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.

National Gymnasium Annex pano 1
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.

National Gymnasium Annex 1
Inside the spire of the National Gymnasium Annex
UPI_1October 1964
UPI_1October 1964

You’re sound asleep, you’re jarred awake by an abrupt shaking of the bed, and suddenly your senses dial up to 100.

Earthquake!

That’s how many of us experienced Tokyo at 5:49 Saturday morning. It wasn’t a rolling “uh-oh-something’s happening” kinda tremor. It was a thumper, the kind where your abode goes vertical, and your heart stops oh-so briefly.

Power forward on the US Men’s basketball team, Luke Jackson, recalls an earthquake in the early stages of his stay in Tokyo. It was 4:14 a.m. on September 30, 1964 when an earthquake rattled the city. “The bed started to move across the floor. I didn’t know what was going on. I was told that it was an earthquake. You lose your equilibrium.”

hank iba

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.

Beaumont Enterprise, July 25, 2012
Beaumont Enterprise, July 25, 2012

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.

Luke Jackson basketball card“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,