Hubbard's Cupboard: Ref knocked unconscious in 1948 game of basketbrawl

The man with incredible tales from past Games

Basketball gets serious with the men's semi-finals tonight, the multimillionaire superstars from the United States set to razzle-dazzle against Argentina, a repeat of their clash in the London Games of 1948.

Then their team was largely composed of students from the University of Kentucky because any hint of professionalism in the Olympics was a no-no. The tournament was, thankfully, different from the previous one in Berlin in 1936, which was held outdoors in a tennis stadium on courts of clay and sand. It rained heavily on the day of the final, turning the courts into mud, which made it virtually impossible for the players to dribble.

Although the London tournament was played indoors at Harringay Arena there were times when it seemed more like rollerball than basketball.

A British referee was knocked unconscious during a preliminary match between Chile and Iraq and a cheeky Chinese player dribbled the ball between the legs of the seven-foot US centre Bob Kurland and followed through by scoring a basket.

In a fiercely contested match for third place a Brazilian player lost his pants and had to retire to the dressing room.

Iraq twice lost by 100 points, to Korea and China, while Great Britain's only win in eight games was a 46-21 victory over Ireland. They finished 20th out of 23 teams, the US comfortably winning the gold against France.

Players from several amateur club teams that had competed in the US trials were drafted in to make up the final squad. Among these was Don Barksdale, the first black man to compete in Olympic basketball. Barksdale was a former triple jump champion and gridiron star.

The victory ceremony was, in keeping with those Austerity Games, low-key, the winners being given their medals in boxes. Two of the three surviving members of that team Jackie Robinson, 85, and Ray Lumpp, 88, are in London hoping to watch the current Dream Team win a 14th gold for the US. They are unlikely to be disappointed.

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