There is an interesting sidebar to Thursday's U.S.-Russia quarterfinal at the FIBA World Championships. The game falls on the 38th anniversary of the controversial gold-medal game at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
After a couple of false endings, the Soviet Union completed a long pass and layup at the buzzer to beat the U.S. 51-50 in a hotly disputed ending. It was the United States' first loss in Olympic basketball competition and the U.S. players and coaches refused to accept their silver medals.
American-born Russia coach David Blatt added some color to this matchup by stating Wednesday he once believed the U.S. was cheated out of the gold medal, but now thinks the Soviet Union won the '72 game fair and square.
“I was one of those kids crying when the Americans lost the game in the Olympics, when (Aleksander) Belov made the shot at the end,” Blatt said. “I hate to say it, as an American, but it looks like the Russians were right that the American team was not cheated. Funny things happened. But in reality, it was fair. It was fair.”
Naturally, U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski used Blatt’s opinion as bulletin board material.
“Whatever he thinks, he thinks,” Krzyzewski said. “It really has absolutely no bearing on what we're trying to do tomorrow. Absolutely none.
"We've addressed that that game was played 38 years ago, and five of these guys are 21. So I don't think they remember it as well. It is what it is. It'll be a negative from the way the U.S. looks at it forever, and should be. And it'll be in some ways a positive for those who believe in fairy tales.”
Krzyzewski fired up by comments
SPIRIT OF ‘72
Blatt is obviously being respectful to the country paying his coaching salary, but I can see where he’s coming from. I remember watching the ’72 game when it happened. After viewing a documentary about the contest a few years back, my feelings about the U.S. being robbed diminished.
The game management was absolutely atrocious. As far as deciding the outcome, I suppose it depends on how one feels about the retroactive timeout given to the USSR.
Doug Collins hit 2 free throws with 3 seconds left to give the U.S. a 50-49 lead. The Soviet Union immediately inbounded the ball and started dribbling, but play was stopped as the ballhandler got to halfcourt. In the documentary, people from the Russian side claimed the coach tried to call time out by pressing a button on the bench – which was protocol, believe it or not -- but it was not granted because of an electronic malfunction.
I'd say that could be a legitimate reason to stop play. The Russian coach would obviously want a time out in that situation, right?
What happened next was just bizarre. With the clock reset to 50 seconds, the referees let the Soviets inbound the ball and the horn sounded just as an errant pass bounced off the hands of the Russian player. The U.S. celebrated as though it had won the game.
Between the clock being set wrong and the horn going off early, something clearly wasn’t right. So the game started again and this time the Soviets completed a long pass and hit a layup at the buzzer.
The final seconds of that game are available on YouTube. If you haven’t seen it, feel free to judge for yourself. It’s a fascinating moment in basketball history.
THREE DAYS TO GOLD
Things are finally getting serious for Derrick Rose and Team USA at the World Championships. If they beat Russia on Thursday, they’ll face either Lithuania or Argentina on Saturday in the semifinals, followed by the gold-medal game on Sunday.
The U.S. shouldn’t have any trouble in the next two games, but all it takes is one hot-shooting team to mess everything up. A gold-medal game against host Turkey could be challenging. Turkey and Serbia won Wednesday and will meet in Saturday’s first semifinal.
Turkey is led by Milwaukee forward Ersan Ilyasova, Phoenix forward Hedo Turkoglu and future Bulls center Omer Asik.