The late sixties – Facing Bill Bradley and a friendly Oxford side
(sent by Dave Evens, club secretary 1967/68, added by Michael Hofstetter, alumni officer 2021/22).
I played basketball for the university during the 1966/67 and 1967/68 seasons. I was also the club secretary during the second of those two years. It was a totally ‘half blue’ sport in those days, although I gather one can get a full blue now.
That was during the period of the Vietnam War, when a lot of American university students were ‘hiding’ from the draft at British Universities. And with Rhodes Scholarships leaning towards sport, the Oxford basketball team in the 1966/67 season was the best in Britain – quite possibly in Europe.
The British Universities Sports Federation (BUSF) organized a basketball championship each year, which Oxford won in the two years I played, barely breaking into a sweat, although we were comfortable runners up. Most of the Cambridge squad were also American, and by the time the season had finished, we had played them five or six times, and everyone was on very friendly terms, so in both the BUSF final and the Varsity game, they played well enough to win, but not well enough to humiliate us, which they could have done.
An interesting example of that was that the Olympics were still amateur in those days, and to try and keep the top American college students amateur until the 1968 Olympics, Mobil Oil sponsored the ‘national squad’ on an all expenses tour of Europe in 1967. One of the sides they played was Oxford, and the Mobil team only just won!
Another indication was that Bill Bradley, in the back row of the photo, when he went back to the US at the end of the 1966/7 year, signed on to the New York Knicks for what was at the time, the highest signing on fee in history! Bradley was 6’ 5” – almost 2 metres, which gives you some idea of the height of their starting five – one of the ones sitting down was also well over six foot. After a ten year pro basketball career, Bradley eventually became an American senator!
Their 1967/8 team was not as strong, but still won the British championship, defeating the Aldershot Warriors (an army team) in the final, which I watched – one of the few occasions I cheered Oxford!
Basketball facilities in Cambridge in those days were primitive, to be polite. The only university gym was probably less than half the size needed for a full size court, although it did have hoops and backboards, and we did all our training in the Histon High School gym, which was the largest one we could find in town. We played all our ‘home’ games at the American air base at RAF Lakenheath, 27 miles away (!) which is why it was the venue for the Varsity games in 1966 and 1968.
The second team played games in towns around Cambridge. To get reasonable opposition, the Varsity side played American air base teams, London teams, and the aforementioned Aldershot Warriors. We also played other university sides – I remember one long weekend tour which I think included Leeds and Sheffield Universities.
One amusing moment was when I unfortunately had to cancel a game in London, as we didn’t have enough fit players to field a side. A couple of people were down with flu, we had a couple of injuries, and one man, who had been on Voluntary Service Overseas the previous year, before he came up, and had caught malaria on it, had gone down with a recurrence of that! When I phoned the other team’s secretary to cancel, and got to malaria in the explanation, he just put the phone down – my credibility had clearly just expired!
Only four of our squad in that photo were English. By some strange coincidence, most of the squad were at Fitzwilliam or Churchill. The following season, (1967/8) we carefully seeded the cuppers draw, so that those two colleges would only meet in the final. That happened, and although Churchill definitely had the better side, and would probably have won 19 out of 20 games, on that occasion, all ‘our’ finesses came off, to use the bridge phrase, and we won! (I was captaining Fitzwilliam.)
Two years of most enjoyable basketball!
Dave Evans, University basketball Club Secretary, 1967/8 Season