120 years, 120 stories (Part 15) : Soviets beat the Americans amidst controversies involving communist judges


Last second game winner, a controversial jury bench, two arch rivals up for the most prestigious medal, agony that still remains, happiness that still lingers – no, I am not writing a thriller script for any Hollywood movie. This was just the last few seconds of the basketball gold medal game of 1972 between USA and USSR.

Like the recent time, USA were kings of basketball back then too. Any tall lanky kid can shoot and score the basket, it’s not very difficult for them. They were six time Olympic champions and king of the court, who were looking for a seventh. Looking at their side no one doubted that dream too. But on their path, there was only one trouble – their arch rival Russia and their leader Sergei Belov, a future hall of fame of NBA.

If you become too good at something and become unprecedented king of the game, you will surely grow a group of haters. And for the USA basketball team, that haters were a big one – the governing body FIBA. FIBA were rooting against the success of USA basketball team and were frustrated of their unanimous domination.

But when the Soviets in red faced the Americans in white, none doubted their seventh. Two supremes in politics, leadership and armed forces faced each other in the arena of basketball – a gold medal worthy of greatest glory worth fighting for.

USA might have been the undisputed king of hoops, but it was the soviets who came out on top. When the teams went for the break at the halftime, Soviets led by 26-21. Soviets also pushed hard in the second half to push the lead to 10 as USA’s 63 game unbeaten run looked to be ended.

But the kings hate losing. For them it’s all about fighting till the last breath – “It’s not over, until it’s over.” So, with just six minutes remaining in the game, USA started to fight back and make the dirty hustle plays and almost made the perfect Hollywood script. With just 10 seconds remaining in the clock, Soviets had a marginal one point lead and had the possession too. USA had their hand in the air and were looking for a steal and got the same when the inbound pass got deflected. Collins collected the loose ball and went for the game winning dunk. But he was fouled – “He got into a position to flip me so I knew I was take a nasty fall, I hit my head on the basket and was knocked out for a while.”

He needed to sink one for the tie and two for the win. And he sank both of the free throws. Soviets took the time out and the game resumed after that. With 3 second left on the clock, Soviets long pass went wide and Americans went in the court. The play stopped and was resumed again by split decision as the officials said that they interrupted the play. To this day this is called the most controversial decision of basketball.

The game resumed and the Soviets made the winning layup. As there was no video replay, the jury gave the layup to the Soviets and they win the game 51-50. The Hollywood comeback did not happen and a terrific movie script was flushed down the gutter. The jury had 3 communist judges from China, so it was obvious that all the decision went for the Soviets. USA lost their first game in the Olympics and denied to receive the medal too.

Davis of the USA team ensured that the filthy medal don’t reach anyone’s hand. In his will he stated, “devise and bequeath at my death that my wife, Rita, and children Jill and Bryan never accept a silver medal from the 1972 Games in West Germany.”

When he was asked for a reason, he said “You never know what’s going to happen after you die, Someone could get hold of it. Maybe not my children but my grandchildren or great-grandchildren and to me it’s not mine. I don’t want it. I don’t deserve it. And I want nothing to do with it.” To this day none of the team member received the medal and it is just staying in the Swiss vault.

“If we had gotten beat, I would be proud to display my silver medal. But, we didn’t get beat, we got cheated”, Mike Bantom said.

The mad night of 10th September, 1972 ended and till this day USA feel cheated and Soviets proudly shows their only victory over the Americans. USA definitely paid them back in the ice hockey game, but that’s the story for another day.


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