Originally posted on www.washingtonpost.com by Blair Kerkhoff
Bob Kurland, a basketball player who was credited with being the first to dunk in a game, died Sept. 27 at his home on Sanibel Island, Fla. He was 88.
His family announced his death, but no details were provided.
In the 1940s, dunks were not a big part of basketball, but Mr. Kurland was the first player who regularly used the high-percentage shot that is now a universal and attention-getting part of the sport.
He perfected the shot while leading Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) to two national championships in the 1940s.
The Aggies were built around Mr. Kurland, one of basketball’s first stars. At 7 feet tall, he towered over most opponents, leading coach Henry Iba’s teams to NCAA titles in 1945 and 1946. Mr. Kurland, a three-time All-American, was chosen the NCAA Tournament’s most outstanding player in both years.
The dunk happened by accident, Mr. Kurland recalled in a 2012 Orlando Sentinel article. The team was playing a game at Temple University in 1944, and the ball bounced away under the Aggies’ basket.
“The ball happened to be under the basket,” Mr. Kurland said. “I got it up and stuffed it in. That started it, I guess. . . . It was an unintentional accident. It wasn’t planned.”
Mr. Kurland also influenced the rule book. Because he and DePaul “big man” George Mikan often leaped to swat away or simply snag opponents’ shots above the rim, basketball instituted defensive goaltending in 1945.
The game’s premier big men played in one of college basketball’s first major showdowns, after the 1945 season when Oklahoma A&M met DePaul University, the NIT champion. Mikan fouled out in the first half with nine points, and Mr. Kurland scored 14 in the Aggles’ lackluster victory. Mr. Kurland scored 58 points in one game in 1946 and, that year, led the NCAA in scoring with 643 total points, an average of 19.5 a game.
Robert Albert Kurland, who was born in St. Louis, considered attending the University of Missouri. But Iba invited him to dinner and offered a scholarship. Missouri could only offer him a job.
Mr. Kurland played on two Olympic gold-medal teams, in London in 1948 and Helsinki in 1952. He was drafted by the St. Louis Bombers in 1947 but never played pro basketball.
Like many other Midwestern players of his era, he played in the Amateur Athletic Union ranks. While working for Phillips Petroleum, he led the Phillips 66ers, based in Bartlesville, Okla., to three AAU championships.
Mr. Kurland entered the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1961.
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