Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tall Order St. Louisan Kurland: `Country' before `Country' Was Cool

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Tall Order St. Louisan Kurland: `Country' before `Country' Was Cool

Article excerpt

He was the first true big man of basketball, a Hall of Famer who won two NCAA titles, two Olympic gold medals and became a legend around the world. And now that another gentle giant is leading his alma mater to this year's Final Four, Bob Kurland again is surrounded by tall tales.

After all, it was Kurland's size (6 feet 10 1/2 inches, he says, "maybe 7 feet in the summer") that prompted the International Amateur Basketball Federation to propose a size limit (6-4 3/4) for the "good of the game" before the 1948 Olympics, and goaltending rules that are still in effect. And when a Chinese player supposedly dribbled between Kurland's legs and scored a basket in a game at the 1952 Olympics, was it fact or fantasy?

"If legends make you feel good," Kurland said this week when asked whether the dribbling incident took place, "believe the legend."

What Oklahoma State loyalists want to believe is that their latest legend, the 7-foot, 292-pound center Bryant "Big Country" Reeves, can achieve this weekend what Kurland did 50 years ago: win an NCAA title and the outstanding-player award.

Kurland says Reeves is "the American dream. He works hard, he's an inspiration, and everybody I talk to says he's a genuine person."

Those were the almost same words coach Henry Iba used to describe Kurland, who grew up in the St. Louis area and graduated from Jennings High. After college, Kurland turned down an $11,000 offer from the New York Knicks and chose a successful industrial-basketball career and 40-year affiliation with Phillips Petroleum over the fledgling National Basketball Association. In doing so, he yielded the pioneer big-man role in the pros to his collegiate rival, George Mikan.

"I was not unlike Reeves, but wise enough at the time to know where the future of basketball was heading for someone like me," Kurland recalled Monday by phone from his winter retirement home in Sanibel Island, Fla. "In the pros, it's selfish. You got to have somebody throw you the ball."

But those who played with and against Kurland understood that he ranked alongside Mikan and that together they formed the Bill Russell-Wilt Chamberlain of their era.

Kurland averaged 25 points a game for the last 12 games in his college career at Oklahoma A&M, the predecessor to Oklahoma State. …

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