Oklahoma State Basketball Legend Bob Kurland Passes Away at Age 88

Tyler ConwayFeatured ColumnistSeptember 30, 2013

Photo Credit: Sporting News
Photo Credit: Sporting News

Bob Kurland, the former Oklahoma State standout during the 1940s who is credited as the first player to ever dunk a basketball in a regulation game, died in his South Florida home on Sunday. 

He was 88. 

Oklahoma State's official website notified media of Kurland's passing on Monday with the blessing of his family. He's said to have died in his sleep after a long battle with an unknown illness.

Current Cowboys head coach Travis Ford released a statement on behalf of the university:

We are deeply saddened by the passing of one of the greatest college basketball players to ever play the game. Bob Kurland was instrumental in putting Oklahoma State on the college basketball map, and was someone who greatly affected this University and the Cowboy Basketball program, an impact that is still felt today. Our condolences go out to his family, friends and former teammates.


One of the first 7-footers to ever play the sport at the collegiate level, Kurland is one of the most decorated players in Oklahoma State history.

He was a member of Henry Iba's then-Oklahoma A&M Aggies (the school became Oklahoma State in 1957), becoming a three-time All-American by dominating opponents with his sheer size. He led the Aggies to back-to-back national championships in 1945 and 1946, being named the NCAA Tournament's most outstanding player both times. 

But perhaps his biggest lasting legacy on college basketball was the way he revolutionized the sport. He would routinely leap up and grab his opponents' shots before they hit the rim, which led to Kurland becoming the face of the NCAA's ban on defensive goaltending. 

Kurland is also credited with developing a play that would fundamentally alter the sport—the slam dunk. In what he once described as a "spontaneous play in Philadelphia," Kurland picked up a ball under the basket and slammed the ball through the net.

"The dunking, the goaltending…it was a really big thing stirring up the sports world," Kurland told the Orlando Sentinel's Brian Schmitz last February. "You have to remember, you take an ordinary-sized guy who probably doesn't have the tools to execute the act of dunking the ball."

After graduating from Oklahoma State, Kurland chose to forgo playing professional basketball to take a job with Phillips Petroleum. He would play six years with their AAU team, the Phillips 66 Oilers, leading them to three championships and being named an All-American in each campaign. Kurland was also an integral member to the United States' gold-medal teams in the 1948 and 1952 Summer Olympics. 

He was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1961. He is also a member of the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and Oklahoma State's Hall of Honor.

Kurland is survived by his wife, Barbara, four children and seven grandchildren.


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