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Bob Kurland, 88; big man revolutionized basketball

NEW YORK — Bob Kurland, a forerunner of basketball’s dominant big man, who led Oklahoma A&M to two consecutive NCAA championships in the mid-1940s, then starred for two gold medal-winning US Olympic teams, died last Sunday at his home on Sanibel Island, Fla. He was 88.

When Mr. Kurland, a lanky redhead, arrived on the college basketball scene in 1942, players taller than 6 foot 5 inches were viewed as oddities who could do little but tower over their opponents. Labeled the first 7-footer (though he said he was actually 6 foot 10½), Mr. Kurland gained renown for his athleticism in blocking shots, rebounding and scoring, a rejoinder to the Kansas coach Phog Allen, who had ridiculed him as a “glandular goon.”

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Playing for the Hall of Fame coach Hank Iba, Mr. Kurland took Oklahoma A&M (now Oklahoma State) to NCAA Tournament championships in 1945 and 1946. He was voted the tournament’s most valuable player each time. A three-time All-American, he was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., in 1961.

In his heyday, Mr. Kurland vied for supremacy with George Mikan, DePaul’s 6-10 center, who outweighed him by 20 pounds. These celebrated giants of their era faced each other in 1945 at the old Madison Square Garden for what was seen as a symbolic national collegiate championship; Oklahoma A&M had just beaten New York University in the NCAA finals, and DePaul had won the National Invitation Tournament.

Mikan fouled out late in the first half with only 9 points. Mr. Kurland, scoring 14 points, led Oklahoma A&M to a 52-44 victory in a wartime contest benefiting the Red Cross.

Mr. Kurland was credited with giving national exposure to the slam dunk, often called the duffer when he was stuffing the ball. But he was known chiefly for his defense. The goaltending rule, adopted by college basketball in 1944 and still in effect, was designed primarily to keep Mr. Kurland — and Mikan — from swatting away shots as the ball headed downward to the basket.

Viewing the business world as promising a secure future, Mr. Kurland shunned the pros and joined the Phillips Petroleum Co. as an executive. But he kept playing, leading the US Olympic basketball team to gold medals in 1948 and 1952.

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