Bimbo Coles has accomplished a lot in his life.
The Greenbrier East graduate and 1985 basketball state player of the year went on to play at Virginia Tech before playing in the NBA for 14 years.
Though every four years he gets to relive an experience so few ever do – representing his country in the Olympic Games.
That’s right, in 1988 Coles was a member of the United States men’s Olympic basketball team in an era before professionals were fielded to fill out the roster.
“It was kind of a process,” Coles said. “I got my invite because we beat Georgetown that year and I played extremely well against them. I got my invite shortly after that game and at that time it was made up of amateur athletes. We went to Colorado Springs to try out and we were there for about a week. There were 96 players and from there they cut quite a few there. From there they picked some guys to go to Europe for 30 days and play and be evaluated.
“I was fortunate enough to be one of those players picked to go to Europe. After that they cut the roster down again and we went to Georgetown and practiced for about a month or two then toured the United States and played the NBA players in different cities across the country. It was a process but it was extremely fun for me because I was playing basketball and able to compete every day.”
Coles appeared in all eight games for a team that went 7-1, bringing home the bronze medal. He wasn’t shabby on the court either, averaging seven points per game in 19 minutes of action. For him, just getting to play against high-level competition was enough to sweeten the pot.
“My favorite part was probably just getting out there and competing against these guys,” Coles said. “I was just from West Virginia and Virginia Tech so I wasn’t really known in the United States. I was an under the radar type of player. Just getting to play at that level all summer was different than what I was used to. I was used to going back home and playing basketball at Dorie Miller Park. This was completely different than what I was used to. But right up there with that would probably be the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games. It was just amazing.”
Walking into the Seoul Olympic Stadium in South Korea, where the ’88 Olympics were held, is the memory that sticks with Coles the most. The treatment and support the United States Olympians received was unlike anything he had seen at that point. As were the shear amount of people in the venue.
“What stands out the most is just walking into that coliseum during the opening ceremony,” Coles said. “The United States Olympic teams were like rock stars. Everybody on the world teams kind of looked up and wanted to beat the United States so being with all the athletes around the world, lined up as we go through the tunnel in the coliseum – there were about 106,000 people there and you could feel the energy. When we came through the tunnel the energy just went up 1,000 levels. All of them just stood up, the lights were bright and the camera flashes kept going off. And then they started chanting ‘USA! USA!’ so that was just amazing to be a part of.”
Even in the bright lights Coles wasn’t able to really appreciate what was happening in the moment. Now, 31 years later, its’ different.
“Not in the moment no,” Coles said when asked if he was able to truly appreciate the experience in real time. “I never realized how big it was until later on in life. Even now when you sit in front of the tv and watch it, you think ‘wow, that’s huge,’ because you were out there representing your country. The best athletes in the world are out there displaying their talents in one location. But during the moment I had no idea what I was doing. I was just a country boy from West Virginia out there competing and doing what he loves to do. I didn’t really have a clue about what was going on.”
Contact Tyler Jackson at email@example.com, call him at 304-731-5542 and follow on Twitter @tjack94