Jerry Shipp in 2019, courtesy of Shannon Shipp Cooper.
In commemoration of the 56th anniversary of the XVIII Olympiad, here is an excerpt from my book “1964: The Greatest Year in the History of Japan – How the Tokyo Olympics Symbolized Japan’s Miraculous Rise from the Ashes.”
日本語版:ジェリー シップ_アメリカ対ソ連

 

Jerry Shipp didn’t like to lose. He didn’t shake hands with opponents after games. He admitted that a basketball game to him was war, and in the heat of battle, he wasn’t a good sport. A shooting guard on the US men’s basketball team, Shipp had a chip on his shoulder, one that had grown since his days in an orphanage in Tipton, Oklahoma.

 

Jerry Shipp on Phillips 66ers_Amateur Athlete 1964

The two-meter tall shooting guard, whose unorthodox shooting form was often deadly from a distance, Shipp became the highest scorer ever for Southeastern State College (now known as Southeastern Oklahoma State University). Drafted by the New York Knicks in 1959, Shipp decided that he needed a steady job and higher pay than what he could get in the NBA. He opted for work at the oil company Phillips, which also had a team in the corporate league, the now-defunct National Industrial Basketball League (NIBL). He would go on to lead the Phillips 66ers to three consecutive championships in the NIBL, while also playing on the national men’s basketball squad.

 

In 1962, Shipp was on the US squad that played the Soviet national team in Lubbock, Texas, in an exhibition match. In contrast to the 1960 squad that featured future hall-of-famers Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Walt Bellamy, and Jerry Lucas, the 1962 team prepping for the Tokyo Games was considered a team of no-names, “a second-rate representative for Uncle Sam,” not only losing to the Soviets 66-63, but ending the game in unsportsmanlike fashion.

 

Sam Blair, a sports columnist from the Dallas Morning News, wrote that in the last moments of the game, the Soviet center, Alexsandr Petrov, and Shipp were fighting over possession of the ball when Shipp swung arms and elbows clipping Petrov across the chin and sending him to the hard court.

 

“It was a pretty shameful moment for the US for Shipp swung in a fit of anger after retreating madly to tie up Petrov, who had slipped free down court in the last hectic seconds to take a high-lob pass and was preparing to sink a simple layup. Fortunately, the Russian had a cooler temper or more self-discipline than Shipp did.” As Shipp recalled, famed sports columnist Blackie Sherrod wrote that he was trying to start World War III.

Jerry Shipp with his father Ed Shipp at Southeastern Oklahoma State University, courtesy of Shannon Shipp Cooper.

No US team had ever lost a basketball game in the Olympics through 1960. And yet, just as the Tokyo Olympics were about to start, the US press was predicting that the streak would end. And if any team was going to do it, it would have to be the Soviet team, runners-up to the US in the previous three Olympics.

 

The coach of the US men’s basketball team was Hank Iba, a basketball legend. He coached teams to NCAA championships in 1945 and 1946, and to medals in the Olympics in 1964, 1968, and 1972. And yet, even legends get criticized. “The 12 men selected yesterday for the October duty in Tokyo have the best chance in history to lose one,” wrote columnist George Meyers.

 

Iba knew he didn’t have the firepower of the 1960 team. “Our big problem is that we have no one man who’ll get us twenty 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.”21 Sloppy, yes, but it did not bode well that the team lost its last two exhibition games in the United States prior to shipping off to Hawaii for a training camp just before the Olympics.

 

Fortunately, Coach Iba was one of the toughest, most well-prepared coaches of his time. 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 five-hour practices a day—those were tough,” recalled forward Jeff Mullins. “He had his 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 in one of the early contests of the Tokyo Olympics. 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 hot-dogging against the Koreans. And we realized that this guy was serious.”

 

Prior to the finals, the American men’s team didn’t lose, despite what many had predicted. And so, the USSR and the USA teams both went into the gold medal round undefeated, playing for geopolitical bragging rights and Olympic glory at the beautiful Kenzo Tange-designed Gymnasium Annex in Yoyogi.

 

In the first eight minutes, the Americans played sluggishly as the Soviets jumped to a lead. Iba admitted jitters. “I’ve been in this business a long time,” he said to reporters after the game. “I know if you get so sure you’re going to win, you usually get knocked on your bottom. But we never talked about it.”

 

Toward the middle of the first half, Jackson woke up, grabbing rebounds and sinking baskets. And then, the rest of the team got going. Joe Caldwell started pouring in points. He was joined by Bill Bradley (he of Princeton, the Knicks, and the US Senate), Larry Brown (he of the countless university and pro coaching roles), Walt Hazzard, and Shipp, who led the US team in scoring average in the tournament and did not cause World War III.

 

In the end, the US men’s team continued its dominance, defeating the Soviet Union 73-59, and registering its forty-seventh straight victory since basketball became an Olympic sport at the 1936 Berlin Games. It was one of the last of the USA’s thirty-five total gold medals gathered at the Tokyo Olympics and marked the first time that the US won more gold medals than the Soviet Union since the powerful communist nation was allowed into the Olympics in 1952.

 

 

But the Cold War was not on Shipp’s mind when the gold medal was placed around his neck. Shipp had played countless times against the Soviets, knew them inside out, and would have run through a brick wall to defeat them. But it was not triumph over the Russians that caused his breath to shorten or his heart to tremor. It was the realization that the long climb out of his childhood, one filled with hurt, insecurity, and loneliness, was over.

 

Jerry Shipp receiving his gold medal, courtesy of Shannon Shipp Cooper

As he stood on the medal stand, waiting for his gold medal, memories of the orphanage where he grew up and the school he attended flooded his mind’s eye. He remembered his high school algebra teacher, Miss Maynard, who, instead of nurturing him, told him he was never going to learn anything. Out of frustration, Shipp once completed an algebra test by putting a zero on it, and submitting it as is. The teacher told him, “You will never amount to anything. You’ll be in jail one day.”

 

And so, at the moment the twenty-seven-year-old bent at the waist to receive his gold medal, the volcano at the pit of his stomach, roiling with the bilious lava of his youth, erupted.

 

I straightened up and I saw the camera pointing at me with the red light on, and I shouted, “Old Lady Maynard, I hope you’re watching, ‘cause I made something out of myself!” I never forgot it. I was still angry. My teammate, George Wilson, was standing next to me and asked me what that was all about. But I never told him.

 

I now realize that Lotus Maynard played such a big part in my life. I just got to thinking that my anger was hurting nobody but me. I realized, in fact, that she drove me to success. Now I go back and I say, “Mrs. Maynard, thank you.”

Jerry Shipp (14), Larry Brown (6), Jim Barnes (4), Luke Jackson (11) and Bill Bradley (5) of Team USA, in finals against the Soviet Union at the ’64 Summer Games.

pick-up basketball

I was like every other boy in my neighborhood of Briarwood. We’d take every opportunity on the weekends and the summer to play outside: touch football on the street, whiffle ball in front of the house, handball against any school wall, stickball in the Molloy High School parking lot, and half-court basketball at Hoover Park.

Playing basketball is easy – all you need is a ball and a public park. Kids all over America, and now all over the world, are building their ball handling and shooting chops in half-court pick-up games. Going to high school not far from the famed West Fourth Street Courts in Manhattan, I’d stop and watch some pretty amazing athletes play some intense games in the classic link-fenced city courts, the kind of environment where so many NBA stars got their starts.

And now, not only can kids on these public courts dream of going to the NBA, they can now dream of going to half-court fame and glory in the Olympics. In the middle of the 2017 NBA Championships, on June 9, 2017, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that basketball would have a new event debut at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics – three-on-three basketball.

“It’s great for basketball,” said Cleveland Cavaliers superstar, LeBron James. “For us to be able to add another category to the Olympics, another basketball category, I think it’s pretty great.

James went on to say that he wasn’t very good at 3-on-3, and that he avoids 1-on-1 matchups in team practices, so he didn’t see himself going to Tokyo on a team of 3. But that hasn’t stopped the world of imagining what it would be like to have the top NBA stars playing on these squads. SB Nation took the liberty of compiling each NBA’s team’s likeliest 3-team. Here’s their line up for six of the top NBA teams in 2017:

NBA 3 on 3 teams

Alex Ovechkin at the Sochi Olympics
Alex Ovechkin at the Sochi Olympics

For the hottest game on ice, the players and owners have entered into a cold war of sorts. NHL commissioner Gary Bettman recently told the press that no meetings have been arranged with the International Olympic Committee regarding the possibility of NHL players competing in the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in early 2018.

The NHL schedule and the Winter Olympics schedule overlap every four years. In order to convince he NHL to release its players in the middle of the NHL hockey season, the IOC agreed to pay for the insurance, travel and accommodation of these professional hockey players. The insurance is a key component because it protects the NHL teams against an injury to a star player who could impact team success and/or team revenue for years to come. For the Sochi Olympics in 2014, the IOC sent some USD7 million to the NHL, something the IOC does not do for other sports leagues. The IOC has done so for the past five Winter Olympics since the 1998 Nagano Olympics, but this year the IOC announced they would not pay the NHL for players to come.

Bettman stated that without IOC financial support, it’s unlikely the owners would support. “We don’t make money going [to the Olympics]. I can’t imagine the NHL owners are going to pay for the privilege of shutting down for 17 days. I just don’t see that.”

However, the star players in the NHL view the Winter Olympics as a matter of prestige and pride. The very best players like Canadian Sydney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Russian Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals have said they intend to go, Ovechkin going as far to say he would go without the NHL’s permission. And as mentioned in this Ottawa Citizen article, the owners will listen to their stars.

When Alex Ovechkin said he was going to the Olympics, with or without the NHL’s blessing, it didn’t take long for Washington Capitals owner Ted Leonsis to stand behind his star. And why wouldn’t he? Ovechkin is the face of the team. He not only helps the team win games, he puts fans in seats.

Major League Baseball stands in contrast to the NHL. Currently, the World Baseball Classic, an international baseball championship series taking place in March, 2017, has the full commitment and support of MLB. And while the major league players from big-time baseball nations of Japan, Cuba, Dominican Republic and Korea are heavily involved in the World Baseball Classic, Team USA is bereft of its stars. In contrast to the NHL players, the Americans have little to no interest in participating.

Now, the World Baseball Classic is not the same at the Olympics. And when baseball returns to the Olympics in 2020 in Tokyo, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred will likely want to ensure his league’s best players are at the Summer Games. Growing the international market for baseball will be a big priority for Manfred. But he has yet to gain consensus with team owners on how to make it work for the MLB when the Olympics will take place in the middle of the 2020 MLB season. Injuries and lost revenue to lost games will certainly be in the minds of the owners.

Rob Manfred MLB Commissioner
Rob Manfred MLB Commissioner

According to this Sports Illustrated article, there are two possible options to make it work: allow the season to continue without interruption, and just free up the players selected to their respective national teams, or shut down the MLB season for, say two-and-a-half weeks, like the NHL has done in the past.

The NBA, on the other, other hand, has had the distinct advantage of holding a primarily Fall-Winter-Spring season, while the Olympics tend to fall in the summer, the basketball off season. Traditionally, the NBA has promoted its brand and players globally, and have been a model for building a global business. Their commitment to the Olympics is thus considerable. The issue has been ensuring that the richest and greatest athletes in the world stay motivated enough to train and risk injury during their time off.

The US men’s team took bronze at the 2004 Athens Olympics, and were dubbed “The Nightmare Team”. It didn’t bode well when the superstars of the league, Kobe Bryant, Shaquille O’Neal and Kevin Garnett begged off of the team, and Ray Allen and Jason Kidd were out with injuries.

After the team’s embarrassing finish in Athens, Team USA appointed Jerry Colangelo to take charge of team selection. His job was to persuade the NBA’s best American players that it was their duty to restore pride and glory to men’s basketball in the international arena.

Colangelo convinced such stars as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Dwayne Wade not only to join Team USA for the 2008 Seoul Olympics, he got them to commit to playing together for three years leading up to the Olympics. Under Colangelo’s leadership and the coaching of Mike Krzyzewski, Team USA dominated at the 2008 Seoul Olympics to easily win gold. They’ve done so ever since.

Summary:

  • NHL: League and Owners not committed; Players committed
  • MLB: League committed; Owners not yet committed; American players not committed, but world players committed
  • NBA: League committed; Owners committed; Players committed
The Artistry of Stephen Curry_NYTimes
From the article, The Artistry of Stephen Curry, New York Times

Stephen Curry is 6 ft 3 (1.91 m) tall and 190 lbs (86kg) – above average tall, but kinda small for NBA standards. And yet, if he makes the US Men’s basketball team, and the US wins the gold medal in Rio this summer, Curry has the potential to stand on top of the international basketball marketing world.

After Curry’s Golden State Warriors won the NBA championship last May, and after the holiday shopping season, Curry’s jersey is the most popular. The only shoe more popular than Michael Jordan’s for Nike is Curry’s for Under Armour. This fascinating ESPN article explains, in fact, how Nike lost Curry to Under Armour in one of the great sports marketing signings of all time. According to sports marketing impressario, Sonny Vaccaro, the man who signed Jordan for Nike, Curry didn’t fit the mould, and was overlooked by Nike, which already had Curry under contract.

“He went to Davidson,” said Vaccaro. “He was always overlooked. He was skinny, he was frail, he was all the things you weren’t supposed to be. He never got his due. All of a sudden, like a bolt of lightning, Steph Curry is on the scene. And this is the hardest thing for Nike to swallow right now. What you’re witnessing is a phenomenon. This is like Michael signing with Nike in ’84. He’s going to morph into the most recognizable athlete. And why is he going to be that? Because he’s like everybody else.”

tall and short in basketball
The long and the short of it in basketball.

The average height of a human male ranges from 5ft7in/170 cm to 5ft11in/180 cm tall. So relative to the average height of an NBA player, which probably averages a foot taller, Curry is, well, short. And yes, he is an athletic freak whose body control is at a level of balletic precision. But more importantly, he is the greatest three-point shooter of all time. And while an NBA team loves the athletic big guy who can shoot threes (e.g.; Detlef Schremph, Kevin Durant), the three-point line is the realm of the guard, either the point guard or shooting guard, the shortest guys in the game.

Actually, the NBA has always had a love for the tall guy. There’s an obvious structural reason for that. When James Naismith created the game of basketball, he conveniently attached a peach basket to the rails of a running track that ran above the floor of the gym in Springfield, Illinois in 1891. Those rails happened to be 10 feet off the ground.

“That arbitrary decision to put the basket at ten feet caused the game of basketball to take shape around the tallest players,” said Roman Mars, in this fascinating piece called “The Yin and Yang of Basketball“, in one of my favorite podcasts, 99% Invisible.

As the game developed, it became obvious that the taller you are, the easier it is for you to defend the basket, and certainly, to score. And in the 1960s, the slam dunk became popular, particularly among black players. As the 99PI podcast went on to explain, the dunk became a symbol of black power, and was seen as such a threat that the NCAA, America’s governing body for college sports, banned the slam dunk from 1967 to 1976.

While the NCAA decision was likely a racially-driven one, the slam dunk was also primarily the domain of the tall player. And at that time, the NBA was getting a bit boring as people basically threw the ball into the tall center, who would take a very high-percentage shot. The ABA, an emerging competitor basketball league, saw an opportunity to draw fans that the NBA could not: they introduced the three-point line in 1967. As ABA commissioner, George Mikan (a big man in the NBA himself) said, the three pointer “would give the smaller player a chance to score and open up the defense to make the game more enjoyable for the fans.”

Twelve years later, the NBA also adopted the three-point shot, a radius some 25 feet (7.6 meters) from the basket. And while it was seen as a gimmick and seldom attempted in the early years, the three-point shot has become a strategic tool in the coach’s toolkit, and the

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: