Berry Tramel: Lester Lane's dream team to be inducted without him

by Berry Tramel Modified: August 7, 2010 at 9:53 pm •  Published: August 7, 2010
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"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 btramel@opubco.com. 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.


by Berry Tramel
Columnist
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The...
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