Joe Cephis Fortenberry (April 1, 1911 – June 3, 1993) was an American basketball player who competed in the 1936 Summer Olympics. He was a captain of the American basketball team, which won the gold medal[1] in the first Olympics to include basketball.

Joe Fortenberry
Joe Fortenberry.jpg
Fortenberry with the Phillips 66ers.
Personal information
Born(1911-04-01)April 1, 1911
Leo, Texas
DiedJune 3, 1993(1993-06-03) (aged 82)
Amarillo, Texas
Listed height6 ft 7 in (2.01 m)
Listed weight200 lb (91 kg)
Career information
High schoolHappy (Happy, Texas)
CollegeWest Texas A&M (1929–1932)
Career highlights and awards

After college, Fortenberry played for the Ogden Boosters in Utah, then with the McPherson Oilers in McPherson, Kansas. This was the team that won the AAU National Championship in 1936, prior to the Olympics.

He played two games at the Olympics, including the final. He was the high scorer in the gold medal game, scoring 8 points in a 19-8 victory, and averaged a tournament-leading 14.5 points per game.[2] The game was held in appalling conditions, outdoors on a muddy clay court, which made dribbling almost impossible, in steady rain and with winds that "blew the ball around wildly".[2]

After he played in the Olympics, Fortenberry played five seasons with the Phillips 66ers, the perennial power in the AAU basketball league, the premier basketball league in the United States before the NBA. He played from the 1936-1937 season through the 1940-1941 season, winning an AAU national championship in 1940.

He is credited with being one of the first, if not the first, to slam dunk the basketball; this appeared in a New York Times article by Pulitzer Prize winning sports reporter, Arthur Daley, in 1936. He could still dunk when he was 55 years old, according to his son.[3] He is also credited as the cause of the goaltending rule, because he could so easily slap the ball away, and ending the jump ball after every successful basket, because he usually got the tip.

His Olympic gold medal was appraised on Antiques Roadshow on PBS. The estimated value of the medal was $100,000 to $175,000.


  1. ^ "Joe Fortenberry, Olympic Captain, 82". The New York Times. June 5, 1993.
  2. ^ a b Daly, Brian I. (September 9, 2013). Canada's Other Game: Basketball from Naismith to Nash. Dundurn. pp. 94–95. ISBN 9781459706347.
  3. ^ Interview with his son, PBS, Antiques Roadshow #2103, Fort Worth, Hour Tree, first airdate January 16, 2017.

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