Jimbocho in Tokyo is famous for dozens of stores that sell used books and magazines. One day I came upon a thin booklet called “Tokyo Olympic Basketball Games Guide 1964”. It’s a straightforward illustration of who the players on each of the national basketball teams , and what the rules of basketball are.
Youu can see here the wonderful use of illustration to explain the infractions. I find the tongue and cheekiness surprising and refreshing. The illustrated explanations for “Pushing” and “Technical Foul” show us a bit what the Japanese thought about themselves and Americans (perhaps).
Hank Iba is a basketball legend. He coached teams to NCAA championships in 1945 and 1946, and to medals in the Olympics in 1964, 1968 and 1972.
When he selected his team to go to Tokyo in 1964, he was immediately criticized. “The 12 men selected yesterday for the October duty in Tokyo have the best chance in history to lose one,” wrote columnist Georg Meyers of The Seattle Daily Times on April 6, 1964.
Iba knew he had a challenge as he indicated in an interview in Tokyo a few days prior to the men’s basketball finals. “Our big problem is that we have no one man who’ll get us 20 points every game,” he pointed out. “So it has to be a team effort. But when a team has played together as short a time as this one has, it’s bound to get sloppy at times.” (Traveler Sports, October 21, 1964)
Fortunately, Coach Iba was one of the toughest, most well-prepared coaches of his time.
Power forward/center, Luke Jackson, said that the team was constantly practicing. “Coach Iba wouldn’t let up. When we first came in the locker room, he gave each of us a notepad and said, ‘I want you to learn these plays. Those who don’t learn, won’t play.’ And then he walked out of the room. We practiced those plays. And those who didn’t learn them, didn’t play.”
“Those 5-hour practices a day – those were tough,” forward Jeff Mullins told me. “He had Iba-isms. If you had a turnover he would say in his raspy voice ‘Can’t have that, boys. Can’t have that.'”
The US team crushed the team from South Korea 116-50. Jackson said that after the game, “Iba took us to practice and worked us until our feet fell off. He said that we didn’t rebound well. He was just putting it on our mind that every game was important. You have to do things the same way every time. I’m sure we were hotdogging. And we realized that this guy was serious.”
Shooting guard Jerry Shipp and leading scorer on that team said that the men’s team in Tokyo was not selfish thanks to Coach Iba. “We passed well. We always helped each other, guarding a man and a half. If you didn’t play defense, you didn’t get on the floor.”
Mel Counts was a center on the team, and wrote this to the USOC about Coach Iba.
Many sports writers in the US predicted our team would not win the gold medal. We did not have any outstanding players. However we did have an outstanding coach that developed and presented an outstanding team. Hank Iba was the coach at Oklahoma State. He contributed outstanding leadership, incredible enthusiasm, an abundance of energy, a superior work ethic and the ability to impart belief in each player. Belief in our own abilities and the value we each brought to the team.
We practiced at Pearl Harbor for three weeks – two-and-a-half hours each morning and evening. When it came time to play in the Olympic Games, we were prepared physically and mentally – individually and cohesively. We won because we were coached to play as a team. We understood the value of teamwork. We won because of this one very important lesson taught by Coach Iba. We won because of the vision he inspired in us collectively. The credit, the victory belongs to Coach Iba.
The USA team looked sharp in blue blazers over white slacks and skirts. But to cap it off, the men were given a typically American touch – a white cowboy fedora. Some knew it was the idea of President Lyndon Johnson, a proud Texan. Some loved the hat enough that when thousands of pigeons were released during the opening ceremony, they made sure to take them off and shield them from the inevitable bird droppings. Some were pleased they had something to keep their hair from getting dirty.
The bottom line is that athletes and officials from other countries wanted the American hats! Jeff Mullins was a member of the gold medal-winning men’s basketball team in 1964. Like every other athlete in the Olympic Village, he enjoyed the United Nations vibe, but couldn’t really communicate…except when they were bartering.
“Trading,” said Mullins, “was our form of communication. Bill Bradley got us started. He brought a whole bunch of Princeton beanies with him, and we tried to fill them with lapel pins for our pins – red, white and blue pins with a pearl in it.”
“And we always were trading up,” said the man who would go onto play for the champion Golden State Warriors in the NBA. “Our uniforms were popular. So were our basketball shoes. But the thing that was worth the most was the Western hat. None of us liked it,
Luke Jackson was a center and instrumental member of the US Men’s basketball team in Tokyo. In this picture from Beaumont Enterprise, Jackson shows what the best in the world play for.
“I had one thing in mind – to win the gold medal representing my country,” Jackson told me in an interview. ” When they call your name and the anthem is playing, you are just so touched when you receive the medal for your country. I cried like a baby. I love my medal. It’s beautiful.”
Luke Jackson went on to a career in the NBA right after the Tokyo Olympics,
Bill Bradley of Princeton. Walt Hazzard of UCLA. Jeff Mullins of Duke. These were a few of the star collegians of the US Men’s basketball team that won the Gold Medal in 1964. But that championship team was also made up of members of the NIBL – The National Industrial Basketball League. Jerry Shipp of The Phillips 66ers, and Larry Brown, Pete McCaffrey and Dick Davis from the Goodyear Wingfoots.
The NIBL was an amateur league that provided a full-time job to basketball players, who