The Local Olympic Movement: The Golden Glove
Published 10:00 pm Saturday, July 30, 2016
This is the fourth in a seven-part series on Olympic participants from greater Port Arthur. Wednesday: Barbara Jacket
Twelve-year-old Kim Sanford saw the horrifying television news reports one day in September, 44 years ago, at her home in Nederland.
But like many 12-year-olds: “I didn’t really digest the news. I didn’t know what was going on. I wasn’t really paying attention to the news.”
She didn’t understand that 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team were taken hostage and murdered by a terrorist organization that wanted the Palestinian government to release more than 200 prisoners held in Israeli jails.
Jim McKay, the well-known ABC sportscaster, spent 16 hours staying in communication with his colleagues and narrated the unfolding of terrorism in Munich, West Germany.
“They have now said that there were 11 hostages,” he reported some time after 10 p.m. Central on Sept. 4 (5 a.m. Sept. 5 in Munich). “Two were killed in their rooms. … Nine others were killed at the airport tonight. They’re all gone.”
Bubba Busceme, then 20, of Beaumont didn’t know what was going on, either. And he was in Munich to compete in boxing.
It was still almost four decades before smartphones and iPads to keep up with news outside of the U.S. became commonplace.
“I was in my room. It was 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning when everything took place. I was sleeping,” he said.
Then, he awoke to find out the Games, which were in their 10th day, were going to be stopped.
“They stopped the Games for a couple of days,” Busceme said. “They had a memorial service. We got the news because they stopped the Games.”
Busceme still has the color photographs of the Olympic Village in Munich from the day the attacks happened. But he wasn’t haunted by the attacks that happened just buildings away from where he slept.
“It was water off our backs,” he said. “We were at the Olympics. We wanted to fight for the gold medal. They were threatening to stop the Games and just end it and say, ‘OK, the Games are over. Nobody’s going to get to compete for their gold medal.’ That wasn’t a good thing. We didn’t like it.”
It wasn’t what James Anthony Busceme Jr. worked for since childhood, making the OIympics and having his dreams of competing deferred. It had already happened to two Port Arthur boxers in 1940, Morris Carona and Dick Menchaca, because of World War II.
Born on Feb. 14, 1952, he had been boxing since the age of 7. He lost his first four fights, but figured out, as he said, how to play the game.
The game, he added, is to hit and not get hit.
“I learned at a very young age how to set goals,” he said. “When I was boxing in 1959, 1960 or 1961, nobody knew what goals were. Nobody had to set a goal. We were little kids whose parents fought them on the weekends.”
A recent South Park High graduate, Busceme was head-butted during the 1968 National Golden Gloves and was forced out of the U.S. Olympic trials because the cut wouldn’t heal in time. (Headgear was not worn at the time.)
He could only sit at home and watch the action from Mexico City, thinking what could have been.
“At 16, I was convinced I could beat those guys,” he said.
He won an unprecedented four National Golden Gloves (1969-72) in the bantamweight (119 pounds) through lightweight (132) classes and won the AAU championship in 1971. He had to win a final match at the U.S. Olympic trials, which were separate from AAU and Golden Gloves tournaments, to make it to Munich.
All he wanted was a chance at a gold medal.
“We had talked among ourselves, me and the divers,” said Busceme, who befriended the aerial natatorium artists the previous year. “They wanted to continue on their diving. I wanted to continue on my boxing. I didn’t want the Olympics to stop because of the Palestinians and Israelis killing each other for 5,000 years or longer. It didn’t really affect us at all.”
Busceme met future Texas Hall of Fame diver Christine Loock during the 1971 Pan-American Games in Colombia and had befriended many of her teammates, including Cynthia Potter of Houston. Busceme had snuck out of his Olympic dormitory past curfew to watch the event at the behest of his newfound friends on Aug. 28, 1972.
That day, Micki King won the 3-meter springboard gold and did not have her warmup suit to wear on the podium.
“I am the only one at poolside with a USA warmup on,” Busceme said. “Micki’s going, ‘Bubba!’ The reporters are taking her this way, and she’s going like ‘I need your jacket! I need your jacket!’ I take my jacket off and throw it to her, and she goes and gets her gold medal.”
Busceme believes that moment was highlighted on the opening montage for the McKay-hosted “Wide World of Sports” in the following years.
That might have been the highlight of Busceme’s time in Munich.
Four days after the Olympic Village attack, the U.S. men’s basketball team lost an Olympic game for the first time in its 64-game history. In controversy, no less.
The Soviet Union, down 50-49 after two Doug Collins free throws with 3 seconds left in the gold medal game, was granted a timeout the officials originally did not acknowledge and, despite the time being played out at first, were awarded the time back twice more. Alexander Belov took a full-court pass and made the winning layup on the final attempt.
“I was just [ticked] off at what happened at the Olympics, how the Russians stole so many medals that year,” Busceme said. The Soviet Union won 99 medals (50 gold) to the U.S.’ 94 (33 gold).
He thinks the Cold War played out in the boxing venue as well.
Awarded a first-round bye in the Olympic tournament, Busceme defeated Praianan Vichit of Thailand 5-0, earning a meeting with Jan Szczepanski in the round before the quarterfinals. Szczepanski beat Busceme by decision and went on to win the gold.
“I beat him. I — I beat him,” Busceme said. “A boxer knows when he’s won the fight. The three communist judges gave it to him. Two free-world judges gave it to me. He wins it, 3-2, by one point.”
The Olympic record has Szczepanski winning 5-0.
Busceme turned professional in 1974 and won his first 11 matches, nine of them by knockout and another by technical knockout.
He met Sanford in September 1979 while making a celebrity appearance with Lamar basketball coach Billy Tubbs at a men’s clothing store in Nederland. Sanford, then 19, and Busceme ran across each other again at the university and married the following December. Today, they share a happy home in Nederland.
The boxer won two Texas state lightweight titles as a professional and earned a shot at the World Boxing Congress world lightweight championship on Feb. 13, 1982. CBS cameras came to the Beaumont Civic Center to air the fight between the hometown favorite and Alexis Arguello. The Nicaraguan successfully defended his belt for the fourth time since June 1981, stopping the 134½-pound Busceme with just 25 seconds left in the sixth of a scheduled 15 rounds.
Busceme finished his pro career following a March 1983 loss to Mike Anderson with a 30-6 record. No world championship, no gold medal.
The thought ate away at him until one day in 1987, as he recalled.
“I realized one day, Bubba, your goal never was to win the Olympic gold,” Busceme said. “Your goal was to go to the Olympics. You went. Forget about it.
“It was a major stone lifted off my shoulders.”
He went into the T-shirt business in 1986 and contracted with schools and businesses to help them increase fundraising sales for the next 20 years.
Busceme even spent the 2005-06 school year teaching physical education and music appreciation at a school in Belize, where he and Kim had vacationed before. He faced one more fight of his life in the Central American country after tripping and falling 10 feet into a pile of limestone boulder from a seawall.
“That was the end of Bubba’s athletic adventure,” he said.
He was sent back to Beaumont, where he underwent surgery and therapy. A nurse who finished high school there asked him if he needed a walker one day.
“I answered not ‘no’ but ‘hell, no,’” Busceme said.
Again, the fighter, now happily retired, won. Even if it took him two years to put one foot in front of the other again.
Sources: New York Times; BoxRec; Wikipedia.
I.C. Murrell: 721-2435. Twitter: @ICMurrellPANews