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On this Date…

By Lance Tominaga, ESPN Honolulu Web Editor.

January 4, 1972. Fifty years ago, gasoline was 55 cents per gallon. A postage stamp was eight cents. A new car cost an average of $3,800. The Dallas Cowboys were 12 days away from winning their first Super Bowl (24-3 over the Miami Dolphins). And U.S. President Richard Nixon authorized $5.5 million in funding to develop NASA’s Space Shuttle program.

Sports? Well, a lot happened on that day as well. Let’s take a look:

♦ After the starting the season with nine straight wins, the 1971-72 University of Hawaii men’s basketball team – aka the “Fabulous Five” – opened a five-game road trip with a stunning 88-78 loss to Loyola of Los Angeles (now Loyola Marymount). Steve “The Tree” Smith, a burly 6’8” forward, powered the Lions with 32 points and 22 to lead the upset over the nationally-ranked ’Bows. Center Bob Nash led the Hawaii effort with 24 points and 26 rebounds, with guard Dwight Holiday contributing 14 points. UH would go on to win 15 of their next 16 regular-season games and earn the program’s first-ever NCAA Tournament berth.

♦ Excitement was building for Saturday’s Hula Bowl all-star game at Aloha Stadium. Among the participating players were future NFL stars Cliff Branch, Lydell Mitchell and Reggie McKenzie. Also participant was Heisman Trophy finalist Ed Marinaro, who would later gain fame as a Hollywood actor. (Among his acting credits, Marinaro played Officer Joe Coffey in the hit TV series, “Hill Street Blues.”) 

♦ Led by future Hall of Fame legends Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West and Gail Goodrich, the Los Angeles Lakers were riding high on a 31-game winning streak – an NBA record that still stands. The Lakers would bear Cleveland and Atlanta to extend their streak to 33 games before losing to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks.

♦ Controversy about our national anthem 50 years ago? You bet. Before a Northern Illinois home game against No. 5 Indiana, The Star-Spangled Banner was played for the first time in over a month. Northern Illinois President Richard Nelson had previously banned the anthem after objections were made by African-American students at the school. According to an Associated Press report, when the anthem began playing on Jan. 4, 1972, the Huskers’ five black cheerleaders walked off the court and most of the black students in the gym refused to stand. In the end, the controversy took a backseat to the game itself, as the Huskers upset the Hoosiers, 85-71. The legendary Bob Knight was in his first season as Indiana’s head coach.

♦ Willie Mays, George Blanca and John Brodie were among the luminaries being lined up for the second annual Pro Sports Banquet at the Sheraton Waikiki Hotel, a charity event for the Muscular Dystrophy Association and the Sultan School for Handicapped Children (a forerunner of Easter Seals Hawaii). Other sports stars slated to appear were reigning National League MVP Joe Torre and NFC Player of the Year Alan Page.

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