Kirby Minter has had some big moments in sports. He’s won titles in track, championships in basketball and recently met the NBA’s Rookie of the Year, the New Orleans/Oklahoma City Hornets’ Chris Paul.

Minter won a world championship as part of the 1954 Team USA in Rio de Janeiro. Minter was the leading scorer and rebounder on the team, and helped the USA to the gold with a 9-0 record.

Minter scored 11.1 points a game for the team that consisted of the Peoria Caterpillars.

“I always took more pride in rebounding than I did scoring,” Minter said. “I had enough speed that I could play the guard position, yet I could go in on the boards. I could take me a 6-6 or 6-7 guy in the boards, because I had enough speed.”

The team beat the host Brazilians in the first game 62-41, and weren’t fan favorites to begin with.

“I was the old man,” Minter said. “It was very exciting. It was tough. We were not welcome. We just weren’t a welcome country in Brazil. I thought nothing of leading the team in scoring and rebounding. That’s just what I thought I should do.”

Although Minter had the opportunity to play professional basketball, he turned it down.

“The salaries weren’t any good in the pros then.” he said. “ I had several offers, but I didn’t exercise none of them. We could make more money playing amateur ball than we could pro. We all had a job at Caterpillar, and we had all the time off for our basketball, and they continued to pay us. They paid for insurance and everything else. In the pros, you either played or you didn’t get paid.”

Minter couldn’t say enough good things about meeting Paul.

“My son, Jim, called and made arrangements for me to watch them to play,” Minter said. “That is when I met him (Chris Paul). I was real enthused from the standpoint that that I had heard so much about him. He was not as large as I thought when I met him. He’s just 6-1, but he has tremendous speed, good eye-hand coordination — everything you would want in a ball player. He is a complete ball player, I’ll put it that way.”

You can count Minter among the group that wasn’t surprised when Paul was selected as the NBA’s top rookie.

“I’ve watched a lot of the pro games on TV, and I knew when I met him he was going to be Rookie of the Year,” Minter said. “He was just that good. I’d put him in a class with Miami’s Dwyane (Wade). He’s that good.”

Minter believes that the old adage about nice guys finishing last won’t be true in Paul’s case.

“He was very cordial, very enthusiastic in what he was doing,” he said, “I was very, very happy to have met him.”

Paul was just one of the many outstanding basketball players that Minter has met over the years.

“We played exhibitions back in 1952, that was when they selected our team to be the team in the Olympics. That was my Olympic ground, I made the Olympic tryout team, but they only selected five players,” Minter said. “I got to meet people like (Wilt) Chamberlain, (Bill) Russell, just a lot of those back then.”

In 1954, Team USA’s final game was what Minter will remember.

“We started at 2 o’clock in the morning,” Minter said. “We played in a monstrous arena. It was surrounded by an electric mote so the fans couldn’t get to us. It started raining, and the extreme top had a tarp over it, so, we played the finals in rain.

“We played Brazil in the finals, and they had really good ball players, they just hadn’t played together. That was our big advantage. We had played together for a year.”

Minter said that he believes that Paul is the kind of player that Team USA needs.

“We select the team, and they are all individuals, they aren’t team players,” Minter said. “To me, selecting somebody like Chris Paul would be a great asset to the world team or the Olympic team. He has youth on his side, and he is a good ball player.”

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