No Dream; Just Reality
Are you among those who have been impressed with the United States men’s basketball team and its accomplishments in the 2012 Olympic Games in London?
Do you remember the dominance of the original “Dream Team,” the first U.S. Olympic men’s basketball contingent to feature current active National Basketball Association players, in 1992? It mowed down its eight opponents by an average of nearly 44 points per game on its way to the gold medal.
Imagine the U.S. assembling a team devoid of any NBA players that could sweep through the Olympics, outscore the best competition the world had to offer by better than 42 points per game and bring home the gold.
Then imagine no more, because it happened.
And two future Milwaukee Bucks helped make it happen.
Oscar Robertson and Bob Boozer, who became members of the Bucks’ 1971 NBA championship team, were teammates and countrymen 11 years earlier when they helped the U.S. go 8-0 in winning the Rome Olympics. The Americans extended their Olympic winning streak to 36 consecutive games over the span of five Olympics in the process.
Robertson and six other members of the 1960 U.S. team had either completed their collegiate playing careers that year or headed back to the college ranks the following season.
Boozer was among five U.S. team members who had used up their college eligibility and had been playing Amateur Athletic Union basketball for teams such as Vickers Aviation, Goodyear, Caterpillar and Phillips 66 that competed in the National Industrial Basketball League.
Team USA of 1960 represented a changing of the guard for the United States in Olympic competition. Prior to that year, U.S. Olympic basketball teams had been selected largely from the AAU ranks.
Even with the changing times, AAU officials exercised a heavy influence in the selection of the 1960 squad. AAU veterans such as Burdette Haldorson – an Olympic gold medalist in 1956 --, Lester Lane and Allen Kelley made the squad over the likes of collegiate standouts John Havlicek, Lenny Wilkens and Tom “Satch” Sanders.
The 1960 U.S. team trained at West Point, staying in dormitories and eating in the mess hall before flying to Switzerland for exhibition games prior to its train ride to Rome for the Games of the XVII Olympiad.
The trip overseas was the first for Robertson who, along with his basketball teammates, accompanied most of the U.S. athlete federation on an overcrowded propeller plane that was required to fly over Greenland for what were called safety and refueling reasons.
The 1960 Olympics will be remembered as the Games of Cassius Clay and Rafer Johnson, who became the first black athlete to carry the flag for the American delegation. 1960 also marked the first year in which the Summer Olympics were televised, with CBS paying $394,000 for the broadcast rights.
The U.S. basketball team, however, left an indelible impression, too. Coached by Pete Newell, who had guided the University of California to the 1959 NCAA championship, Team USA was co-captained by Robertson, who was coming off a record-setting career at the University of Cincinnati, and Jerry West, who had rewritten the record books at West Virginia University. They were the first two selections in the 1960 NBA Draft.
The U.S. squad remarkably featured four other players -- Boozer, forward Jerry Lucas and guards Adrian Smith and Jay Arnette -- who became teammates of Robertson’s with the 1963-64 Cincinnati Royals.
Nine of the 12 players on the 1960 U.S. team eventually played in the NBA and four of them -- Robertson, Lucas, center Walt Bellamy and forward Terry Dischinger -- became Rookies of the Year.
Robertson, West, Lucas and Bellamy earned a combined 37 NBA All-Star Game selections.
The Americans dominated Italy 88-54 in their opening game behind 16 points apiece from Robertson and Smith, then trounced Japan 125-66 behind Lucas’ 28 points before reaching the semifinals with a 107-63 triumph over Hungary as Robertson netted 22 points and Lucas 21.
The U.S. roared to a 32-1 advantage over Yugoslavia in their semifinal game en route to a 104-42 victory as Robertson and Dischinger poured in 16 points apiece, then topped the century plateau for a fourth consecutive game with a 108-50 win over Uruguay as Smith scored a team-high 15 points.
Next up was a Soviet Union team with 7 foot, 3 inch, 320-pound behemoth Jan Kruminsh in the middle. The U.S. was clinging to a 35-28 lead at halftime before going on a 25-1 tear to open the second half and emerging with an 81-57 triumph. West paced the winners with 19 points.
Lucas scored 25 points to lead six U.S. players in double digits as the team downed Italy 112-81 to begin the final round. Then Lucas came through with a team-high 25 points as the Americans romped past Brazil 90-63 to claim the gold medal.
The Americans outscored their eight Olympic opponents 101.9 ppg to 59.5 ppg.
Robertson and Lucas, the second-youngest player on the team at 20 years old, were the leading scorers for Team USA during its eight-game Olympic stint, each averaging 17 points. West averaged 13.8, Dischinger 11.8 and Smith 10.9. Boozer, a two-time Big Eight Conference Player of the Year at Kansas State, delayed entering the NBA Draft for one year to retain his amateur status so he could compete in the Olympics, playing for the Peoria (Ill.) Caterpillars on the AAU circuit. He averaged 6.8 ppg in the Games.
Fifty years after striking Olympic gold, Team USA of 1960 was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass.