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Fifty Years Later, 'Original' Dream Team Awaits Call of Fame

Apr 2, 2010 – 4:10 PM
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Chris Tomasson

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1960 U.S. Olympic basketball teamNo, they weren't as popular as those on the 1992 Dream Team, a team mobbed wherever it went. But the players on the so-called original Dream Team certainly made an impact in their day.

Terry Dischinger, a forward on the gold-medal winning 1960 Olympic basketball team, remembers being in New York shortly before the players headed to Rome for the Games.

"I was rooming with Oscar [Robertson],'' Dischinger recalled. "I got a knock on the door of my room, and when I opened it there was Cassius Clay. He said, 'Where's the O? I want to get my picture taken with someone that gets all that pub.' I told him he wasn't in. He said, 'I'll be back.' ''

Clay, of course, went on to win a 1960 boxing Olympic gold medal, changed his name to Muhammad Ali and became perhaps the most famous athlete in history. The 1960 Olympic basketball team didn't end up doing too badly, either.

The 1960 team, considered by many the greatest Olympic amateur outfit ever assembled, has been nominated for enshrinement into the Basketball Hall of Fame. Two sources close to the voting process expect the team, along with the 1992 gold-medal winning outfit, to be announced for induction when all is revealed Monday at the Final Four in Indianapolis.

"I do believe the '60 team was the first Dream Team,'' Dischinger said. "Oscar and I were talking one day and Oscar said, 'If our '60 team would have the pro experience of [Michael] Jordan's Dream Team, we would have been better.' ... It is difficult to compare teams of different eras. I have no problem saying we are the best amateur team ever.''

The 1960 unit went 8-0 while outscoring foes by an average of 42.4 points. It included four eventual Hall of Famers in Robertson, Jerry West, Jerry Lucas, Walt Bellamy and four others who also later played in NBA All-Star Games in Dischinger, Bob Boozer, Darrall Imhoff and Adrian Smith, MVP of the 1966 game.

Four of the players -- Robertson, Bellamy, Dischinger and Lucas -- would be named NBA Rookie of the Year. The only reason West didn't win was because he was a rookie the same season as Robertson.

"I would agree with that phrase that we were the original Dream Team,'' said Boozer, a rugged forward.

Boozer, speaking earlier this week from his home in Omaha, Neb., didn't even know the team had been named Feb. 12 as a Hall of Fame finalist. There certainly hasn't been much publicity about it, with the famous 1992 team's nomination having gotten far more ink.

But Magic Johnson, a member of the 1992 team that won in the first Olympics that pro players could participate, believes the 1960 players should get their due on the 50th anniversary of their romp in Rome.

"They're very deserving,'' Johnson said of induction into the Hall of Fame. "They set the standard for Olympic teams. They set the standard for young men to go from that platform to become stars in the NBA. They probably had more balance than our team, when you think inside and outside with all the weapons they had, Jerry, Oscar, Lucas. They were a very well put-together team. I'd be happy to go into [the Hall] with those guys.''

So who would win if the teams could battle with the players in their primes?

"We probably would beat each other's heads off and hurt each because we both want to win so bad,'' said Johnson, whose teammates included Jordan, Larry Bird, Charles Barkley, Karl Malone and Patrick Ewing.

The 1960 Games were just the fifth to have basketball. Although the Americans had won the previous four gold medals (1936, 1948, 1952 and 1956), many players off those Olympic teams had not turned pro due to the professional game then not having a lot respect.

But by 1960, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain had begun their rivalry and the NBA's popularity had begun to soar. So it would be inevitable that more top players would turn pro.

Jerry West and Oscar Robertson

And there were a lot of top players available to head to Rome, and be coached by the legendary Pete Newell, also a Hall of Famer. Robertson, at Cincinnati, and West, at West Virginia, had just finished their senior seasons as the top two college players in the country, with Robertson being the NBA's No. 1 draft pick in 1960 and West going No. 2.

Lucas had just led Ohio State to the NCAA title as a sophomore. And Bellamy, at Indiana, and Dischinger, at Purdue, were also stars from a loaded Big Ten.

Kansas State's Boozer had been the top NBA pick in the non-territorial phase of the 1959 draft, but wanted to be an Olympian so bad he put off turning pro for a year, which would have cost him his amateur status. So he played in 1959-60 for the Peoria Caterpillars, an AAU team, while working a 9-to-5 job.

"When we got to training camp at West Point (N.Y.), the media was writing that we had so many stars that Coach Newell would need to play with five balls,'' said Smith, who had helped lead Kentucky to the 1958 NCAA title before joining the All-Army team and later beginning his NBA career in 1961. "But we played as team. Nobody really cared about scoring.''

Robertson and Lucas tied for the team scoring lead with a 17.0 average. West (13.8), Dischinger (11.8) and Smith (10.9) were three other players in double figures as Team USA averaged 101.9 points per game to 59.5 for its foes.

The 1992 team barely eclipsed the 1960 team's record for margin of victory. That team outscored foes 117.3 to 73.5, a margin of 43.8.

Maybe there weren't the mob scenes experienced by the 1992 Dream Team in Barcelona. But these tall Americans proved to be pretty popular even though Italians back then didn't know a lot about basketball.

"The Opening [Ceremonies were] awesome,'' Dischinger said. "[It] was 15 years after WW II, and we were still heroes for liberating Europe. [Decathlon star] Rafer Johnson was the first black athlete to carry the U.S. flag in the Opening Ceremony. The basketball team being the tallest athletes were in the front of the parade. The applause of over 100,000 people in the stands exploded over us.''

The Americans soon got down to business. Smith said the basketball used in the Games was more like a soccer ball, but it didn't seem to affect them.

Team USA won by such laughable scores as 126-66 over Japan, 104-42 over Yugoslavia and 108-50 over Uruguay. Brazil fell 90-63 in the game for the gold medal.

"Losing did not even enter our minds,'' Dischinger said. "We knew how good we were. Our closest win was the Soviets (81-57). Their team was big, 7-3, 6-11, 6-10 across the front. We were extremely quick with great fundamental basketball skills.''

When it was all over, it was a proud moment. The 6-foot Smith called over Bellamy, a 6-11 center.

"I got on top of Walt Bellamy's shoulders and I got a knife out and I started to cut down the net,'' Smith said. "The fans didn't know what to think. They hadn't seen anything like that before.''

The net now hangs in a basement trophy area of Smith's home in Cincinnati, where the 73-year-old continues to work as a bank executive.

Of the 12 players on the team, 11 are still alive. Guard Lester Lane died of a heart attack in a pickup game in 1973 at the age of 41 shortly after being named Oklahoma's basketball coach.

Dischinger, 69, is an orthodontist in the Portland, Ore., area, where he finished his career with the Trail Blazers in 1971-72. Boozer, 72, works for the Nebraska parole board.

To this day, winning that gold medal remains easily the highlight of Boozer's career.

"I sat out a year from playing in the NBA because it had always been my dream to play in the Olympics,'' Boozer said. "There was no guarantee I would even make the Olympic team, but I wanted the chance. So I worked a 9-to-5 job [doing planning work for assembly construction of Caterpillar construction and mining equipment]. ... But getting that gold medal made it all worthwhile.''

Now that Boozer knows the 1960 team is indeed a finalist for induction to Hall of Fame, he says it's "about time'' it gets enshrined.

Chris Tomasson can be reached at tomasson@fanhouse.com or on Twitter@christomasson
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