Globe Refiners Made Olympic History and Basketball a McPherson Legacy

By Jolyn Johnston-Myers
August 18, 2016
Anne Kirchner, McPherson CVB

It’s no accident that McPherson is a basketball town. This year marks the 80th anniversary of the very first Olympic gold medal ever won by a basketball team. But what few people know is that the basketball team that won the gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics was called the Globe Refiners – and they came from right here in McPherson, Kansas.

“Eighty years ago they won the first gold medal ever given in basketball at the Olympics in Berlin. Most people remember those Olympics for Hitler and Jesse Owens, but it also was the first year for basketball, and we won the gold medal.”

McPherson’s Mayor Tom Brown addressed city commissioners and the public audience during this week’s regular city meeting with some remarks he gave last Saturday at the McPherson Museum’s celebration of the 80th Anniversary of the Globe Refiner’s Olympic Gold Medal.

“There were three gold medals there, and the family members of the players were there, and we had just a really good gathering to commemorate the 80th anniversary.

Mayor Brown reminded his audience that the McPherson Globe Refiners was at that time the tallest basketball team in the world. While that might have been back in the 1930s, he thinks their height would still be impressive today.

“You know, that was the tallest team in the world. They had the center, (Joe) Fortenberry, that was 6’9” and then they had a 6’8” and a 6’7” and a 6’6” and a lonely guard – the 6’6” guy played guard and the other guard was only 6’1”…

“But that would have been a tall enough team to compete today I think.”

The McPherson Globe Refiners was also the first team west of the Mississippi to play basketball in Madison Square Garden. As Mayor Brown explained, that’s where a New York City reporter originally coined the term “dunking” to describe how he saw them play.

“A sportswriter was the one when he saw them dunk that said, ‘It’s just like putting your donut in your coffee.’ And he’s the one that labeled that shot as the dunk.”

The Globe Refiners were the first basketball team to use not only the “dunk,” but also a zone press and a fast break.

“They played what they called fire department basketball back then,” Mayor Brown explained. “Because [Globe Refiners] were on a fast break, and a lot of people complained that you weren’t allowed to do that because prior to that time everybody walked the ball up the court, and they ran it up.”

It may seem unusual that a town as small as McPherson played such an important role in the history of the worldwide Olympics. However, Mayor Tom Brown thinks the Globe Refiners is just an early example of the innovation that the McPherson community continues to demonstrate today.

“A lot out of that era, there are a lot of characteristics of what happened then that have been true of our city up to this time,” Mayor Brown said. “They were an unlikely team to represent the United States; McPherson is an unlikely location to be a manufacturing hub…

“You can make things happen if you have a dream, and you really want it to take place.”

All proceeds from Saturday’s Anniversary celebration are going toward completing the Globe Refiners exhibit, which is on permanent display at the McPherson Museum, located at 1111 East Kansas Avenue in McPherson. Their hours are 8 to 5 Tuesday through Friday and 1 to 5 Saturday and Sunday.

They are closed Mondays and major holidays.

Tickets are $5 for adults and $3 for students and seniors. Children four and under are free.