and was a seminal moment in the Civil Rights Movement.

“The feat that the Texas Western College accomplished changed the climate forever. I’m a recipient of that, I know that. As much as he gave back, there’s nothing you can do more for a person than to love them,” said Willie’s son, Kenya.

He stayed in El Paso after his playing days ended, then Cager became a fixture in the community as well as a frequent supporter at UTEP men’s and women’s basketball home games.

“My dad was a hero. He could make anyone feel like they were the most important person in the world. Growing up, I knew anyone who asked my dad for help, he would lend a helping hand,” Cager’s daughter, Kendeea, said at the memorial.

At the memorial, UTEP lit up his jersey in the rafters, had famous speakers from near and far, including Nolan Richardson; and had the score of the famous 1966 Texas Western win over Kentucky on the scoreboard.

Willie was deeply proud of that national title, but what stands out the most is the man he was for the rest of his life. Perhaps no one knows that better than his life-long friend and Miners’ teammate, Nevil Shed.

“He was the gentleman that gave me the uplift when I was down. He taught me how to dream. He always challenged the best and always gave his best to everyone who was around him,” said Shed.

Cager isn’t gone; he lives on through those who love him and they might number in the millions at this point. The lessons he leaves – simply by being himself – are what stand out the most.

“Willie Cager enjoyed life. Willie was life. We’re going to miss him big time,” said Richardson.