HENRY IBA'S legions of admirers have favorite memories that range from his championships, colorful bench demeanor and innovations that changed basketball to his wit, humanity and grace.
Whether it was the clinical precision of his Oklahoma State teams in making history by winning back-to-back national championships, defeating Wilt Chamberlain and Kansas in a storied finish, jerking the warmup jersey off a substitute to replace a player who took a bad shot, or being the catalyst in outlawing goaltending or the countless things he said and did to amuse and help people, Iba left generations with
much to remember.
As Dean Smith noted, every tall man making millions in professional basketball is indebted to Iba for opening the game's doors to big men. He did it through Bob Kurland, the first 7-footer who revolutionized the game.
A passionate advocate of man-to-man defense, Iba used a zone defense and positioned Kurland, in his coming-out party as a sophomore in 1943-44, under the defensive basket where he swatted opposing shots.
That quickly led to the rule against goaltending. Although it handicapped OSU, Iba did not object to the new legislation, because he realized it was good for basketball.
Until his death, however, he contended it was inconsistent to prohibit a big man's advantage on defense but permit it on offense by allowing slam dunks.
Iba's ability to develop and refine the skills of big men was, many coaches thought, his greatest technical talent.
The hours he tirelessly devoted to transforming Kurland from the rawest of prospects to a smooth and agile superstar are part of the legend.
So was Iba's wit. It was G-rated but tended to have bite and be unintentional. He could be hilarious when he was displeased and only wanted to be serious, as was often the case in practice. In the late '50s, Iba became frustrated with an inexperienced center's reluctance to try to score.
The center would catch the ball, look down at the court and, without ever looking at the basket, pass the ball.
Iba's patience began to fade as time after time the center would hold the ball and look down at the court before passing.
Finally, Iba charged onto the court and yelled, "Son, what are you looking for - ants?"
Players and spectators, who would not dare laugh when Iba was upset, put hands over mouths to keep from laughing aloud.
It was a scene familiar to 36 years of OSU players. Iba's ability to be both ferocious and gracious amazed rivals.
Before a showdown game with St. Louis or Kansas or Bradley, he would stand in the northwest corner of Gallagher Hall watching the freshman game and eat peanuts, visit with spectators and appear so relaxed that one might assume he was about to go on a picnic.
Then he would leave the dressing room with his players to start the game looking, as one man said, "mean enough to scare the bugger man."
Former Colorado coach Russell Walseth once described the feeling of seeing this side of Iba as "suddenly knowing you had not prepared enough and that he would beat you with his players or your players."
Long Island's Clair Bee, one of the coaching legends of Iba's generation, said after his team was beaten by 22 points at Stillwater in 1949: "Hank will take you to dinner and be the most gracious host in the world, then come at you during the game like it was war, then feed you doughnuts and coffee and take you to the airport."
Faculty members at OSU, appreciative of Iba's uncompromising standards and refusal to ask for academic favors, called him "Mr. Iba," and were also sometimes amused that this classy man could be such a tiger on the bench.
James Hafner, an OSU psychology professor in the '50s, was so fascinated with Iba that he joined his staff as a volunteer coach to observe him. Hafner's conclusions: "Mr. Iba is the best teacher on this campus, and there are two reasons for his success: He sincerely likes people, all kinds, even those he fights the hardest. This accounts for his ability to handle others. And, he knows how to relax. This enables him to handle himself."
Not everyone treated Iba with such respect. When, as athletic director, he resisted a move by alumni to fire football coach Cliff Speegle in 1961, some - only a few but they were vocal - suggested they would force Iba's removal as athletic director.
That doomed the movement and assured Speegle's survival, because as B.A. Bridgewater, sports editor of The Tulsa World, said, "They jumped on the greatest man that school ever had."
Iba forgave those zealots. A remarkable testimonial to Iba's forgiving nature occurred in 1958 and involved a Cincinnati radio announcer.
After OSU defeated the great Oscar Robertson and Cincinnati at Stillwater, the announcer created a poisonous atmosphere in Cincinnati for the rematch. He encouraged fans to harass Iba and throw coins and cups at him and the Cowboys in pregame introductions. Iba was subjected to disgraceful treatment (before and after the Cowboys lost) and the radio man gloated about his role in the travesty.
One month later, Cincinnati and OSU were in the NCAA Midwest Regional at Lawrence, Kan. The night before the first round, Iba was having dinner with staff and friends when a Cincinnati party, including the radio man, was seated at the next table.
Iba treated his critic with his usual courtesy, never mentioned the incident of the previous month and wished him well when dinner was over and goodbyes were said. The sheepish radio man was flabbergasted and said what could be Iba's epitaph: "What a man."