The Basketball Hall of Fame this week honors the dream team with induction.
Not the Jordan/Bird/Magic squad.
The original dream team. The 1960 U.S. Olympic team that ushered in a new era of hoops, in which colleges would seed stars for the NBA.
That 1960 team included four players who would beat their Olympic teammates into the Springfield, Mass., Hall of Fame.
Oscar Robertson. Jerry West. Walt Bellamy. Jerry Lucas.
Also on that team were future NBA rookie of the year Terry Dischinger and longtime NBA players Bob Boozer, Adrian Smith and Darrall Imhoff.
But the starting point guard on the Olympic team that will be inducted Tuesday night was a throwback. A 5-foot-11, 28-year-old veteran of the AAU industrial leagues that dominated international basketball in the 1950s.
Lester Lane, the pride of Purcell and a 1955 OU All-American, quarterbacked that team of Oscar and West, Lucas and Bellamy.
Sadly, Lane won't be in Springfield this week with his 11 Olympic teammates. He died of a heart attack on Sept. 5, 1973, at the age of 41.
Lane's untimely death cheated him out of much more than an Olympic reunion.
* * *
The call came on a Tuesday down in San Luis Potosi, Mexico. Would Lane be available to fly to Norman to interview for his alma mater's head coaching job?
Would he ever. Lane loved OU.
He had grown up just one county south, in Purcell, where he was a legendary athlete. Lane had led the Dragons to the 1950 Class B basketball state championship and set a state scoring record (2,384 points) that stood for 17 years. He also was a football star and state pole vault champion.
At OU, Lane played cornerback two seasons for Bud Wilkinson, then went solely with basketball, in which he was a two-year All-Big Seven pick and a 1955 All-American, averaging 19.6 points a game. Lane scored 1,180 career points, a school record that stood for 13 years.
Some pundits took to calling Lane "Lujack," because he would throw jump passes on the basketball court like Notre Dame quarterback Johnny Lujack threw on the gridiron.
After OU, Lane played AAU ball with the Wichita Vickers. After the Olympics, Lane coached AAU, with the Denver-Chicago Truckers, and was hired in 1964 by the Mexican Basketball Federation to coach its national team.
A fifth-place finish in the Mexico City Olympics for the novice Mexicans affirmed Lane's status as a coach. He coached in Spain the next year; went to Altus, his wife's hometown, for 18 months; and then returned to coaching in Mexico when the call came in April 1973.
Lane had tried to get the Oklahoma State job a few weeks earlier, but the Cowboys hired Guy Strong.
Then John MacLeod left OU for the Phoenix Suns, and while MacLeod's assistant, Joe Ramsey, seemed to be a shoe-in for the job, Lane was told his visit would not be a token interview.
Lane met with OU's athletics council on Thursday, wowing them with his enthusiastic personality, and was offered the job the next day, April 6, 1973.
"He was so thrilled to be back here," said Jan Lane Warner, Lane's widow.
OU point guard Mike McCurdy, who also hailed from Purcell, had just completed his sophomore season and was thrilled.
"In Purcell, he was always considered a legend," McCurdy said. "I felt like I had a little of an inside track with him."
Lane took over a good program from MacLeod. Alvan Adams had just finished his freshman year and already was a dominant center. Good players were around him. The Sooners had gone 18-8 in MacLeod's final year.
"Lester, when we had our first meeting, he was so enthusiastic," McCurdy said. "Had such a desire for OU basketball, to take it to the next level."
Lane liked to play fast. Wanted the Sooners to go up-tempo, which would have fit well with the mobile Adams.
Lane put the Sooners through rigorous offseason conditioning. McCurdy recalls climbing the steps at Memorial Stadium while carrying 100 pounds of weights.
"Your legs would be on fire," McCurdy said. "He made us work hard. We were going to be in shape. We were going to press a lot and run.
"He knew talent. He knew how to win. I think it would have been exciting."
The Lanes bought a house on Macy Street, a few blocks east of campus, and began renovations.
They finally moved in the first week of September. Lester Lane spent one night in his new home.
* * *
The Olympic basketball trials in those days were a tournament. Eight teams, with the winner getting to fill the majority of the U.S. roster.
The teams were the NCAA champion (Ohio State), two NCAA all-star teams, the NAIA all-stars, an armed forces team and three AAU squads, including the Phillips 66ers, who had added Lane to their roster.
For the first time in history, the NCAA all-stars won the tournament with the likes of Robertson and West, two of the 10 best players God ever made.
The Olympic roster was filled out with additions like Lucas off the Ohio State team, and Boozer off the Peoria Caterpillars (AAU), and little Lester Lane off the 66ers.
The team met for a 10-day training camp at West Point, N.Y., then headed for Europe.
Jan Lane Warner didn't get to go to Rome. "We were poor," she said. "We didn't have the money to go."
But Lester regaled her with stories. Lane flew over on a plane with Wilma Rudolph and Cassius Clay (Muhammad Ali). "He thoroughly enjoyed it," she said. "He said Cassius Clay was very entertaining on that flight."
Olympic coach Pete Newell settled on a lineup. Lucas and Dischinger down low, West and Robertson on the wings, and Lester Lane at the point.
"His job was to distribute the ball to all the stars," Lane Warner said.
That dream team was like the more modern dream teams. Chemistry had to be worked out.
The U.S. squad had played four exhibitions back in the States and lost one.
"We didn't really know each other," Lane said while in Rome. "Those four games we played before leaving for the Games showed how ragged we were."
But in Europe, the U.S. played exhibitions against Switzerland and Spain, and "they were just what we needed," Lane said during the Games. "Now, thank goodness, we're a team, and we're really rolling."
The U.S. team hit its stride early. Routed Italy 88-54.
Lane "did an amazing job of distributing the ball," said Dischinger, now an Oregon orthodontist. "We could run. Had a bunch of antelopes."
That starting lineup included three NBA rookies of the year (Robertson, Lucas, Dischinger) and Jerry West.
"He had four guys that could score," Dischinger said. "He didn't need to shoot the ball very much."
The Americans waxed Japan 125-66, then toured the ancient city. The Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Trevi Fountain.
"I'll tell you, I feel right now like my eyes were never opened before," Lane said after the sightseeing. "I've never seen so many beautiful things, and they're all even more impressive because you know there's a lot of history in everything you see.
"Back in Purcell, the prettiest thing in town is the South Canadian River. And it doesn't generally have much water in it."
Lane tossed coins in the Trevi Fountain, but instead of making a wish to return to Rome, Lane said he "made a wish for a perfect season for Bud Wilkinson and his Big Red Oklahoma football team. Here's hoping it works."
After beating Hungary 107-63, Lane said, "We're finally beginning to play together as a team. Everybody's passing the ball, and we're looking for the open man to score.
"To tell the truth, our lack of teamwork had us worried for awhile. But ... now we don't look for too much trouble before the final round."
The Americans blasted Yugoslavia 104-42, and back home, people were excited.
At Purcell, Lane had been coached by the legendary Boney Matthews, who would record more than 900 high school victories.
"I can't really think of any single thing in my career that stands out above the rest," Matthews said years later. "But watching Lester play in the Olympics wasn't bad. It was a real thrill, but it was a thrill to watch Lester anytime."
Lane's team beat Uruguay 108-50.
"It didn't enter our mind we would lose," Dischinger said. "We were so much ahead of the world."
The Soviets in the Olympic quarterfinals provided the most competition. The U.S. led just 35-28 at halftime but scored 20 points the first five minutes of the second half to put away the game.
By then, squashed were all thoughts that Lane didn't belong athletically or socially with such a basketball team.
"He was a fun-loving guy," Dishcinger said. "Fun to be around."
In the semifinals, the U.S. beat the host Italians 112-81 to reach the gold-medal game.
Back in Altus, Jan Lane assembled a watch party for the black-and-white telecast. Her husband didn't disappoint. His team routed Brazil 90-63.
For the eight games, Lane averaged just 5.9 points, eighth-best on the squad, but Dischinger figures Lane averaged 7-8 assists a game.
After the Olympics, Lane received a letter from Newell, his coach, who also beat the team into Basketball Hall of Fame induction.
"Pete said to him he was such an important cog in that wheel," Jan Lane Warner recalled, "because he was willing to take that role and feed the big guys."
* * *
Thirteen years after playing on a dream team, Lester Lane had his dream job. Coaching hoops at his alma mater, with a player for the ages (Alvan Adams) on his roster and a new arena planned for the south campus.
"The pinnacle of his career," said Kevin Lane, Lester's son, a 1972 all-stater from Altus who now is a doctor in Quanah, Texas. "That was the crown jewel."
On Sept. 5, during the lunch hour, Lane and his assistant coach, Denny Price, joined a pickup game in the OU Field House, where Lane had starred so many years before.
Lane complained of not feeling well and excused himself. Price found him on the locker room floor.
Across the street, McCurdy was in the duplex where he lived with his wife. He heard the ambulance go by. He had no idea it was for his coach.
An hour later, McCurdy got the call. Lester Lane was dead of a heart attack at the age of 41.
Ironically, 27 years later, Price would die of a heart attack while playing another midday pickup basketball game.
Lane jogged three miles a day and still played hoops into his 40s. But he had a heart defect; he had suffered an earlier heart attack in 1970.
"It's a shame he never got a chance to coach us," McCurdy said.
Kevin Lane remembers his father as a "charismatic guy. He did light up a room."
And Tuesday night, Lane's old Olympic teammates will light up a room in Springfield, Mass. But one dream teamer will be missing. The little general who distributed the ball.
"I've done the fantasy-league thing in my head," Kevin Lane said. "I think he'd have been one of those guys who was still around. He pretty much found success everywhere he was. I don't know why OU would be any different."
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including AM-640 and FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.