NCAA-March-Madness

It’s March Madness in the United States, which means that basketball fans all over the country have filled in their brackets, and are moaning over the college teams that let them down, or the ones who have won to live another day.

While high school superstars at times skip college and go straight to the pros (ie: Kobe Bryant, LeBron James), many great ones make their mark at the university level, and a few go on to win an NCAA championship. Both my neighborhood college, St John’s, and my alma mater, University of Pennsylvania, have made it to the famed Final Four, but neither has won an NCAA championship.

After all, only one team can be champion….which makes this list absolutely amazing. Only seven people in history have won championships at the NCAA level, the NBA level, and at the international level, i.e. The Olympics.

  • Quinn Buckner: Olympic Champion: 1976, NCAA Champion: 1976 (Indiana University), NBA Champion: 1984 (Boston Celtics)
  • Magic Johnson: Olympic Champion: 1992, NCAA Champion: 1979 (Michigan State University), NBA Champion: 1980, 1982, 1985, 1987-88 (Los Angeles Lakers)
  • K. C. Jones: Olympic Champion: 1956, NCAA Champion: 1955-56 (University of San Francisco), NBA Champion: 1959-66 (Boston Celtics)
  • Michael Jordan: Olympic Champion: 1984, 1992, NCAA Champion: 1982 (University of North Carolina), NBA Champion: 1991-93, 1996-98 (Chicago Bulls)
  • Clyde Lovellette: Olympic Champion: 1952, NCAA Champion: 1952 (University of Kansas), NBA Champion: 1954 (Minneapolis Lakers), 1963-64 (Boston Celtics)
  • Jerry Lucas: Olympic Champion: 1960, NCAA Champion: 1960 (The Ohio State University), NBA Champion: 1973 (New York Knicks)
  • Bill Russell: Olympic Champion: 1956, NCAA Champion: 1955-56 (University of San Francisco), NBA Champion: 1957, 1959-66, 1968-69 (Boston Celtics)

And if you look closely, you’ll see that K. C. Jones and Bill Russell played together on championships teams with the University of San Francisco, the US Men’s Olympic squad in Melbourne, as well as 8 championship seasons with the Boston Celtics. On top of that both won two championships each with the Celtics as a coach.

And one more amazing fact: On that 1963-64 Boston Celtic team – the one that defeated the San Francisco Warriors in 5 games – three of these seven immortals played together: K. C. Jones, Bill Russell, and Clyde Lovelette.

1964 Boston Celtics

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Robinson Leonard Ali
Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard and Muhammad Ali in Las Vegas in 1977. Both Leonard (1976) and Ali (1960), won gold medals in their respective Olympics before going on to glory at the professional ranks.
In 1988, when tennis debuted at the Seoul Olympic Games, allowing professionals to enter the competition, the gold medalist in individual play was Miloslav Mecir of Czechoslovakia. While he defeated Stefan Edberg, whom Mecir had lost to at Wimbledon that year, the Olympic tournament was missing quite a few stars of the time: Mats Wilander, Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe, Boris Becker for example. As I understand it, the Olympics provided no ranking points or remuneration so many of the pro stars were not motivated to be an Olympian.

In 1992, when FIBA allowed professionals to participate in the Olympics, many of the teams were transformed with players from the NBA and other international professional leagues excited to be Olympians. With Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, and Larry Bird headlining a team of unprecedented talent, Team USA swept through the competition with ease to win gold.

In May, 2016, the International Boxing Organization (IBO) will vote whether to allow professionals to compete in the Olympic Games going forward. Presumably, the reason is the same for every other international sports governing body – the very best in their sport should compete at the Olympics.

So if the IBO gives pro boxers the thumbs up for the Olympics, will the reaction by the pros be like tennis in 1988, or like basketball in 1992?

The Philippines have never won a gold medal in the Olympics. So why not Manny Pacquiao? Even though he was prepared to hang up his gloves after his next fight with Timothy Bradley in April, he has publicly said that he would step up if asked. “It would be my honor to represent the country in the Olympics,” Pacquiao told Agence France-Presse. “If I would be asked to represent boxing, why not? I would do everything for my country.”

manny pacquiao
Manny Pacquiao thinking about Rio.
Will others pros step up into the ring in Rio?

This isn’t clear yet – some will be bothered by the lack of financial incentives, and others may be enticed by the national glory. But one thing is clear – boxing is a brutal sport. And as pointed out in this discussion board devoted to boxing, people don’t just lose in boxing matches…they can get beat up. And if you’re a pro, you’re sacrificing potentially lucrative but limited paydays to possible injury. If you’re an amateur, you may end up getting battered way more than what a fellow amateur could do to you.

bill bradley
Bill Bradley

Bill Bradley has the kind of career that makes me sigh:

  • Gold medalist on the USA basketball team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics
  • College Player of the Year at Princeton in 1965
  • Rhodes Scholar at Oxford in 1965
  • NBA championships with the New York Knicks in 1970 and 1973
  • Induction into the NBA Hall of Fame in 1983
  • Elected to the US Senate in 1977
  • US presidential candidate in 2000

While in office as a US Senator in 1986, Bradley sent the editors of the book, Tales of Gold, documents that explain Bradley’s views on the Olympics at the time. Here is a summary of Bradley’s thoughts:

bill bradley olympian card 2End the Requirement of Amateurism: Bradley felt that the international playing field was not level, and that if athletes and National Olympic committees were truly trying to maintain amateur status, then certain capable, but financially weak athletes would struggle to train and compete, if not drop out all together. “First we need to have one uniform standard of eligibility, making skill the only criterion for competition and abandoning the ridiculous notion of amateurism in a world of differing social and economic systems,” Bradley wrote. “The traditional amateurism of an Avery Brundage eliminated the lower and middle classes of capitalist countries from competition. Without some form of subsidy they could not afford to compete against wealthier athletes. Since compensation for athletic services violated Olympic rules, officials often found less obvious ways to reward poorer participants. As a result, many athletes had to be dishonest about their compensation. It is time for the hypocrisy to cease and the rules to be modified by allowing open competition.”

Eliminating Team Sports from the Olympics: This I found intriguing. Bradley wrote, “I think we need to abandon team sports in the Olympics because they too easily simulate war games. One has only to look at the Hungarian-Soviet water polo game in 1956, or the Czech-Soviet ice hockey match in 1968, or any time the Indians and the Pakistanis play field hockey, to recognize that these contests go well beyond friendly competition.”

What I found confusing was Bradley’s next statement about the time he received his gold medal at the 1964 Olympics. “We should continue to recognize individual achievements. I will never forget that moment standing on the platform after beating the Soviets in the finals, watching the flag being raised and listening to the national anthem being played. It gave enduring meaning to the years of personal sacrifice.” After all, Bradley would not have received his gold medal for basketball if there were no team sports. And as I have written, the biggest factor for the US basketball team’s success was the coach’s ability to drill a powerful team concept into the minds of the players.

bill bradley olympian card

The Olympics – Not Just About Sports: Bradley was channeling the founder of the modern Olympic movement, Pierre de Coubertin, with this idea. de Coubertin actually had non-sport competitions in the categories of architecture, literature, music, painting and sculpture in the Olympics from 1912 to 1948. Wrote Bradley, “We also need to champion individuals other than just the fastest, strongest, and the most agile among us. Why not extend the Olympics to two months and also recognize creative, intellectual, and artistic ability? A film festival, poetry readings, concerts, cultural shows, and athletic events might even run simultaneously at an expanded Olympics. The whole person should be the theme of the festival. The emphasis would not be on the rewards to be taken home but on the experience of living for two months in a microcosm of the world.”

A Permanent Home for the Olympics – Greece: Bradley provided these words in 1986, in a decade where the 1980 and 1984 Olympics were heavily boycotted along Cold War lines. He wrote, “The Games should be permanently located in their ancient birthplace, the country of Greece. This permanent home would come to be identified with the Olympics as an institution, and the Games would no longer be identified with the nationalistic displays of temporary hosts. The way it now is, too often the host country attempts to produce a gigantic display of nationalism. This also encourages a situation where the Olympics infringe on the domestic politics of the host country, as happened in Mexico City and Montreal. If the Games had had a permanent home in a neutral country, it is probable that neither the United States in 1980 nor the Soviets in 1984 would have withdrawn from the Games.”

barkley and johnson draped in american flag
Picture of Charles Barkley and Magic Johnson with the American flag draped over their shoulders to cover the Reebok logos on their jacket. Barkley and Johnson had agreements with other footwear brands. John Stockton and Chris Mullin, 1992 Dream Team teammates, look on.

Here’s a fascinating article from Yahoo Sports about the sports footwear industry and the NBA, and a few facts:

Fact #1: Only 10 NBA players currently have their own “signature shoe” with a US-based brand. In case you’re interested, they are: LeBron James, Kobe Bryant, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving at Nike; Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Carmelo Anthony at Jordan Brand; Derrick Rose and Damian Lillard at adidas (James Harden’s shoe will launch in 2017); and Stephen Curry at Under Armour.

Fact #2: A shoe deal for an NBA lottery pick (a person who is in the top 5 or 10 of the NBA draft of high school, college or available international players) could mean earning from USD200 to 700K per year. The article points out that Andrew Wiggins, who signed a 3-year contract with the Cleveland Cavaliers for over USD17million, also signed a 5-year agreement with adidas for another USD11 million.)

Fact #3: Every player in the NBA has a relationship with a sneaker brand; even the benchwarmers, players looking just to make a training camp roster, can get what is called a “merch” deal. Such an agreement with a footwear marketer gets them a free allotment of footwear for practices and games.

Fact #4: Sneaker brands scout out basketball prospects at the college and high school levels, just like basketball scouts do

Fact #5: Nike has dominant share of the NBA player market, as 68% of the 300+ players wear the Swoosh. Adidas is number 2 at 15.6% with about 70 players wearing the three stripes.

For past stories in “The Sneaker Wars” series, see below:

Japan Women's Soccer Team beats Brazil in 2012 Olympic Play
Japan’s Women’s Soccer Team defeating Brazil at the 2012 London Games.

I remember being surprised to read that the Japanese Women’s National Soccer team, the team that was the reigning world cup champions and went on to win silver at the 2012 London Olympic Games, had to fly economy class to London, while the men’s soccer team flew business class.

The Japanese Football Association, the organization that oversees soccer in Japan, stated that the men’s team were afforded this perk due to their “status as professionals”, according to this article from the Daily Mail. This was despite the incredible popularity and success of the women’s football squad, affectionately known as Nadeshiko Japan.

Alas, Japan isn’t alone in these sexist attitudes that are rapidly appearing blatant. Australia was also guilty of this as it sent its men’s basketball team to the London Games seated in business class, while the women’s basketball team flew economy.

In order to correct what apparently is a common practice in Australia, the AustrNadeshikoalian federal sports minister Sussan Ley and Australian Sports Commission (ASC) chairman John Wylie, jointly sent a warning letter to the top 30 funded sports organizations in Australia to refrain from this practice, according to this BBC story.

“In 2016, we can think of no defensible reason why male and female athletes should travel in different classes or stay in different standard accommodation when attending major international sporting events.”

Australian women's basketball team
Australian Women’s basketball team

 

This letter was sent recently on February 2, with a clear attempt to preemptively avoid any further embarrassing examples during the Rio Games in August. The veiled threat is that funding for the various sports associations would be impacted if treatment was viewed as not equal.

My guess is that Japan’s women’s soccer team will be afforded similar travel arrangements to the men en route to Rio. But will that hold true for all sports associations in Japan? Not so sure…..

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From the October 30, 1964 edition of the magazine, Asahi Graf. The title reads “The Giant Under the Rim: The Soviet Union’s Janis Krumins”

He averaged 8 pts a game during the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. But against the Japanese team, admittedly, not a strong one at the time, this gentle giant poured in a team-high 20 points. So you can imagine the fascination the Japanese had with Janis Krumins. At 218 cm (7ft 2in) and 141 kg (311 lbs), the center on the Soviet basketball team was generally the center of attention wherever he went.

The photos are from the October 30, 1964 edition of the magazine, Asahi Graf (The Asahi Picture News Magazine) in an article entitled “The Giant Under the Rim”.

Krumins 3
The caption for the second picture reads “At 2 meters 18 centimeters and 135 kilos, he makes this fairly tall referee look like a kid.”

At 218 cm tall, even compared to the other basketball players, he’s as they say, a head above the others. And if he jumps a bit, he can extend his hand about three and a half meters above the rim of the basket. He doesn’t really shoot the ball as much as he is placing a lid on a pot.

When he gives up a basket to the opponent, he hangs his head and rubs his nose, his face appearing sad. But he doesn’t really show that much emotion, or raise his voice. And while the other nine players are running all over the court, only one, Krumins, is running slowly. He is the lonely giant.

At the age of 14, Krumins was already 2 meters tall, and thus recruited for a wide variety of sports, including wrestling, boxing and athletics before he found his way on the basketball court. As explained in Wikipedia, Krumins had a reputation for being a soft player. “Seeing a 220 cm giant, most defenders did not hesitate to step on his toes, push or punch him. Krumins patiently took all abuses and when once asked why he didn’t fight back, replied that he was afraid he might accidentally kill someone.

But with an increase in skills and his overwhelming presence in the paint, the Soviet coaches had to have him on the national team. Krumins competed on three silver-medal winning teams, the Soviet Union failing to break the United States supremacy in basketball in 1956 in Melbourne, 1960 in Rome and 1964 in Tokyo.

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Krumins taking on Mexico under the basket.

 

As Jerry West of the champion American squad in 1960 explained in this video, you knew when Krumins was behind you.

Jan Krumins – he was like 7ft 6. He was a giant! We were playing a very competitive, very physical….dirty. It was dirty. The game got out of hand in our favor and they put in Jan Krumins. The great thing about him – he wasn’t a very efficient runner. You could tell when he was creeping up on you. Bang. Bang. Bang. You could hear him coming up the floor.

Jerry Shipp, who was the leading scorer on the championship American basketball team at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics, played against Krumins several times, including in the Soviet Union in the early 1960s. Here’s what he had to say about Krumins.

I never heard him say a word, only grunts the many times I played against him, both in Russia and here in the States. He was not much of a scorer, but he could set very good picks for Gennadi Volnov.  He also spent most of his time back and forth across the center circle rather than making it under his goal when the Russians were on offense and under our goal when he was on defense.

Once while we were riding the train to Stalingrad they gave us sack lunches to eat and I saw Krumins take an apple out of his lunch sack and put the whole thing in his mouth, And that was the last i saw of the apple! 

National Gymnasium Annex exterior 1
The National Gymnasium Annex

I like flea markets so I found myself roaming one in Yoyogi, which happened to be right next to the beautiful National Gymnasium. The site is composed of two complementary structures, the main building where the swimming and diving events were held during the 1964 Tokyo Games, and the Annex, which is where basketball games were held.

After browsing the goods on the crisp winter day two Sundays ago, I thought I’d see up close what I had already written about. The larger structure of the Kenzo Tange-designed buildings was closed. But fortunately, the Annex was hosting an event, the 27th Annual Women’s Gymnastics Club, a free event, so I suddenly found myself in the stadium where Jerry Shipp, Mel Counts, Luke Jackson, Jeff MullinsBill Bradley and Larry Brown, to name a few, won their gold medal for the United States basketball team.

US Men's Basketball team vs Peru_Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha
US Men’s Basketball team vs Peru_from the book “Tokyo Olympics Special Issue_Kokusai Johosha”

Inside, pre-teen and teenage girls were performing rhythm gymnastics for family and friends, who sat in the dark and intimate stadium, the floor standing in brilliant lighted relief. The Annex seats only 4,000, so I could understand how the basketball games were hot tickets. Of course, the fact that there are only 4,000 seats means there is not a bad seat in the house. You can see that in the pictures.

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Panoramic view of the inside of the National Gymnasium Annex

National Gymnasium Annex pano 2

Thankfully, the annex, which is a sixth the size of the national gymnasium, will be one of several sites from the 1964 Games used in the next Tokyo Games. In 2020, the annex will be the site of the handball competition. But since 1964, basketball has become an international phenomenon, and women’s basketball, also growing in popularity, has been added to the mix. With that in mind, basketball in 2020 will be played in the Saitama Super Arena, which has a maximum seating capacity of 22,500 when basketball is in the house.

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Inside the spire of the National Gymnasium Annex
Roy_summer vacation_1967 maybe
Roy, sometime between the Tokyo and Mexico City Olympic Games.

On this, the last day of 2015, I’d like to thank everyone for their support of my blog – The Olympians. I have posted at least once every day since I started the blog on May 1. Out of about 300 posts, I’ve selected 25 that I personally like, in good part because I’ve had the great fortune to talk with the people mentioned in these stories.

  1. A Helicopter View of US-USSR Relations, Olympic Style
  2. American Gymnast Makoto Sakamoto and Memories of Home: Post-War Shinjuku
  3. Arnold Gordon (Part 1): Befriending Judy Garland at Manos in Shinjuku
  4. The Banning of Headgear in Boxing: The Convoluted World of Protecting Our Athletes
  5. Clumsy Handoff, Beautiful Result: A World Record Finish for the American 4X400 Relay Team in Tokyo
  6. Coach Hank Iba: The Iron Duke of Defense Who Led the Men’s Basketball Team to Gold in 1964
  7. Creativity by Committee: The 2020 Olympic Emblem and the Rio Olympic Mascots?
  8. Crowded, Noisy, Dirty, Impersonal: Tokyo in the 1960s
  9. The Dale McClements’ Diary: From Athlete to Activist
  10. Doug Rogers, Star of the Short Film “Judoka”: A Fascinating Look at Japan, and the Foreigner Studying Judo in the 1960s
  11. Escape from East Berlin in October 1964: A Love Story
  12. Escape from Manchuria: How the Father of an Olympian Left a Legacy Beyond Olympic Proportions
  13. Fame: Cover Girl and Canadian Figure Skater Sandra Bezic
  14. Frank Gorman: Harvard Star, Tokyo Olympian, and Now Inductee to the International Swimming Hall of Fame
  15. The Geesink Eclipse – The Day International Judo Grew Up
  16. India Beats Pakistan in Field Hockey: After the Partition, the Sporting Equivalent of War
  17. The Narrow Road to the Deep North
  18. On Being Grateful: Bob Schul
  19. Protesting Via Political Cartoons: Indonesia Boycotts the Tokyo Olympics
  20. The Sexist Sixties: A Sports Writers Version of “Mad Men” Would Make the Ad Men Blush
  21. “Swing” – The Danish Coxless Fours Found It, and Gold, in Tokyo
  22. Toby Gibson: Boxer, Lawyer, Convict
  23. Vesper Victorious Under Rockets Red Glare – A Dramatic Finish to One of America’s Greatest Rowing Accomplishments
  24. What it Means to Be an Olympian: Bill Cleary Remembers
  25. Who is that Bald-Headed Beauty: The Mystery of the Soviet Javelin Champion

What would a blog be without a list! Here is my countdown to the Top Fifteen Sports Stories of 2015. Over the next five days, I will share three stories each day that involved the Olympic Games, Olympians or Olympians to be. Here are number 13 – 15, featuring Mayweather, Rousey and Kobe.

Manny Pacquiao-vs Floyd Mayweather-2015-Fight-of-the-Century

FIFTEEN – Olympian Floyd Mayweather Defeats Manny Pacquiao: In the long-awaited match in May, Mayweather won the welterweight championship fight in a unanimous decision over Pacquiao. Mayweather is a bronze medal winning champion at the 1996 Atlanta Summer Games.

Ronda Rousey Holly Holm tale of the tape

FOURTEEN – Olympian Judoka Ronda Rousey loses to Holly Holm: In an attempt to defend her Ultimate Fighting Championship, Holm ends Rousey’s streak of 12 victories in a row in November. Rousey won a bronze medal for the United States in judo (-70kg).

Kobe Bryant USA_Basketball_Dunk_Wallpaper_Olympics

THIRTEEN – Two-time Olympian Kobe Bryant Announces Retirement: Bryant won gold with the US Men’s basketball team in Beijing in 2008 and in London in 2012.