Born in Middleton, Tennessee, on 20 January 1937 to Walter and Martha Howell, Bailey Howell developed into one of the finest and most consistent basketballers ever to play the game. Playing for Middleton High School between 1953 and 1955, Howell scored 1,187 points, a Tennessee high school record at the time. He was selected all-conference each season, all-state his junior and senior seasons, and all-American his senior year.
From a list that included Memphis State, the University of Mississippi, the University of Tennessee, Vanderbilt, the University of Kentucky, and others, Howell chose to continue his education and playing career at Mississippi State. During his three varsity seasons, Howell led the Bulldogs to a 64–14 record. Averaging 27.1 points and 17.0 rebounds per game (both of which are still school records), Howell concluded his career as Mississippi State’s leading scorer (2,030 points) and leading rebounder (1,277 rebounds). Howell’s 47 points against Union in 1958 and his 34 rebounds against Louisiana State University in 1957 remain single-game records for a Bulldog basketball player. He also continues to rank at or near the top in several other statistical categories.
One of the greatest players in Southeastern Conference (SEC) history, Howell was named first team all-conference each of his three seasons. He was the conference’s Sophomore of the Year in 1957 and won the SEC’s scoring title the following two seasons (averaging 27.8 and 27.5 points per game, respectively). In both 1958 and 1959 Howell earned the SEC’s Most Valuable Player award, and in his senior season Howell led the Bulldogs to the conference championship.
Howell finished in the Top 10 nationally in scoring and rebounding every year, led the nation in field-goal percentage (56.8 percent) as a sophomore, finished fourth in scoring as a junior and senior, and finished second in rebounding as a senior. In 1958–59, Howell’s senior season, the Bulldogs posted a 24–1 record and were ranked third in the nation. However, because the State of Mississippi prohibited its collegiate sports teams from competing against teams with African American players, Howell’s Bulldogs never appeared in the National Collegiate Athletic Association Tournament. Despite this lack of national exposure, Howell was named an all-American following both his junior and senior seasons.
In 1959 the Detroit Pistons selected Howell with the second overall pick in the National Basketball Association (NBA) draft. Between 1959 and 1971 Howell played for Detroit, Baltimore, Boston (with whom he won the 1968 and 1969 NBA championships, averaging nearly 20 points per game), and Philadelphia. He posted a career scoring average of 18.7 points per game and made the NBA All-Star Team six times. Howell finished his career ranked in the league’s Top 10 in nine statistical categories. In September 1997 he was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.
Since the end of his basketball career, Howell and his wife, Mary Lou, have lived in Starkville, where he has remained active in business, the community, and the Starkville Church of Christ. He is also a member of the Tennessee, Mississippi, and Mississippi State University Halls of Fame, and the Bailey Howell Award is given annually to the best collegiate basketball player in the Magnolia State. Mississippi State retired his No. 52 jersey in 2009 and in 2015 named the street running past the school’s basketball arena Bailey Howell Drive.
- Bailey Howell, interview by John Richard Duke (20 January 2004)
- Mississippi State University Men’s Basketball Media Guide (2015–16)
- Mississippi State University website, www.msstate.edu