Photo of the Day: Bill vs. Swede in the 1955 NCAA Tournament

It’s common now, but in 1955, when you had a 7’3” player and a 6’10” player in the same regional tournament game, you had to have a publicity photo.

Wade Halbrook-Bill Russell 1955 NCAA Western RegionalOur Vintage Photo of the Day is from March of 1955, when Bill Russell of the University of San Francisco, met Wade “Swede” Halbrook of Oregon State prior to the NCAA Western Regional Tournament. Halbrook was the tallest player ever to play college basketball.

The game was tight, with USF advancing to the Final Four after a last-second shot by Oregon State rolled off, preserving a 57-56 win.

The lives of the two men would take remarkably different paths.  Russell was at this moment, on the cusp of national stardom.  Somewhat of a late bloomer in high school, he would lead USF to NCAA championships in 1955 and ’56, then go on to a Hall of Fame career with the Boston Celtics, where he won 11 NBA championships.

1955 NCAA tournament photo captionHalbrook had instantly transformed Oregon State into a national title contender, becoming an All-American that season.  However his height and other issues reportedly made him feel like a circus attraction on campus and he often appeared serious and withdrawn.  Sparring with coach Slats Gill, he struggled with responsibility, often disappearing from campus for days at a time.

Halbrook left school after two years and joined an AAU team but eventually landed with the Syracuse Nationals in 1960, playing in 143 games over two seasons as a backup center.  His career didn’t last, though, and Halbrook moved back to Oregon, working a series of jobs for the next two decades.  He died of a heart attack on a Portland city bus in 1988 at age 55.

The back of the 4 3/4″ x 9 1/2″ photo is stamped March 11, 1955, the day the Dons and Beavers met.  It’s among hundreds of vintage sports, historic and entertainment photos up for bid at RMY Auctions right now.