Jim Loscutoff: an Oregon Star and NBA Enforcer

Jim Maloney History

Few Oregon fans have heard of Jim Loscutoff and even fewer know much about him, yet in his first season at Oregon he averaged 10.3 points per game and 12.8 rebounds per game. That rebound average is still 4th on the all-time list for the Ducks, holding strong since the 1950-1951 season.  Of course, this was before many of the greybeards on this site were born, and Loscutoff’s remarkable story remains an important but relatively unknown entry in the annals of Oregon basketball.

Loscutoff was born in San Francisco in 1930 and played basketball for Palo Alto High School. After graduating, Loscutoff played for Grant Technical College for two seasons and then transferred to Oregon before the 1950-51 season. In Loscutoff’s era, players would often play several sports—his teammates that first year at Oregon included two baseball players, Mel Krause and Curt Barclay. Barclay would go on to pitch for the New York and San Francisco Giants while Krause would later become Oregon’s head baseball coach.

When Loscutoff enrolled at Oregon the Korean War was raging, and, like many athletes of that era, he was called to military service. Loscutoff avoided going to Korea when the Army assigned him to Fort Ord, where he was able to continue playing basketball. After missing three college seasons for military service, Loscutoff returned to Oregon in 1954 for his final season of eligibility. During the 1954-1955 season, Loscutoff averaged 19.4 points per game, leading the Pacific Coast Conference Northern Division in scoring.

Oregon Library Special Collections

1954-1955 Oregon Basketball team with Jim Loscutoff.

Despite his scoring prowess, it was Loscutoff’s rebounding that gained him greater notice. Loscutoff led the Ducks that season with an average of 17.2 rebounds per game, good for 2nd on the all-time Oregon list. His 32 rebounds against BYU remains the all-time Oregon record for a single game! His career rebounding average of 14.8 remains the fifth-best average for any Duck. Loscutoff’s rebounding numbers are especially impressive considering teams in that era generally shot fewer shots per game than they do now, limiting opportunities to snag rebounds.

Following the 1954-55 season, legendary coach Red Auerbach and the Boston Celtics drafted Loscutoff as the third overall pick in the NBA draft in the hopes he could strengthen the team’s admittedly weak defense. Loscutoff would end up playing nine seasons for the Celtics, primarily as a designated hatchet man or enforcer. One of his main duties was to protect the Celts’ star guard Bob Cousy. As Loscutoff recalled in a 1985 interview, he was brought in to instill fear in opposing players. He is reported to have said that “if somebody stood in my way, I’d knock them down.” Loscutoff further observed that, while he had not played the tough guy at Oregon, once deployed by the Celtics in that role he “quickly got the reputation as a guy not to mess with.”

In his rookie season, Jungle Jim (one of his nicknames) set a Celtic team record for rebounds in a game with 27. During his second season, the Celtics made their first of what would become many trips to the NBA finals. With the championship series against the St. Louis (Atlanta) Hawks knotted at 3-3, Loscutoff sank two free throws at the end of a double-overtime, 125-123 thriller of a Game 7 and sealed the historic win.

YouTube Video

Red Auerbach and Jim Loscutoff celebrate a title in Boston.

All told, Loscutoff would wind up winning seven championships in his nine years with the Celtics, helping establish them as an NBA dynasty. While Loscutoff was never a big scorer or rebounder in the NBA (6.2 PPG/ 5.6 RPG), the Celtics thought so highly of his defensive contributions that they later wanted to retire his number. Jim declined the honor, wanting his number “18” available for future players. Undeterred by his humility, the Celtics honored him with a unique banner in The Garden’s rafters that reads “Loscy,” another of his nicknames.

Following his playing career, Jim became head basketball coach at what was then known as Boston State College (now University of Massachusetts Boston), where he was regarded as a players’ coach, making sure his charges attended class and stayed out of trouble. In 1964, Loscutoff and his wife Lynn founded Camp Evergreen, a day camp for children, and his son “Little” Jim Loscutoff and wife Debby still operate the camp today.

Loscy passed away in 2015, but his fans in Oregon and Boston will remember and miss him and his considerable impact as one of the first “role” players in the NBA.

Jim Maloney
Ellensburg, Washington
Top Photo from YouTube Video

Brad Nye, the FishDuck.com volunteer editor for this article, conserves land for Deschutes Land Trust in Central Oregon.

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