Photo Courtesy: www.bigbluehistory.net - Ray Lumpp (#24) grabs the ball away from the Argentinians while Alex Groza (#15) looks on.
It is virtually impossible to compare the 1948 Olympic Games in London to the ones that will take place in the city about seven months from now.
To say the least, London has long since recovered from the damage of World War II. But perhaps nothing has changed more than the transportation the athletes take to and from the event.
“It was a seven-day boat ride,” recalled Ray Lumpp, who at 88 is the oldest living U.S. Olympic basketball player. “Players take flights now, of course, but we took a boat.”
Lumpp was a guard on the 1948 team that won the gold medal in London. He later played five seasons of professional basketball, including four years with his hometown New York Knicks. But the Brooklyn native leaves no doubt as to what was the pinnacle of his distinguished athletic career.
“It was a dream come true,” Lumpp said, thinking back more than six decades to those two magical weeks in the summer of ’48. “To win a gold medal, to stand there with your team, at that time you realize you’re not playing for yourself, you’re playing for America. You never forget it.”
As it turns out, Lumpp doesn’t forget much. He recalls the names on that 1948 roster like they just finished a layup line. He remembers dates, scores and details of games as if he has the stat sheet on his lap. And he can still picture the images of the host city as if the Games were held yesterday.
“London was in no shape to have the Olympics,” Lumpp recalled, intending to divulge reality, rather than to criticize the city. “They were just digging out from rubble — there were rubble piles all over the place. And they had food rationing. They criticized the Americans because we brought our own food. … It was a tough time, but you’ve got to give the British a lot of credit for staging the Games under such hardships.”
The Americans, however, encountered very few hardships on the hard court during the Olympic tournament. They won all eight of their games, with only one contest having a margin of victory fewer than 28 points. That was a two-point triumph against Argentina in the preliminary round. Team USA’s other seven wins came by an average of 39.4 points.
“We would be like the Dream Team is today,” Lumpp said of the 1992 U.S. Olympic Team that featured Michael Jordan, Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. “(Ralph) Beard and (Alex) Groza were two of the greatest. And Bob Kurland was one of two 7-footers at that time. (George Mikan was the other).”
In the gold-medal game — a 65-21 win over France — the United States’ leading scorers were Lumpp and Groza who earned 11 points apiece.
At the time, of course, Olympic basketball was limited to amateurs. Beard and Groza were stars