Commentary

For 1972 U.S. team, no silver lining

Originally Published: August 9, 2012
By Marc Stein | ESPN.com

USA-Russia 1972US PresswireThe '72 U.S. squad watches in disbelief as Russia won the gold-medal game after a couple of do-overs.

LONDON -- There were no Olympic warm-up games played in Munich to commemorate the milestone, no throwback uniforms printed up for the 2012 squad to pay homage and no new documentaries commissioned by NBA TV to re-tell the story amid great publicity and pride.

The 40th anniversary of the U.S. men's Olympic basketball team and its infamous Cold War gold-medal game again the Soviet Union, up until the last week or so, had been passing rather quietly.

In stark contrast to what's seemingly been a yearlong tribute to the Dream Team, as it celebrates the two decades that have passed since it changed the face of international basketball at the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona, members of the 1972 team who to this day remain convinced they were cheated and refuse to collect their silver medals get only occasional notice. That naturally would have changed in a major way had the current squad of NBA All-Stars representing the United States ended up playing Russia in Sunday's gold-medal game, but the Russians' semifinal defeat Friday to Spain means that '72 hoopla is bound to stay on the scarce side in 2012.

"I do think it's been pushed to the rear," says Johnny Bach, now 88, who served as an assistant coach to the legendary Henry Iba on the '72 U.S. squad. "I don't think the [International] Olympic Committee ever wanted to deal with it."

It was just last month that the 2012ers went to Spain, played two exhibition games in Catalunya to honor the original Dreamers' groundbreaking trip there and even sported the same jerseys Michael, Magic and Larry wore in '92, adorned with a special gold "CD" square above the heart to the honor the memory of late coach Chuck Daly. All that's currently planned for the Boys of '72, for certain, is the first get-together of its kind later this month in Kentucky that's scheduled to be attended by all 12 players on the roster.

Otherwise? An Illinois lawyer's one-man crusade to try to convince the IOC and/or basketball's world governing body (FIBA) to sanction a new hearing that could theoretically still lead to duplicate gold medals for the Americans is pretty much the extent of the movement ... although neither the IOC nor FIBA has yet to show any interest in considering the request. There's also a new book, "Stolen Glory," that the lawyer in question, Donald "Taps" Gallagher, has co-written with Mike Brewster to chronicle what happened on Sept. 10, 1972, and highlight their cause.

"Forty years later," Gallagher says, "it's still the biggest [Olympic] farce of all time."

Forty years later, 12 silver medals sit locked up and unclaimed, either in a storage room in the Olympic museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, or a basement in Munich, depending on which fable you believe.

Forty years later, instead of being remembered for what might have been the two most clutch free throws in the annals of basketball, Doug Collins is spending his summer away from the Philadelphia 76ers' bench calling Team USA's games for NBC Sports. This keeps him close to his son, Chris -- one of Mike Krzyzewski's trusted Team USA assistants -- but also puts him in position to have to relive a good bit of the torment that followed the free throws that gave the young American amateurs a 50-49 lead with three fateful seconds to go against a team of seasoned Soviet pros.

"It becomes real every Olympics," Collins said. "It becomes real every time I see a medal ceremony and hear the national anthem and see an athlete represent his country. It's the moment that I feel was stolen from us, being up on that podium together, wearing that gold around our necks."

Said Mike Bantom, Collins' teammate on the '72 team and now an NBA senior vice president of player development who's also traveling with Team USA at the 2012 Summer Games: "It doesn't impact my day-to-day life. I'm not sitting around brooding about it. As far as where we are today, I think most of us have moved on, and I think we all feel justified in not taking that silver medal. But I don't think you ever get over it."

Not fully. And maybe never unless Gallagher's long-shot quest is successful.

Members of the '72 squad are nonetheless unanimous in saying that the Munich Games should be remembered, above all, for the slayings of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian kidnappers.

"The first act of terrorism as we know it today," Collins calls it.

Yet their own unhappy anniversary, ready or not, was briefly poised to be shoved to the forefront when the new Russia came within one win of forcing an unlikely rematch of sorts with the Americans in Sunday's gold-medal game.

"Imagine the story with that," Team USA star Kobe Bryant said this week before the possibility was extinguished.

The following ESPN.com examination spans five chapters, one for each Olympic ring, as Collins and several teammates continue to wrestle with the aftermath from what is universally regarded as the most controversial finish in basketball's international history.

Chapter 1: The Three Endings »

Olympic Hoop Heartbreak, 40 Years Later

The Three Endings | The Would-Be Hero | The Russians | The Crusader | The Reunion

Marc Stein | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com
• Senior NBA writer for ESPN.com
• Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
• Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics