He beat Michael Jordan 1 on 1; now he leads U.S. Olympic 3×3 hopes

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John Rogers likes to say that beating Michael Jordan one-on-one was not his greatest basketball accomplishment.

“That was an individual effort,” Rogers said. “That was obviously very exciting, very memorable. But I have to say my highlight of my basketball life was making the team at Princeton.”

He played for Pete Carril four decades ago. But in the next year, Rogers could see the fruit borne of three decades of labor. He is the godfather of U.S. three-on-three basketball (or 3×3, as it is labeled internationally).

The half-court discipline debuts at the Olympics next year. The U.S. team that won the world championship earlier this summer traces its roots to Rogers’ Hoop It Up teams from the 1990s.

Rogers is already planning to go to Tokyo.

“That would be way, way up there,” he said. “It would be such a proud, extraordinary moment for all of us affiliated with Princeton basketball. If we could get Coach Carril over there, that would be great.”

Rogers is the “founding father” of Team Princeton 3×3, said Craig Moore, a former Northwestern guard brought into the fold by Rogers several years ago.

“Sponsor, advisor, coach,” said former Purdue honorable mention All-America Robbie Hummel, who joined the program a year ago and earned MVP at worlds (more on Hummel’s story here). “For him to care about 3×3 is a little mind-boggling.”

Rogers, 61, has enough to keep him occupied with his day job. He couldn’t watch his players at the U.S. Championships in Colorado Springs this spring because it conflicted with Warren Buffett‘s Berkshire Hathaway meeting.

“I was monitoring it,” Rogers said of nationals, where two four-man squads made up of Team Princeton players met in the final.

Those two teams were named Ariel NYAC and Ariel Slow & Steady as a tribute to Rogers, who stepped away from playing in 3×3 tournaments as he got into his 40s and 50s.

Rogers is the chairman of Chicago-based Ariel Investments, long billed as the largest minority-owned investment firm. The company’s symbol has been a tortoise for its 36 years.

“It reminds people that … us older, slower guys are beating the faster and younger,” Rogers said.

Which is just what happened in Las Vegas in August 2003 at Michael Jordan’s Senior Flight School. The camp, attended by affluent businessmen in the early 2000s, had a registration fee of $15,000.

The Wall Street Journal posted video in 2008 of a glasses-wearing Rogers driving and scoring on Jordan, winning 3-2 in a game of make-it, take-it after Jordan’s last season with the Washington Wizards. The result caused spectator and actor Damon Wayans to tell Jordan in front of the campers, “How do you feel about getting humiliated?” by a man five years older.

Rogers had previously been profiled as the $8 billion money manager who collected teddy bears and ate one meal a day at McDonald’s. But while rising the business ranks, he also put to use what he learned at Princeton on the blacktops of his native Chicago.

Rogers, who started seven games in three varsity seasons for Carril’s teams from 1977-80, joined fellow former Tigers Craig Robinson and Kit Mueller to form the core of a 3×3 team that won three “Shoot the Bull” tournaments against fields of some 2,000 teams two decades ago.

Robinson, the older brother of Michelle Obama, went on to become a head coach at Brown and Oregon State. Mueller finished his tenure as Princeton’s No. 2 career points scorer behind former U.S. Senator and 2000 presidential candidate Bill Bradley. Arne Duncan, a former Harvard player and later the U.S. Secretary of Education under Barack Obama, was also part of the group when it expanded beyond Princeton. Rogers is known to have been part of Obama’s pickup basketball crew, too.

Rogers said they became one of the best teams in the country playing the Hoop It Up 3×3 tour by using Carril’s motion-predicated Princeton offense. In 3×3, a basket from beyond the arc is worth two points. All others are worth one point. Games end after 10 minutes or once a team scores 21.

“Pete Carril would always say — and he was very ahead of his time — that he wanted you to get layups and three-pointers,” said Moore, who never played for Carril but sat in the front row with him for a Brooklyn Nets game and has had dinner with him 15 or 20 times. “We’re going for the highest value for the highest percentage shot as well. Defensively, we’re trying to do the exact opposite: the most risky shot with the least percentage of going in.”

Carril, who coached Princeton from 1967-96, including a first-round upset of defending champion UCLA in his last NCAA Tournament, turned 89 last month. Rogers and Moore noted that Carril’s emphasis on finding tall players who can dribble, pass and shoot translates to the quick-thinking 3×3 game.

“The way that we are all taught to cut and face the court is perfect,” for 3×3, Rogers said. “Coach Carril is proud of his legacy moving on in a new way.”

There are no on-court coaches allowed in international 3×3 basketball. If Rogers’ players are chosen to make up the U.S. Olympic team next year — and it’s trending that way — he may have to watch games with the crowd at the outdoor venue in Tokyo.

Moore said that as Rogers underwent knee and elbow surgeries, he ceded playing responsibilities to fresher legs like Moore and Hummel. Other players in the current program include Princeton alums and past Ariel interns.

Rogers took on a combination role of coach, general manager and sponsor, helping fund the team to travel internationally and accumulate FIBA rankings points. Moore said Rogers handed him a “carte blanche” role in 2016 to identify and bring in players, such as Hummel last year. But Rogers streams games and offers feedback by phone afterwards.

“I’m sort of a helpful set of eyes and ears,” Rogers said. “I kind of played that role as I got too old to play myself. I’m on the board of directors at Nike now. It’s cool to tell our friends there how good our 3×3 team is going to be next year.”

MORE: How U.S. Olympic 3×3 teams will be chosen

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Iris Cummings, last living 1936 U.S. Olympian, has flown ever since Berlin

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Iris Cummings is one of the last living members of a historically significant, global group: athletes who competed at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. She is the only U.S. Olympian from those Games believed to still be alive.

Cummings, a 99-year-old who still swims regularly, was one of 46 U.S. women (along with 313 U.S. men) who competed at the Berlin Olympics, best known for Jesse Owens triumphing in the face of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Since swimmer Adolph Kiefer‘s death in May 2017, the breaststroker Cummings and canoeist John Lysak were the last living 1936 U.S. Olympians. Olympic historians recently learned that Lysak died in January at 105 years old (which Lysak’s family confirmed this week). Canadian Paul Tchir of the OlyMADMen keeps a list of the oldest living Olympians here.

Lysak, born in New Jersey, turned 4 years old when his mom died in 1918 due to the flu pandemic. He was orphaned by his father, overwhelmed with taking care of a farm and four children.

Lysak got a bike to handle a paper route as a boy. That allowed him to sneak down to the Hudson River and row with homemade boats with his younger brother, Steven, who became a 1948 Olympic gold and silver medalist.

“I couldn’t swim, but I floated with a log,” Lysak told NBC Sports for the 2016 film “More than Gold,” about Owens and the 1936 Olympics. “I grew up paddling.”

He specialized at the Yonkers Canoe Club, made the Olympic team and finished seventh in a 10km doubles event with James O’Rourke in Berlin. Lysak later became a Marine and served during World War II.

Lysak spent his last years in California, where Cummings learned to swim off the Pacific beaches as a girl around the time of the Great Depression.

Cummings credited an ability to become an Olympian and one of the first women to fly U.S. military aircraft to her parents, who met while serving in France during World War I. Her father was a medic and sports doctor. Her mother a member of the American Red Cross canteen service.

She said her father, an all-around athlete, gave up a chance to try out for the first modern Olympics in 1896 to attend Tufts University School of Medicine.

“My mother provided the intellectual and academic inspiration from her rare perspective as a woman college graduate and a high school language teacher when very few women ever went to college,” Cummings told NBC Sports in an interview for “More than Gold.”

In 1928, Cummings’ dad took her to her the National Air Races at what is now Los Angeles International Airport.

“I watched Charles Lindbergh at the peak of his fame fly in the air show,” she said.

In 1932, at age 11, Cummings was introduced to the Olympics in person. Her dad was a track and field official at those Los Angeles Games.

Iris Cummings
Iris Cummings (center) competed in the 200m breaststroke at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. (Courtesy Iris Cummings)

All of Cummings’ swimming up to age 13 came in the ocean due to a lack of pools. But from 1934 to ’36, she developed into an Olympian in the breaststroke. In 1936, a 15-year-old Cummings was offered a paid-for, round-trip, cross-country train ticket to swim at a national championships in Long Island, N.Y.

“My mother had to borrow money to buy her railroad ticket to accompany me,” she said.

In a telegraph after nationals, Cummings was told by a California club coach to stay back East for five weeks before Olympic Trials (also on Long Island) because they had no money to send her back and forth again.

“So my mother figured out how we could stay with my grandmother in Philadelphia with almost no place to swim,” Cummings said. They found a country club pool, where she swam after hours while a janitor cleaned.

Cummings placed third in the 200m breast at trials to make the team as its youngest member in an individual event. (Today, only the top two at trials per individual event make the Olympics.)

“They stated, ‘You have made the team, but we don’t have enough money to send all of you,'” Cummings said. “‘The S.S. Manhattan sails in five days. Get out and raise as much money as you can from your hometown.’ My mother and I telegraphed our local newspaper, and a small amount was sent in from Redondo Beach.”

Olympic team members took a 10-day trip on the ship to Germany. Swimmers had one 20-foot-by-20-foot pool in which to train while at sea.

“They pumped the saltwater into it, and it sloshed around as the ship rolled,” Cummings said in an LA84 Foundation interview.

After arriving in Hamburg, U.S. athletes took a boat train that had swastikas on it out of the port.

“Most of us were quite aware of the evolving difficulties or however you want to classify the rise of Nazism in Germany,” said Cummings, adding that U.S. swim coach Charlotte Epstein previously boycotted attending the Olympics. “We’d heard the same rumors [about a U.S. boycott]. We were all wondering if the Olympic committee was going to take action before the boat sailed. That had come up in most everyone’s minds.”

At the Opening Ceremony, Cummings was bored by speeches and instead said she took pictures of the Hindenburg flying above. She had no fear about being there.

“The concerns were from nations that had proximity to the situation like a Belgium, or Holland or Austria,” she said. “We’ve got this passport, I know Margie [Marjorie Gestring, a gold-medal diver at age 13] and I looked at this and said, we’ve got this special passport. They can’t touch us.”

Most of Owens’ events took place before Cummings was eliminated in the first round of the 200m breast. She nonetheless took advantage of passes for athletes to watch track and field at the Olympic Stadium. She saw all of Owens’ races, sitting in an athlete section about 15 or 20 rows above Hitler’s box.

“Whenever [Hitler] came in, we could see him down there,” she said. “He wasn’t very far away.”

Iris Cummings
(Courtesy Iris Cummings)

Eight decades later, Cummings still remembered the crowd cheering for Owens after his victories.

“The whole stadium was rooting for Jesse,” she said.

Soon after the team returned to the U.S., Cummings began attending the University of Southern California. She enrolled in a pilot training program in 1939, earned her license the next year and worked as a flight instructor during the war. Then she became a pilot for the AAF Ferry Command in the Women’s Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron, later included in the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs).

“None of us thought there were going to be Olympics in ’40,” she predicted, correctly. Not in 1944, either.

She estimated that she’s flown more than 50 types of airplanes.

“There were only 21 of us [women] who ever flew the P-38,” she said, “and there were only four of us who ever flew the P-61 Black Widow.”

After the war, marriage to Howard Critchell and childbirths, Cummings continued to race planes. She developed curricula for the Federal Aviation Administration, founded an aeronautics program at Harvey Mudd College and was inducted into the National Flight Instructors Hall of Fame, among many honors.

“I’ve been flying 76 years, and it’s a privilege to just be around,” she said shortly before she stopped piloting in 2016.

Cummings still flies as a passenger with a former student.

“It’s a treat to be up there with the elements and appreciate it all,” she said. “It’s you and the air movement and the wind and what you can do with your airplane.”

MORE: Wyomia Tyus’ Olympic protest resonates 52 years later

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NBA participation in Tokyo Olympics could be limited, Adam Silver says

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NBA commissioner Adam Silver said the Tokyo Olympics’ effect on the league’s schedule planning for 2021 is unclear, but that it’s possible that Olympic participation may be limited.

“There are a lot of great U.S. players, and we may be up against a scenario where the top 15 NBA players aren’t competing in the Olympics, but other great American players are competing,” Silver told Bob Costas on CNN on Tuesday. “Obviously, there are many NBA players who participate in the Olympics from other countries. That’s something we’re going to have to work through. I just say, lastly, these are highly unique and unusual circumstances. I think, just as it is for the Olympic movement, it is for us as well. We’re just going to have to sort of find a way to meld and mesh those two competing considerations.”

Silver said his best guess is that the next NBA season starts in January with a goal of a standard 82-game schedule and playoffs. A schedule has not been released.

In normal NBA seasons that start in late October, the regular season runs to mid-April and the NBA Finals into mid-June.

The Tokyo Olympic Opening Ceremony is July 23. If an NBA season is pushed back two or three months to a January start, and the schedule is not condensed, the Olympics would start while the NBA playoffs are happening.

The current NBA season is in the conference finals phase in an Orlando-area bubble after a four-month stoppage due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“It is a factor in our planning,” Silver said of the Olympics. “It would be tough for us to make a decision in January based on the Olympics happening on schedule when that’s so unclear.”

The NBA has participated in every Olympics since the 1992 Barcelona Games. Monday was the 29th anniversary of the announcement of the first 10 members of the original Dream Team on an NBC selection show (hosted by Costas).

Before the NBA era, U.S. Olympic men’s basketball teams consisted of college players.

MORE: When Michael Jordan lost in wheelchair basketball to Paralympian

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