On a drenched and muddy outdoor court Gordon “Gord” Aitchison was part of Canadian sports history Friday August 14, 1936 when Canada won its first and only Olympic medal in men’s basketball at the 1936 Summer Olympics held in Berlin, Germany.
Born June 14, 1909 North Bay, Ontario, Aitchison was a member of the Windsor Ford V-8s basketball team that represented Canada at these Olympics which were overshadowed in part by socio-political implications caused by Adolf Hitler's Nazi racist claims of Aryan superiority.
The Ford V-8s were made up mostly of players from the Windsor, Ontario area, a hot bed of Canadian basketball during that era.
"What made Windsor such a basketball power was its proximity to Detroit. A lot of the players played in American colleges, and the quality of play is better. That's how Windsor became the best basketball city in Canada," explained Ford V-8 player Norm Dawson to this writer many years ago.
The Windsor Ford V-8s had qualified to represent Canada by defeating the Western Canadian champion Victoria Dominoes three games straight in a best-of-five series.
They had captured the Eastern Canada title by defeating Windsor Assumption College and a team from Ottawa. For the Olympic team, with only one player on the original squad over six-feet tall, they added bothers Art and Chuck Chapman (both 6-foot-4) along with Doug Peden from Victoria.
The open-air clay basketball court for the Olympics was located in the heart of the Olympic Village.
Looking more like a tennis court, the floor was a far cry from the polished hardwood courts that are used today. It was here that the Canadians would practice and compete.
During Olympic competition Canada beat Switzerland 27-9 in eliminations and Uruguay 43-21 in the quarter-finals. Aitchison totaled five and two points respectively in the matchups.
His high game total for the Olympics was 11 against Latvia in a 34-23 victory.
Aitchison, then aged 27, totaled two points in Canada’s 43-21 semi-final victory over Poland.
He was held off the scoreboard in the gold medal match which had the much taller team from the U.S.A., including 6-foot-8 Joe Fortenberry, winning 19-8 on a drenched and muddy outdoor court.
“It was very slippery," recalled Dawson. "We couldn't execute any plays. When the ball hit the water it didn't move, so we simply passed the ball around. Michael Jordan could have slid from foul line to foul line and scored a basket without taking steps. It was drastic.”
Aitchison would state the same in a story with the Windsor Star: “On the opening play, an American player raced down the court, caught a pass as his feet went from under him and completed the last 15 or 20 feet to the basket sliding on the seat of his shorts, water spraying out from both sides.
“The ball, made in sections like a soccer ball, bounced reasonably well on some parts of the court but failed to come up when dribbled through one of the many puddles. A shot was only taken only after careful calculations to correct for the wind and the extra weight of a waterlogged sphere.”
The Windsor Ford V-8s basketball team was inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame in 1981.
Aitchison died at the age of 80 January 6, 1990 in Windsor, Ontario.
Insight and research provided by Curtis J. Phillips