The college kids from the States saw their gold medals snatched from them, when three seconds were unjustifiably put back on the clock so the Soviets could beat them on a Hail Mary pass for a layup at the horn.
Forty years later, we just missed a rematch of sorts. More than anyone, Doug Collins wished the Russians could have gotten past Spain in the semifinals before the United States smoked Argentina in the late game.
“Would I have liked to have seen a rematch 40 years later? Yes, absolutely,” said Collins, the NBC commentator and 76ers coach, who played on that ’72 U.S. team. “To call that game . . . that would have been special.”
Instead of cueing up the Rocky IV soundtrack — “Two Worlds Collide, Rival Nations . . .” — and dragging out every Cold War cliche imaginable, we get USA-Spain II, for all the gold medal marbles again, just like Beijing. No animosity. No bad blood percolating over time. The most accomplished players on each team — Kobe Bryant and Pao Gasol — are NBA teammates.
It was different in ’72. That was some seriously politically and socially charged hoops.
Collins hit two of the most pressurized free throws in the history of international basketball to complete a scintillating comeback and give the United States a 50-49 lead.
One second remained. Even after a Soviet timeout, the game appeared to be over. But William Jones, the British secretary of FIBA, ordered the clock to be reset to 0:03. The Americans even withstood that larceny and celebrated after an errant shot by the Soviets. Then, inexplicably, as the clock was in the process of being reset when play resumed, the floor had to be cleared again, and the three seconds were reinstated.
Ivan Edeshko threw the ball the length of the floor to Alexander Belov, who outmuscled Jim Forbes and Kevin Joyce and hit a layup to send the Soviets into a state of bedlam. The U.S. protest was rejected, and the result was upheld. The U.S. players never made it to the podium in Munich. To this day, they refuse to claim their silver medals, which sit somewhere in the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland.
“We didn’t win that,” Collins said, when asked why he can’t let it go after 40 years. “I don’t want something I didn’t earn. All 12 guys would have to agree to it. Kenny Davis has it in his will even if he dies, his kids could never accept it.”
A Chicago lawyer has recently released a book detailing the fiasco in ’72 called “Stolen Glory.” He and former Maryland all-American Tom McMillen, the guy who actually defended the out-of-bounds play, are behind a push to have the International Olympic Committee eventually award the United States duplicate gold medals.