Seventy years ago, 17 men from a land-grant college in Oklahoma presented themselves to the basketball world as national champions.
Among the men who walked off the famed court of New York City’s Madison Square Garden was Richard Caldwell, a lanky three-year player from a small mining town in southeastern Oklahoma.
He would only play one year for coach Henry Iba, but he was given a pendant-sized golden basketball with his name engraved alongside his college's that would stay with him forever.
Richard left basketball to start a career as a pipe setter to support his family. The gold basketball was placed in a jewelry box.
He died in 1987, but his son, Rick, inherited the treasured ball.
But years of playing minor league baseball for the Kansas City Royals took its toll on Rick's body. With seven elbow surgeries last year and a neck surgery to be scheduled, the sport has taken a monetary toll, too.
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Rick, 60, is being forced to sell the cherished relic to pay for medical bills.
"It's sad to be losing it," Rick said.
Rick grew up hearing stories from his dad about the 1945 season and on rare occasions, Richard would go upstairs and bring down a small black velvet box.
“I saw the basketball maybe six times in my life,” Rick said. “It was always upstairs in the house. He never put it in a safety deposit box or anything. He hardly showed it, but when he did, he used gloves to show it.”
Rick can't help but to reminisce about his dad when he's talking about the basketball. He wants people to not only be able to hold a piece of OSU history, but to also know who his dad was to him.
About 92 miles east of Ada, nestled just south of Robbers Cave State Park was where Richard set school records for Wilburton High School. Clyde Wooldridge, spokesman for the WHS Athletic association, said Richard’s play as something special.
“He set the all-time school record for most points in a game with 49 points in January 1941,” Wooldridge said. “And 49 points in 1941 would be like 99 points today.”
After he graduated, Richard stayed home and played at Eastern Oklahoma State College before Iba came knocking. The future hall of fame coach tried to recruit the lanky forward for quite some time before Richard finally accepted.
At 22, married to his high school sweetheart, Mary, with a baby on the way, he left his hometown for good.
“He took it on a whim because he wanted to play for Hank Iba because Iba was one of the best coaches ever,” Rick said.
A family man, Richard left basketball after the 1945 season to start his career and in 1948, he and his family moved to Oak Lawn, Illinois. Over the years in Oak Lawn, Richard never forgot the game he loved and was always ready for a pick-up game in the neighborhood.
“My dad back in the day used to take seniors from my high school team and he would play basketball with them at the house.” Rick said. “He had a fall away hook shot that there were guys that were 6-foot-5 that couldn’t block it. Eight times out of 10 that basketball was going in the hoop, and this was when he was 50 years old.”
On a whim last summer, Rick took the ball with him to the nationally syndicated show “A Piece of the Game” in Chicago to see how much it was worth. To his surprise, Don Dupree, the show's appraiser, evaluated the basketball to be worth about $8,000. Afterward, Rick decided he would put it up for sale in Stillwater.
"I just think it’s cool," Rick said. "It’s like a before and after with the college name. Also, it’s from the first year where they won two (NCAA championships) in a row.”
In 1945, Oklahoma State, then known as the Oklahoma A&M Aggies, set records in almost every category. They beat opponents by an average of 20 ½ points behind the strength of star Bob Kurland. Finishing the year 27-4, the Aggies won their first title against hometown favorite New York University 49-45.
Gold items like the ball usually are appraised for much lower, but because of the historical significance of the ball, the price skyrockets.
Amy Pitchford, who helped start Stillwater Antique and Collector’s Mall, said when a piece such as the ball comes up for sale, there’s a niche market for it.
“We have a few local collectors who will pay the big bucks for rare pieces like that,” Pitchford said.
When Richard died at 64, he and his son were immensely close. And although Richard is gone, Rick tends to think that his father won’t be forgotten as long as the small golden basketball with the words “Richard Caldwell,” “Oklahoma A&M” and “1945 Champions” etched in the metal has a place in the world.
“He was my best friend in the whole world,” Rick said. “He was a hell of a guy, really someone to look up to.”
To inquire about the 1945 gold basketball contact Rick Caldwell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was written by Jordan Bishop, Staff Reporter and @ocolly from Oklahoma State University / Daily O'Collegian and was legally licensed through the NewsCred publisher network.