There was no Final Four when I was a student at Oklahoma A&M. There was no Sweet Sixteen, no March Madness. The only madness was World War II, going on around the globe 24/7. But there was also basketball. There was Coach Henry Iba, and there was Bob Kurland, who was seven feet tall.
The story is that Coach Iba recruited the tall 17-year-old with a steak dinner and a bus ticket from St. Louis, MO to Stillwater, OK. Both men became legends in the sports world. Then the teams were the Oklahoma A&M Aggies. Now they’re the OSU Cowboys.
I’m sure Iba and Kurland didn’t look down the road to anticipate the changes they made, and neither did I. I just thought that Oklahoma A&M had a great basketball team, and Bob Kurland was one of the nicest guys I’d ever met.
In 1944 I sat next to him in Biological Science class, a class so large that it was held in an auditorium. We were seated alphabetically. Bob was “K” and I was “L.” If I learned anything in “Bi-Sci” I promptly forgot it, but I never forgot Bob –smiling, soft-spoken, always polite. He teased me by calling me “Greer” – insisting that I looked like the movie star Greer Garson. As if!
I’m not a fan of pro basketball. The players are too tough and the games are too predictable. It’s a case of my team makes a goal, then your team makes a goal, back and forth, and whoever’s ahead when the buzzer sounds win the game.
It’s nice that the USA team won a gold medal in this 2012 Olympics, but I didn’t watch. When I read that USA squeaked past Spain I thought of Robert “Bob” Kurland and looked him up on the Internet. The facts and stats of his basketball career are all over it. He was the first 7-footer to play the game. He could stand under the net and bat the ball in. Because of him, the NCAA passed the rule against goaltending.
He led the Aggies to NCAA championships in 1945 and 1946. Professional teams weren’t allowed into the Olympic Games in those days so Bob turned down pro offers. He played for the Phillips 66ers in the National Industrial Basketball League from 1946 to 1952. He has two Olympic gold medals, one from the 1948 Summer Games in London, the other from the 1952 games in Helsinki.
Bob had a long career in the corporate world before retiring and moving to Florida.
He was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in 1961. On the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame web site there’s a photo of Bob looking exactly as I remember him, plus his biography.
The web site lists highlights of his career:
*All-America, 1944, 1945, 1946
*Led Oklahoma A&M to NCAA Championships, 1945, 1946
*Helms Foundation Player of the Year, 1946
*First two-time Olympic Gold Medal winner, 1948, 1952
The Naismith Hall of Fame web site is at http://tinyurl.com/8dajjpb.
There’s a YouTube video featuring Kurland at:
The photos are grainy, obviously scanned from old newspapers, but it’s a nice tribute by the OSU Alumni Association Hall of Fame 2009.
Sometimes nice guys do finish first.