DAYTON, Ohio — Technically, it is a Christmas tree. More precisely, it is a basketball tree, brightened by the red and blue of the University of Dayton sports teams. It was decorated with ball and sneaker ornaments, and topped by a man dunking ferociously. A miniature model of Dayton’s playing court was wedged into its branches.

One of the tree’s ornaments represents a link between the current Flyers men’s basketball team, which was 29-2 and angling for a No. 1 seed before the N.C.A.A. tournament was canceled, and the celebrated Flyers team that reached the 1967 championship game against U.C.L.A.

The ornament contains a photograph of Dan Obrovac, a 6-foot-10 Dayton center, outjumping the 7-foot-2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, then known as Lew Alcindor, on the opening tipoff. And it hints at a brief but poignant relationship that developed when both men learned they had cancer about a decade ago.

Rosie Miller, a former companion of Obrovac, who died in 2010 at age 62, put the tree up in November. And it remained up on Friday, hours after she arrived home from Brooklyn, where the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament was going to be played before college basketball’s postseason was canceled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

“I’m superdepressed,” Miller, 72, a neighborhood preservationist, said Friday morning. “I live for March Madness. It’s like my Christmas.”

She put a message on her Facebook page: “One shining moment for Dan Obrovac. Who knows what shining moment might have been in store for our Flyers this year.”

After the opening tip, which Obrovac won, the 1967 championship game went badly for Dayton. Abdul-Jabbar dominated, and U.C.L.A. won the first of seven consecutive national titles. Obrovac played a modest five minutes. Still, that triumphant tipoff remains the most famous photograph in Dayton basketball history. And for a certain generation of Flyers fans, it persists as the archetypal play of underdog hustle.

For years, a huge photograph of Obrovac outleaping Abdul-Jabbar and tipping it to a teammate occupied a prominent place in the concourse at University of Dayton Arena. The photograph has been reproduced as a stained glass mural that hangs in the university library.

As the men aged, their athletic connection became a more heartfelt association. And two acts of generosity by Abdul-Jabbar endeared him to the Dayton basketball community and challenged the outdated perception of him as a distant athlete, writer and filmmaker.

Shortly after the 1967 title game, he assisted a shaken Dayton cheerleader at the hotel where the Final Four teams and entourages stayed in Louisville, Ky. And in 2009, when both men were in poor health, Abdul-Jabbar sent touching notes to Obrovac, who had cancer of the esophagus, stomach and brain.

“It says he’s got a big heart and empathy; he’s a good man,” Don Donoher, 88, the Hall of Fame coach who led Dayton to the 1967 title game, said of Abdul-Jabbar.

After leaving Kobe Bryant’s memorial in Los Angeles last month, Abdul-Jabbar, who will turn 73 in April, spoke briefly by phone about reaching out to his Dayton counterpart.

“I wanted to show some appreciation for somebody I had a history with,” he said.

In 1967, the national semifinals and final were played on consecutive days. Dayton had little time to prepare for undefeated U.C.L.A. after a semifinal victory over North Carolina. The Flyers used tennis rackets at a short practice to mimic Abdul-Jabbar’s height and reach.

The championship game tipped off at Freedom Hall in Louisville. After Obrovac beat Abdul-Jabbar to the jump ball, the Flyers were quickly grounded. Abdul-Jabbar collected 20 points, 18 rebounds and 3 assists, giving U.C.L.A. a late 26-point lead before heading to the bench in an eventual 79-64 victory.

“It was a proud moment for Dan, the signature play of his career,” said Ned Sharpenter, 72, a reserve Dayton center on the 1967 team. “I wish we had a few other proud moments that day.”

Still, Dayton finished second to one of the greatest teams and players in N.C.A.A. history. Carol Sue Gallagher, 73, then a Dayton cheerleader, remembered returning to the Final Four hotel. A group of U.C.L.A. players spotted her in the lobby and someone called out, “Hey, there’s a Dayton cheerleader.”

Earlier that day, after a photograph with her name in the caption appeared in a Louisville newspaper, Gallagher said, she received an obscene phone call in her room. She remained unsettled, she said, and when she was later spotted in the lobby, she must have wrenched her face in apprehension. That’s when Abdul-Jabbar intervened, saying, “Leave the girl alone.”

He then escorted Gallagher to the elevator and made sure she got to her room safely. “He was such a gentleman,” she said. “I’ve always wished I would be somewhere when he would be signing books and I could thank him.”

Abdul-Jabbar said he did not remember the circumstances, but added, “I’m glad I did it.”

After winning three N.C.A.A. titles at U.C.L.A., he won six N.B.A. titles with the Milwaukee Bucks and the Los Angeles Lakers and remains the league’s career scoring leader with 38,387 points.

Obrovac helped lead Dayton to the 1968 N.I.T. title in an era when that tournament still rivaled the N.C.A.A.’s in importance, then barnstormed on a team in Europe and played in the Philippines before settling into the computer business. Into his late 50s, he continued to play in a Dayton half-court league.

The two centers reconnected in April 2009, this time on more affectionate terms. Tom Archdeacon, a longtime columnist at The Dayton Daily News, wrote about Obrovac’s struggle with cancer. In high school, the former Dayton center had kept a poster of Abdul-Jabbar over his bed. His moment of fame, Obrovac said mischievously, had come in about “one-tenth of one second” on a jump ball, “and I’ve milked it better than anybody over the years.”

Abdul-Jabbar read the article and, a week later, wrote to Obrovac. Months later, Abdul-Jabbar announced he had chronic myelogenous leukemia, a rare but treatable cancer of the bone marrow.

The note, written around a newspaper photo of the jump ball from 1967 and not previously published, said: “Hey Dan, I heard about your recent battle with cancer. I know you’ll find a way to come out on top. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family. All the best! Kareem.”

He sent a second note on personal stationery. Obrovac was both surprised and touched by the correspondence, Miller said. He meant to respond, she said, but grew too sick before dying in 2010. At the funeral, Miller gave out memory cards containing the famous photograph, Obrovac’s hand forever rising above Abdul-Jabbar’s.

“I took a lot of grief from my Catholic friends who said I should have used a holy card,” Miller said. “But that’s how people remembered Dan.”

In 2011, Miller got a chance to thank Abdul-Jabbar when he spoke at Dayton about his documentary on the Harlem Rens, the legendary black basketball team of the 1920s and ’30s.

“It told me what a kind person he is, so soft-spoken, seemingly very shy, to take the time to cut out a photo from an article and write a nice note,” Miller said. “It meant a lot to Dan.”

In five decades of retelling and embellishment, the tipoff was said to be the only one that Abdul-Jabbar lost at U.C.L.A. He seems bemused by the enduring memory in Dayton, noting that the opening jump had no impact on the game except as solace.

“I guess they felt they weren’t supposed to win any aspect of the competition,” he said. “But I’m glad that Dan got something out of the game.”

At their meeting in 2011, Miller asked Abdul-Jabbar about a story that Obrovac sometimes told: The two centers crossed paths at O’Hare International Airport in Chicago a few years after their college careers. Abdul-Jabbar joked that he had been distracted, looking into the crowd during the opening jump.

In a recent interview, Abdul-Jabbar said he remembered losing the tip because the referee tossed the ball more toward Obrovac. But it was better to be gracious than boastful, he added.

“When you snooze you lose,” Abdul-Jabbar remembered saying to Miller. “I snoozed and Dan didn’t.”

He wished the Flyers well in the N.C.A.A. tournament, which will now not be played. Miller had tickets to a regional in Cleveland and had planned to attend the Final Four in Atlanta if Dayton was there. On Friday, she considered going into self-quarantine after her trip to New York, though she said she felt fine. She thought she would keep her tree and jump-ball ornament up for now.

“I may put a sheet up over it to keep from crying every time I walk past,” she said.

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