Eighty years ago six gold medal winners returned to McPherson, Kan., from the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
In the 1920s and 30s, businesses would sponsor basketball teams to gain exposure. In McPherson, the Globe Refinery sponsored the town’s team. Rich Hughes, author of “Netting Out Basketball 1936,” says, “They had about 200,000 gal. of gas to sell out of this refinery every day.” Sponsorship was a great way to sell gasoline.
The 1936 Olympics was the first year basketball was a medal sport. In the U.S., an eight-team single elimination tournament was held to select players for the U.S. Olympic team. McPherson’s Globe Refiners put on quite a show. No one had ever seen players “throw down” the ball through the hoop like Globe could do.
“Sports writer Arthur Daley with the New York Times wrote they would shoot the ball like a patron would dunk their donut into their coffee,” Hughes says, which is where the term “dunking” the basketball originated.
McPherson played a team from Universal Studios in the final. Players from both teams were selected for
the 14-member Olympic team.
The first Olympic basketball games were played outdoors on clay tennis courts, with the U.S. taking home the first gold medals.
Times were tough during the Depression, so each player was expected to work at the sponsoring company. Globe told players if they went to the Olympics, they wouldn’t have a job when they returned. “Vernon Vaughn had a new addition to his family. He wanted to stay in the refinery business,” Hughes says. “He was the sixth man on the team and he gave up his chance at the Olympics.”
Universal Studios didn’t want their players competing at an event hosted by the Nazis and told them they would also lose their jobs if they competed.
When the team arrived in Germany, organizers had different rules than the U.S. Games were played outdoors on clay tennis courts. If a player was subbed for, they could not return for the rest of the game, and only seven players could suit up for each game. The U.S. alternated games between “Universal” and “Globe” players.
The U.S. played Canada in the gold medal match in a driving rainstorm. It was Globe’s turn to play, battling rain and mud to a final 19-8 win.
Eighty years have passed, but the small gym in McPherson’s Community Building still pays homage to the historic team who gave us the “dunk” and brought home the Olympics’ first basketball gold.
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