MY first exposure to big-time basketball was a scrimmage of the 1964 U.S. Olympic squad at Pearl Harbor, where the team stopped to train on its way to the Tokyo Games.
past and present
That was the year John Wooden led UCLA to the first of 10 national championships in 12 years, finishing undefeated with no starting player taller than 6-foot-5. Wooden was the Tiger Woods of college basketball. His teams captured the nation's imagination and started the hoops boom we know today.
The 1964 Olympic team featured Walt Hazzard of UCLA, Bill Bradley of Princeton, Jim "Bad News" Barnes of Texas Western, Larry Brown of North Carolina, Luscious Jackson of Pan American and Jeff Mullins of Duke.
Bradley would go on to win a couple of NBA championships with the New York Knicks, serve New Jersey in the U.S. Senate and run for president. Brown became a decent pro player and an excellent coach. Jackson later teamed with Wilt Chamberlain on a great Philadelphia club.
But the concern in 1964 was the Soviets. There was a Cold War going on, with the Cuban missile crisis still a fresh memory. More to the point, the Soviets were a serious Olympic basketball threat for the first time. The U.S. squad would ultimately defeat the Soviets in the Olympic final, 73-59.
A good crowd turned out to see the U.S. team play at Bloch Arena, but the place wasn't packed. I could spread out and savor every play. It was two hours of teen-age rapture.
I got to revisit the feeling last weekend when the 2000 men's and women's U.S. Olympic basketball teams stopped here on their way to Sydney for tune-up games against Canada, Brazil and college squads.
It was a different scene from 1964. The games were played in the glitzy Stan Sheriff Arena instead of the dark and dank Bloch facility. The U.S. Olympic Committee has taken care of the Eastern Bloc threat by sending NBA stars instead of collegiate players to the games.
But beneath the big-money hype, it had the same feel as before -- men and women who are thrilled by the opportunity to play for their country, take the job seriously and play every possession hard.
THE women's team was particularly impressive with tough defense and crisp, patient passing that yielded one easy shot after another. Star forward Sheryl Swoopes was all over the floor, blocking a shot at one end and racing down the court to finish a fast break at the other end. Yolanda Griffith and Chamique Holdsclaw were relentless in the lane.
The 2000 men's team lacks the star power of the original Dream Team with Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. But young stars like Vince Carter, Alonzo Mourning, Kevin Garnett and Jason Kidd play an intense and entertaining game and will make their own mark. The graying Larry Brown is as scrappy as a Team USA coach as he was as a young guard pushing the ball up the floor in 1964.
The true joy was sharing an experience that meant so much to me as a young man with my son and grandson.
That beatific look on my son Jared's face as Carter flew to the basket for a game-ending dunk must have mirrored the bliss on my own face when they blew the final whistle in Bloch Arena in 1964.
David Shapiro is managing editor of the Star-Bulletin.
He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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