BY DREW SILVERMAN

It is virtually impossible to compare the 1948 Olympic Games in London to the ones that will take place in 2012.

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.”

Rl

The University of Kentucky Wildcats plus two outsiders prepare for the N.C.A.A. Olympic Fund three-game series with the Phillips 66'ers in the summer of 1948.

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.

Rl2
Ray Lumpp (#24) grabs the ball away from the Argentinians while Alex Groza (#15) looks on.

“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 at the University of Kentucky, while Lumpp was an elite player at New York University. It was not until 1992 that professionals joined the Olympic basketball ranks.

“If you told me (in 1948) that years later we would have to send our pro team to win a medal, I wouldn’t believe it,” Lumpp said, half-joking, half-dumbfounded. “But (the rest of the world) picked up our game and they have some great players over there. And now we have to use our pros to win the medal because those other countries have some good players, too.”

Since ending his professional basketball career in 1953, Lumpp has remained very active in New York City’s athletic community. He spent 50 years as athletic director with the New York Athletic Club. He has remained an active New York Knicks fan. And he spent half a decade working with the committee to bring the 2012 Olympic Games to the Big Apple.

That bid came up short, of course, but on Aug. 8, Lumpp will be heading back to an Olympic Games in London. Sixty-four years later, though, he will not be traveling by sea this time.

“No boat,” he said, chuckling. “But I’m looking forward to going over there and being with the American team. It’s such a thrill to go back to London.”

And in the style of a true Olympic champion, Lumpp is looking forward to watching quality basketball, enjoying his time in London and, above all, seeing the Americans come home with the gold.

“It’s our game,” said Lumpp, “and when it’s your game, you’re supposed to win. Like the Yankees, they’re supposed to win. You play to win — that’s what you go for — and anything less is not acceptable.”

But win or lose, Lumpp will return in late August to New York, where he lives near his four children, 13 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren, not to mention an abundance of friends, some of whom he made through basketball, some of whom he met by being a true gentleman — in every sense of the word.

“I’m 88 years of age and I’ve got a wonderful family,” Lumpp said. “I’m a very lucky man.”

Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Drew Silverman is a freelance contributor for teamusa.org. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.