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Saturday, July 2, 2011


In my ongoing efforts to bring you great readers some historical stories about west coast college basketball, here we go:

Despite its dismal record and horrible basketball it has produced since 1990, as documented in this blog, Oregon State  has a rich history when it comes to west coast basketball and influence nationally as well.

When you talk about the history of Oregon State, you have to talk about Mel Counts, who came to Oregon State from Coos Bay, Oregon, a small, but beautiful city on the Oregon coast.

He played great at Oregon State under famous coach Armory "Slats" Gill, in both 1963 and 1964. Counts' 63 team made it all the way to the NCAA national championship semifinal game only to lose to the Cincinnati Bearcats, in a very lopsided game. In 1964 Counts had an even greater individual basketball year, although the Beavers lost to Seattle U., in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

After the season things got even more monumental  for Mel Counts as he was seventh player taken in the first round of the NBA draft by the Boston Celtics and during the summer of 64 (isn't there some song by that name), Counts played on the gold medal winning United States basketball team.

If that wasn't enough for any young man out of Coos Bay, it kept getting better. Not only did Counts get to hone his game even more by being the back-up center to the great Bill Russell for the Boston Celtics, it also gave  Counts two NBA championship rings, as the Celtics won NBA the title in in 1965 and 1966,

(For all the stat and trivia guys who read this blog, Mel Counts has the distinction of being one of only 45 basketball players in the world to win an NBA title and an Olympic gold medal.)

It got even more exciting for Counts, but maybe not as much fun as he continued his career in the NBA, with the Baltimore Bullets for short stint before being traded to the Los Angeles Lakers. While with the Lakers Counts played in three straight NBA finals, 1967-69 and the Lakers lost in all three.

Of those finals, the most memorable was in 1969, when in game seven of the championship finals and the Lakers down nine points, with six minutes to go  Counts was inserted into the game for Wilt Chamberlain, who picked up his fifth foul and also appeared to be injured on the same play as he fouled.

Chamberlain never returned to the game, even though he appeared healthy enough too.  Counts played the rest of the game and played great, scoring six points, getting five rebounds and three assists all in the six minute period, but it still was not enough, as the Lakers lost the game 108-106 and lost the NBA championship in the process.

To this day, Laker fans around the world are still bummed at then Laker coach Butch van Breda Kolff for not putting Chamberlain back into the game. Would it have made the difference, who knows as we never will find out, but for sure, Counts played great in the final six minutes, better than most back-ups could ever do. Because of Chamberlain not getting back into the game, by all accounts a coaches' decision, many of the top basketball historians have proclaimed this game as the most controversial post season game seven ever in the history of the NBA. (Also for the record, up to this game, Chamberlain had never fouled out of game in his career and many thought if he would have stayed in this game, he was doomed to pick up his sixth foul).

Mel Counts closed out his career in the NBA in 1976, with the New Orleans Jazz, but when we all look back there are very few basketball players who can say they played in an NCAA basketball championship semifinal, were drafted by the Boston Celtics, won an Olympic gold medal, won two NBA championships and were the back-up for two of the five greatest players in the history of the game, Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain and played 12 years in the NBA.

Nice going Mr. Counts and in the history of west coast basketball, you do COUNT(s).

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