There have been many great performances in NCAA Tournament championship games. UCLA’s Bill Walton with 44 points on 21 of 22 shooting in 1973, Kentucky’s Jack Givens hanging 41 on Duke in 1978, and Kansas’ Danny Manning’s 31 points and 18 rebounds against Oklahoma in 1988 easily come to mind.
One that doesn’t is the only triple double recorded in a title game.
That’s because Kansas’ Bertram “B.H.” Born, who accomplished the feat in 1953, didn’t become a popular professional athlete, and his team didn’t win the game.
Still, a triple-double in a title game? Amazing.
Born, who died Sunday in Peoria, Ill., at 80, finished with 26 points, 15 rebounds and 13 blocked shots in the Jayhawks’ 69-68 loss to Indiana at Kansas City’s Municipal Auditorium. Blocked shots didn’t become an official NCAA statistic until 1985, so Born’s performance is listed with four others as “unofficial” triple doubles in the NCAA record book. He’s in terrific company. Oscar Robertson is credited with three triple doubles, and Magic Johnson one.
Only Born’s came in a title game, and he could have added to the numbers, but he fouled out with 5:36 remaining. Kansas got the ball with 27 seconds left, down one, and held for a final shot. The ball was supposed to wind up in the hands of Al Kelley, but he was tightly guarded. Jerry Alberts wound up taking an off-balanced jumper that caught the front iron as time expired.
Born, who at 6-9 was the only player in the Kansas lineup taller than 6-2, became the first from a losing team to be named the Final Four's most outstanding player. He had scored 25 in the national semifinal victory over Washington. In two games he had scored more points than he did the entire previous season when, as a sophomore, he backed up Clyde Lovellette.
“I played behind Clyde,” Born told me at the 50th reunion of the 1952 championship game in 2002. “We averaged 30 points that year. He averaged 28.5 and I averaged 1.5. But the next year I was MVP of the Final Four. What goes around comes around, I guess.”
Born, from Medicine Lodge, Kan., averaged 18.9 points and 11.2 rebounds during a junior year in which he received All-America consideration.
Like many standouts of his day, especially from this part of the country, Born passed on the fledgling NBA and became a standout with the Peoria Caterpillar-Diesels. He wound up working for the company for 43 years as an executive and said he never regretted not playing in the NBA, especially after he caught a glimpse of the future.
Born had been drafted in the third round by the Fort Wayne Pistons (which later moved to Detroit), and after his senior year, Born went to the Catskills in New York, which was a hotbed for summer basketball.
Red Auerbach had a team there with this tall, skinny high school kid from Philadelphia named Wilt Chamberlain. His team played Born’s and “he chewed up me,” Born said. “Here I was, an All-American at Kansas and he was going into his senior year in high school, and I thought “If the kids in the East are this good, I should get a real job.’”
The whole thing turned out well for Kansas, and Born.