Locals who know Doug Collins or just know of him are looking forward to next weekend when our community celebrates the ISU All-American’s induction into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame.
Stories will be told. Many of them will be true. I have a couple that amiably link me to “Doug The Jet-Ol’ Pick Collins.”
The summer of 1972 found me on vacation in Germany and at the Munich Olympics. I was just over a year into my on-air job at WJBC Radio and eager to share my experience with listeners, many of whom had a special interest in the Summer Olympics because Illinois State’s superstar had a spot on the U.S. basketball team.
I landed in Munich, about when the hostage-taking event that claimed the lives of 11 Israeli athletes was coming to an end with that botched rescue attempt at a nearby military airfield. There was talk the rest of the Olympics would be canceled. Instead, there was a memorial service a day later and resumed competition a day after that.
I watched as Team USA smothered Italy in the basketball semifinals to set up the gold medal game against the Soviet Union. Afterward, I sent word into the U.S. locker room that a Bloomington guy with a tape recorder was hoping to talk to Collins, who had scored eight of the Americans’ 68 points in their 30-point victory. He emerged a minute later, still in uniform.
My agenda contained one main question: “Are you looking forward to returning to ISU and playing out your senior year?”
Collins had been a little coy about that, prompting thoughts that he might instead begin his NBA career early. I don’t recall his specific words, but they were positive. He would definitely be a Redbird in the coming season.
I found a phone booth and made an international call (no small feat back then) to the WJBC studios, where Jim Durham was on the air, to deliver the good news. Durham was the station’s play-by-play guy and later did the same for the Chicago Bulls.
Two nights later, it looked like Collins would be the American hero in the air-tight gold medal contest, stealing a Soviet pass with three seconds to go, being fouled and knocking down a pair of free throws.
You undoubtedly know the rest of the story. The Soviets won, 51-50, in a confused ending so controversial that U.S. players refused to accept their silver medals. As I’ve said before: Good for them. They didn’t deserve it.
Fast forward about six months. Two young men are in Bloomington’s long-gone Mennonite Hospital to have their tonsils removed. Collins is one of them. I’m the other.
I don’t know the exact date, but it was shortly after Collins saw his No. 20 jersey retired following his final home game inside Horton Fieldhouse, and not long before he was chosen by the Philadelphia 76ers as the No. 1 pick in that year’s NBA draft.
I also don’t recall who went first in our back-to-back procedures with the same surgeon. I do remember being flat on my back, struggling to recover. From outside my hospital window came the sound of a basketball being dribbled. There, under a hoop and to the wonder (and some alarm) of the hospital staff, a de-tonsiled Doug Collins was shooting baskets.
Collins’ loyalty to ISU will be on display again next weekend as he adds to memories that include being an NBA All-Star four times, having an NBA coaching career that spanned four decades and a TV career that’s included broadcasting Olympics basketball in Beijing and London.
I wonder if he remembers talking to a Bloomington radio guy in Munich, or shooting baskets outside Mennonite Hospital. It’s all a prized part of my memory bank.