In the early 1960s the Cold War was heating up. America was showing it had the right stuff for the space race. And the state of Ohio was the center of the basketball universe.
Now, more than 50 years later, Ohio is again dominating the NCAA basketball tournament. For the first time in NCAA tournament history, four teams from the same state — Ohio State, Cincinnati, Ohio and Xavier — have advanced to the Sweet 16.
Back in 1960, Ohio State, led by All-America center Jerry Lucas, won their only national championship, beating defending champ California, 75-55.
In 1961 and again in 1962, Cincinnati captured back-to-back NCAA championships, beating Ohio State both times in the final game.
All told, Cincinnati made it to five straight Final Fours between 1959 and 1963. And Ohio State advanced to the championship game three straight times.
Lucas, below right, led a well-balanced Ohio State team coached by Fred Taylor. He was named NCAA Most Outstanding Player in both 1960 and 1961 (the second time on a losing team) , and was Big Ten Player of the Year three straight times, leading OSU to a 78-6 record over three years.
Lucas and Havlicek
Other members of that famed 1960 team included John Havlicek and Larry Siegfried, both of whom went on the play for the Celtics, and a reserve named Bobby Knight, who achieved coaching immortality at Indiana University.
Oscar Robertson, one of the greatest guards ever to play basketball, was the top player on Cincinnati’s Final Four teams in 1959 and 1960 that failed to go all the way..
But the Bearcat dynasty continued after the Big O graduated under the direction of coach Ed Jucker and mainstays like Tom Thacker, Paul Hogue and Ron Bonham.
In the 1961 Final Four in Kansas City, Cincy knocked off Utah and Ohio State beat St. Joseph’s to advance to the championship. Then the Bearcats and the Buckeyes had to wait anxiously while St. Joseph’s beat Utah in a record-tying four overtimes to win the third place game.
Cincinnati trailed OSU by one point at the half, but rallied to win in overtime, 70-65, with a balanced scoring attack (four players in double figures). Lucas led all scorers with 27 points.
The following year Cincy beat UCLA, making its first appearance in the Final Four, and Ohio State topped Wake Forest and guard Billy Packer. Hogue scored 22 points and earned Most Outstanding Player honors as Cincinnati won again, 71-59.
Seeking the first three-peat in tourney history, Cincinnati advanced to the championship game in 1963 but blew a big second half lead and was upset by Loyola of Chicago, 60-58, in overtime.
When Cincinnati and Ohio meet in the NCAA East semifinals, it will mark their first match-up in the NCAA tournament since March 24, 1962, almost exactly 50 years ago.
Ohio State made it to the championship game in 2007 behind Greg Oden, but lost to Florida. The Buckeyes also made the Final Four in 1968 and 1999.
Cincy’s only Final Four appearance since 1962 occurred in 1992. Neither Xavier or Ohio University has ever advanced to the Final Four.
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, two of the best in the Celtics-Lakers all-time match.
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could take the best players in Celtics and Lakers history — in their primes — and square them off in a playoff series.
A seven-game playoff series with the greatest players from the two greatest teams in NBA history. Give the Celtics the home court advantage, since they have won 17 NBA championships to 16 by the Lakers. So the inevitable seventh game would come down to a showdown in the old Boston Garden.
What match ups, some seen before, some never seen. The best of the best in the 64-year history of the NBA. Here are the teams.
C — Bill Russell
F — Larry Bird
F — Kevin McHale
G — Bob Cousy
G — Sam Jones
Coming of the Boston bench as sixth man would be John Havlicek, shown below against Jerry West. Tom “Satch” Sanders is the lockdown defensive specialist.
The other reserves, in no particular order, would be Dave Cowens, Tommy Heinsohn, and Bill Sharman from the 50s, 60s and 70s, and two current members of the team, Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce.
Last cuts — KC Jones, Dennis Johnson, Robert Parrish
C — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar
F — Elgin Baylor
F — James Worthy
G — Jerry West
G — Magic Johnson
The top reserves are Kobe Bryant and Michael Cooper, a superior defensive player. Kobe may be the greatest Laker of them all, but with a backcourt of West and Magic, he brings more fire coming off the bench.
The bench is somewhat lopsided with Gail Goodrich and Pao Gasol bracketing three centers — George Mikan, Wilt Chamberlain and Shaquelle O’Neill. (Yeah, you gonna be the one to tell one of these guys they’re not good enough).
Last cuts — Slater Martin, Kurt Rambis, Bryron Scott.
Red vs. Phil
The coaches, Red Auerbach of Boston and Phil Jackson of Los Angeles, of course. Between them they’ve coached 20 NBA champions.
Imagine having Kobe Bryant and John Havlicek as sixth men.
Russell faced off against Wilt many times, but what fan wouldn’t want to see Russ against Kareem, or Shaq, or even Mikan.
So who would win? Game winds down to the final seconds tied, the old Boston Garden utterly electric. Who’s taking the lost shot? Is it going into overtime?