A lifelong relationship: The Olympic Games and Coach Hank Iba

The 1964 Olympic Games were held in Tokyo, Japan. Before I come to that, I need to clear the decks with regard to the second time I had harbored a hesitancy about the choice for the USA coach. Now, it’s one thing to voice perplexity with regard to a little-known coach like Garland Pinholster, who coached the USA in the 1963 Pan-American Games and the 1963 Worlds; it’s another thing altogether to express any doubt about the man the ABA-USA chose for the job: Hank Iba, a Hall of Fame inductee, a legend, an icon, an intimidating presence, a man with great charisma, who had the respect and even awe of all who met him, including yours truly.

Why the concern? I wondered about his style of play: walk-it-up, slow-it-down, hammer-it-in. In 1967, there was an article on him in Sports Illustrated: “The Man Who Said ‘Control the Ball’.” No question but what he had built his success at Oklahoma A&M on that philosophy: winning the NCAA title in 1945 and 1946, another Final Four in 1951. But this was 1964 and I felt the slow-down game had been superseded. But the “Hank Iba Coaching Tree” is so full of great coaches that it’s impossible to list them all here and that’s credibility. Then, if anyone says anything remotely negative about Iba, he will have Bob Knight, Iba’s staunchest supporter, in his face.

Again, it was his slow-down style that worried me. When you have the superior team in basketball, the last thing you want is to get your team involved in a low-scoring game. On the contrary, you want a high-scoring game, with a lot of possessions, so that your better talent will be able to multiply its scoring opportunities. As someone that had studied Iba a bit, I thought he had a huge number of close games, good for a 755-340 lifetime record at NW Missouri State, Colorado and Oklahoma A&M (today Oklahoma State). A lot of those, if one looks closely at his record, were close wins. Too many and too close to my way of thinking, with all due respect for a legend.

I would have picked any one of a dozen up-tempo coaches: John Wooden (UCLA); Adolph Rupp (Kentucky); Peck Hickman (Louisville); Frank McGuire (So. Carolina); Dean Smith (No. Carolina); Jack Ramsay (St. Joseph’s); Jack Gardner (Utah); Bill Van Breda Kolff (Princeton); Tex Winter (Kansas St.); Fred Taylor (Ohio St.); Vic Bubas (Duke); Branch McCracken (Indiana). Or, Red Auerbach (Boston Celtics). But you back your coach and he was our coach. I was pulling for him all the way. And, the USA swept the gold and had only two close games in Tokyo: Yugoslavia (69-61) and the USSR (73-59). So, my doubts were misplaced. Photos: Iba, two pages of 1967 Sports Illustrated article.