OVERLAND PARK, Kan. — A Kansas sports promoter is seeking a buyer for the ball used in the first Olympic gold medal basketball game, a 1936 clash in Hitler’s Berlin in which the U.S. team beat Canada 19-8 in a pouring rain.
The undersized, deflated orb has been in Canada ever since the wife of a player slipped it under a blanket after the game and brought home.
It’s now in Overland Park, Kan., where promoter Keith Zimmerman is trying to sell it for Jimmy Stewart Jr., whose father played in the 1936 title game and kept the ball until dying in 1990.
“It’s an incredible piece of sports history,” Zimmerman told The Kansas City Star.
The gold medal game between the U.S. and Canada was played outdoors on courts made of clay and sand. The teams played in a drizzle in the first half and a downpour in the second, with water remaining on the court and players chasing around a waterlogged ball.
After the game, Jimmy Stewart’s wife, Mary, stuck the ball under a blanket she had been using to ward off the chill and brought it on the ship home to Canada. The muddy ball bore the markings of the manufacturer “Berg” on one side and “Basket-Ball” on the other. After the elder Stewart died, his son — who also played basketball for national teams — kept the ball.
Stewart Jr. liked the idea of keeping the ball in Canada, but at age 75, the Windsor, Ontario, resident started trying to find a future home for it.
“I wanted to pass it down in my family but there was no interest in it, so I decided to sell it,” Stewart said.
Stewart spoke to Rich Hughes, whose 2011 book “Netting Out Basketball 1936” details the inaugural Olympic quest. Hughes passed on the name of Zimmerman, who had a friendship with James Naismith’s grandson, Ian Naismith, and was helping him find a buyer for basketball’s original rules.
Zimmerman is hoping the Olympic basketball can bring in six figures, and is encouraged that one of Jesse Owens’ gold medals from the same Olympics sold last year for $1.4 million.
In case it’s not purchased, Stewart has made arrangements with the Windsor Essex County Hall of Fame, where his father was inducted in 1989. All 14 members of Canada’s 1936 Olympic team were from Windsor.