As predicted, the USA rolled through the 1964 Olympics, going 9-0 and taking the gold medal. The Americans had a well-disciplined team, which held opponents to an average of 37.4 points per game. The US team was not as loaded with super stars as the 1960 team. The top player was 6’5″ Bill Bradley of Princeton, who would be College Player of the Year the following season. Some wondered about those left off the team, like 6’1″ Gail Goodrich of UCLA and 6’10” Willis Reed of Grambling. So, this team over-achieved, if you can say a USA Basketball team over-achieved. Credit for that must go to coach Hank Iba.
All that said, I began to reflect on the international game, in terms of population and numbers. Yes, the USA beat Uruguay, 83-28, in the opening round. But, in 1964, the USA had 161,000,000 people and Uruguay had 2,660,000, roughly the same as the State of Washington. I thought the Evergreen State might have its hands full with Uruguay. That told me that the world was starting to close the gap between them and the USA in basketball. Understand, it was still a considerable gap but nations were, for example, converting from outdoor courts to indoor courts, a quantum leap for many.
The main concern, however, was not Uruguay or anyone else. The one opponent on everyone’s mind was, of course, the USSR, the Soviet Union. They had already stopped the USA in the Worlds and had given the US pause for thought more than once in the Olympics. I remember talking with basketball people in 1964 and many voiced concern, that the rest of the world was catching up, that Tokyo was close to the USSR, that the USSR had a larger population base than the USA, that the USSR was always bigger, heavier, stronger and more experienced than the USA. Betting lines had the USA and USSR as co-favorites for the gold.
In fact, after a closer-than-expected struggle vs. Yugoslavia, 69-61, in round play, the USA faced the USSR for the gold medal. The Soviets jumped off to a good-sized lead at the start the game, only have their star player, 6’10” center Alexandr Petrov, pick up four fouls early in the game. He sat out most of the rest of the way, as the USA went on to win a tough one, 73-59. So, notice was served … the USSR was a formidable adversary. For the moment, the USA had the edge in skill, in Bill Bradley, and smarts, in future Hall of Fame coach Larry Brown. Photo: Bill Bradley (5) and Larry Brown vs. 7’3″ Janis Krumins of the USSR, in the 1964 Olympics.