NEW YORK — Darrall Imhoff, an all-American center who led the University of California to the 1959 NCAA tournament basketball championship and to the runner-up spot the next season and played on a gold-medal-winning US Olympic team before having a long career in the NBA, died Friday in Bend, Ore. He was 78.
The Portland Trail Blazers, the last of the six NBA teams for which he played, said the cause was a heart attack.
Mr. Imhoff, 6 feet 10 inches tall and about 220 pounds, scored 22 points and had 16 rebounds in the semifinals of the 1959 NCAA tournament against a University of Cincinnati team featuring All-American Oscar Robertson. He scored the decisive basket in the waning seconds of the final against West Virginia and its All-American guard Jerry West, leading the Golden Bears to a 71-70 victory.
Mr. Imhoff’s Cal team made it to the NCAA tournament final in 1960 but lost to Ohio State and Jerry Lucas.
Mr. Imhoff played on the US team that won gold at the Rome Olympics that year with a lineup led by West, Robertson, and Lucas and coached by Pete Newell, the California head coach.
The New York Knicks, seeking a center to help them compete against Bill Russell of the Boston Celtics and Wilt Chamberlain of the Philadelphia Warriors, selected Mr. Imhoff as the third overall pick in the 1960 NBA draft, after the Cincinnati Royals chose Robertson and the Minneapolis Lakers selected West.
But Mr. Imhoff was a disappointment as a Knick. He was remembered mostly as the starting center who faced Chamberlain when he scored 100 points against the Knicks in a March 1962 game.
Chamberlain was in the midst of season he would finish with an average of 50.4 points a game, so Mr. Imhoff’s reaction when he protested a first-quarter call against him was understandable.
“Imhoff whined to the referee with unwitting foresight, ‘Why don’t you just give the guy his hundred now,’” Gary M. Pomerantz wrote in “Wilt, 1962” (2005).
After two seasons with the Knicks, he was traded to the Detroit Pistons for Gene Shue, one of the NBA’s leading guards and a former Knick. Mr. Imhoff later played for the Los Angeles Lakers, the Philadelphia 76ers, the Cincinnati Royals and, finally, the Trail Blazers.
He was an All-Star in the 1966-67 season, when he averaged 10.7 points and 13.3 rebounds for the Lakers. He was among three players traded to Philadelphia in 1968 for Chamberlain, who had reached a contract impasse with Philadelphia.