The summer that Jerry West, Oscar Robertson and the USA conquered Rome [FIBA]
MIES (Switzerland) – It happened more than half a century ago, yet for two of the biggest legends in the sport, USA’s Jerry West and Oscar Robertson, memories of the gold-medal winning run at the Olympic Games in Rome are crystal clear.
The Americans arrived in Italy in 1960 with 28 wins in as many games at the Olympics. The USA had been the only country to win the gold medal since basketball was introduced at the Summer Games in Berlin, in 1936.
Roma Invicta, which means Unconquered Rome, was an inspirational motto used until the fall of the Western Roman Empire, in 476 AD.
In the Olympic basketball tournament, the USA definitely conquered Rome.
“We got one dollar a day per diem,” West recalled, when he spoke at the team’s induction ceremony at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2012.
“We stayed in dorms. It was 200 degrees and a heat wave in Rome. But the experience itself was the most gratifying of all,” he recalled.
The USA had a team to envy. Ten of the players would go on to play in the NBA. Co-captains West and Robertson, and also Jerry Lucas, had legendary professional careers.
When West remembers the Rome Olympics, it takes him back to a different era.
“That was a unique period of time in this world,” he said. “Race; cold war; threat of nuclear war. And it was a mission that we had to beat the Russian team. That was our goal.”
The USA had plenty of firepower at the Rome Games. It averaged a whopping 101.9 points a contest. The Americans’ average margin of victory was 42.4 points per game.
They accomplished their mission of beating the USSR, too, winning 81-57. A 112-81 triumph over Italy and finally, a 90-63 victory over Brazil, clinched the gold medal.
“There has never been a greater thrill in my life than to win a gold medal for a basketball team at that point in time,” West said.
“I think the thing I most remember is that we won so easily …”
And also, West can still feel the sensation of receiving his gold medal.
“That was the most special moment in my life,” he said. “To play the national anthem, it was the most thrilling, chilling thing that I’ve ever been involved with.”
“THAT WAS THE MOST SPECIAL MOMENT IN MY LIFE, TO PLAY THE NATIONAL ANTHEM, IT WAS THE MOST THRILLING, CHILLING THING THAT I’VE EVER BEEN INVOLVED WITH.”
The 1960 USA Olympic team has been described as the best amateur side ever assembled. It might have been even better had John Havlicek and Lenny Wilkins not been passed over in the selection process.
“I was one of the fortunate ones selected as a player and to be a part of a team,” West said.
“Not a day goes by when I don’t think about that Olympic experience.”