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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Let the Comparisons Begin - 1960? 1992? or maybe even 2008?

The comparisons are starting.  

The first volley comes from Cincinnati, Ohio - where Oscar Robertson is truly KING and actually played as NBA royalty for the Cincinnati Royals, of course. That came long before the guys in Akron/Cleveland who just "couldn't wait to be king."

So, here is one opinion on the comparison between the 1960 US Olympic Basketball Team and the 1992 US Olympic Basketball Team.  Read on for a thought provoking story by Bill Koch via

A Dream Team Before The Dream Team |
There was no such thing as a Dream Team in 1960.

When the U.S. Olympic basketball team traveled to Rome, it was merely a sports team on a mission to win a gold medal for its country.

It accomplished its goal without the marketing apparatus that accompanies such endeavors today.

There were no NBA players, but there were plenty of future NBA stars such as Oscar Robertson, Jerry West, Jerry Lucas and Walt Bellamy, all of whom would land in the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

Fifty years later, they refuse to concede anything to the 1992 Dream Team that included Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Charles Barkley, David Robinson and Patrick Ewing among others.

That team also fulfilled its mission by bringing home the gold medal, but to considerably more acclaim than its predecessors in 1960.

"What did the Dream Team have that we didn't have?" Robertson said. "They had more publicity and made more money. That's where it stops."

Both teams will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., Aug. 13.

The Dream Team - the first to include NBA players - won its games by an average margin of 43.8 points, a shade more than the 1960 team's 42.4. But the Dream Team did have a distinct advantage in Hall of Famers, with 10 (including 2010 inductees Karl Malone and Scottie Pippen) to four for the 1960 team.

Coached by legendary University of California coach Pete Newell - who passed away in 2008 at the age of 93 - the 1960 team held its opponents to an average of 59.5 points and ran the U.S. winning streak to 36 games over five Olympics.

Robertson and Lucas, the youngest player on the team at age 20, were the leading scorers, each averaging 17.0 points. West averaged 13.8 and Adrian Smith 10.9.

Robertson dominated

Robertson had averaged 33.7 points as a senior at the University of Cincinnati the previous season and was named the national player of the year. He was a player of such enormous skill that his teammates still speak with reverence about his exploits on the court.

"He played the game like he invented it," said Bob Boozer, a 6-8 forward from Kansas State who averaged 6.8 points in the Olympics. "Oscar was James Naismith in tennis shoes. He did what he wanted to do."

The 1960 Olympics were the Games of Cassius Clay and Rafer Johnson, who became the first black athlete to carry the flag for the American delegation. It was also the first time the Summer Olympics were televised, with CBS paying $394,000 for the broadcast rights.

The Olympics were the second foray into international basketball for Smith, who played on Kentucky's Fiddlin' Five 1958 national championship team. He had played in the Pan American Games the previous year in Chicago with Robertson.

"When I was at Kentucky, I used to read about him," Smith said. "I said nobody's really that good. Until I made the Pan American team and saw him play in the Pan American Trials. I got to be a teammate of his and then I realized what a special, great player he was."

Playing in the Olympics was the stuff of fantasy for Smith, who grew up on a tobacco farm about 12 miles outside of Mayfield, Ky.

His family's house had no electricity and no running water. The ball that he learned to shoot with was made of his dad's old socks that his mother sewed together.

"I never thought anything like that would ever happen to me," Smith said.

Year's delay

Boozer wanted to play in the Olympics so badly that he postponed his NBA career for a year to maintain his amateur status. During that time, he worked for Caterpillar and played for its team in the National Industrial Basketball League with no assurance that he would make the Olympic team.

"I graduated from Kansas State one year before the team had a chance to be assembled," Boozer said. "I just said I'm not going to go pro until I have a shot to make the Olympic team.

"You probably couldn't do that today (because of the money). That's been the highlight of my basketball career. The only one that would probably be up there with it was my last year with the Milwaukee Bucks winning the championship (in 1971)."

The Americans clinched the gold medal with a 90-63 victory over Brazil. Before the game, Smith promised himself that he would take home a souvenir to go with his gold medal.

His first objective was to secure the game ball. When that didn't work out, he went to Plan B.

"I convinced somebody to give me a sharp instrument," Smith said. "Walt Bellamy put me on his shoulders and I cut that net down. I still have that net today."

Five future Royals

Nine of the 12 players on the 1960 Olympic team eventually played in the NBA. Four - Robertson, Lucas, Bellamy and Terry Dischinger - became Rookie of the Year.

"It was just an awesome team," Smith said. "We had speed. We had shooting. We had rebounding. We had height. If you had kept that team together, we might have been a contender for an NBA championship."

Three years later, five members of the 1960 Olympic team - Robertson, Lucas, Boozer, Smith and Jay Arnette - did play together on the 1963-64 Cincinnati Royals.

They didn't win the NBA championship, but they produced a 55-25 regular-season record, the best of any Royals team during its 15-year stay in Cincinnati.

But that team still finished four games behind Boston in the Eastern Division and lost to the Celtics, 4 games to 1, in the division finals.

"Maybe we needed a sixth man," Robertson said.

Actually, five might have been enough if they had stayed together for the entire season. But Boozer, who averaged 11.0 points and 5.6 rebounds for the Royals, was traded to the New York Knicks on Dec. 16 after 32 games.

"It was a surprise," Boozer said. "I was highly disappointed to leave the team. We had some good relationships on that team. I love Cincinnati."

Lucas top rookie

Lucas joined the Royals a year after his storied career at Ohio State, having originally signed with George Steinbrenner's Cleveland Pipers in the American Basketball League, which collapsed in 1962.

He was named Rookie of the Year in 1963-64, combining with Robertson, the league's Most Valuable Player, to produce 49.1 points, 27.3 rebounds and 13.6 assists per game.

But Lucas was injured in the semifinal playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers and was not the same player against the Celtics in the playoffs.

Robertson would eventually win an NBA championship with the Bucks in 1971 on the same team with Boozer. Lucas would win a title in 1973 with the New York Knicks.

Regardless of what they accomplished later in there careers, the players on the 1960 Olympic team will always be remembered.

"Being with the guys I played with and having the friendships over the years has been tremendous for me," Robertson said.

"It was a magic moment that no one even knew that much about then, until they decided to bring up the Dream Team. Then they looked back and saw how good of a team we did have."

PS:  A quick TL comment.  Like I stated when asked to compare the 1992 and 2008 teams, it's very different.  Apples and Oranges.  Different era and different style of basketball.  If asked to pick the 'best' of the 1960, 1992 and 2008 teams, I would tend to give the edge to '92 because of their strength up the middle.  It was impossible to stop the scoring of Charles Barkley, Karl Malone, Patrick Ewing and David Robinson in the paint, nevermind the work being done offensively and defensively by the likes of Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen and all.

The 1960 team needed a nickname, they say?  How about The Bryl Creem Team?

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