Balter was a member of the United States basketball team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the first time it was an official medal sport. The U.S. Olympic trials pitted the top two AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) teams in the country, Globe Oilers (Kansas) and Universal Pictures (Hollywood, California) against each other in a rematch from the AAU Championship. Balter, a member of the Universal Pictures team, made the Olympic squad, but played in only two games during the Games because a rule limited each team to seven players a game. The U.S. coach therefore divided the team into two squads and they alternated playing the games.
During the actual Olympic tournament, the U.S. displayed its superiority in the game, defeating European champion Estonia, 52-28, in their second game (Balter had seven points). The Americans had won their first game by forfeit when Spain's basketball team failed to arrive at the Olympics due to the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War. The U.S. then defeated the Philippines (56-23) and Mexico (25-10 -- in this match-up, Balter led the U.S. with 10 points) to reach the finals. Because of the alternating system of the U.S. team, Balter did not play in the gold medal match as the Americans defeated Canada 19-8.
In 1936, the California Jewish Voice urged Balter to act as 'a spokesman for his brother Jews' by boycotting the Berlin Games. The newspaper, and many others, were angry when he decided to compete. Balter later said that he would not have participated had he known then what he knew later. According to his granddaughter, Balter was only 19 years old and "did not knew what Hitler was doing at the time. It was three years before the war. They knew something but they didn't know the extent. He said that he was a young ambitious boy, but later, knowing what he knew, he would have boycotted."
An All-American basketball player at the University of California-Los Angeles (he was also the captain in 1929), Balter turned to broadcasting after competing in the Olympics. He was the sports director of KLAC radio in Los Angeles in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s, and was a television play-by-play announcer for the Hollywood Stars and Los Angeles Angels of the old Pacific Coast League. From 1945-1952, Sam was UCLA's football and basketball radio voice, and did play-by-play for the Cincinnati Reds in 1942. A charter member of of the Southern California Sports Broadcasters Association, Balter was elected to the SCSBA Hall of Fame, the Basketball Hall of Fame, the Amatuer Athletic Union (AAU) Hall of Fame, and the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.
Birth and Death Dates:
b. Oct. 15, 1909 - d. Aug. 10, 1998
Use links below to navigate through the olympics section of Jews In Sports.
Jewish Sports Legends: The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame, by Joseph Siegman (Washington, D.C.: Brassey's, 2000)
encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)
The Olympic Games: Athens 1896-Sydney 2000, (New York: Dorling Kindersley, 1999)