Wednesday, August 1, 2012

basketball gold--Doug Collins

Doug Collins did the color on yesterday's United States--Tunisia Olympic basketball game broadcast.

If you are old enough to remember the travesty of the 1972 "loss" to the Soviet Union, you remember that Doug Collins,  well before he became an NBA coach, and prior to his stint as an NBA player, was the hero of that game.  Yet that well deserved accolade has been lost not because it is ancient history, but because what became the story was not the heroics, but that the game was stolen.

The US had a foolish game plan for that 1972 final.  You would not know it judging from how even a team like Tunisia plays, but basketball opponents in the Olympics prior to recent years played like robots. Very stiff and mechanical. The Americans had never lost a single game in basketball in the Olympics prior to 1972. We were more athletic, but that day the US played right into the hands of the Russians in that final.  Instead of racing up the court and pressing the opponents, we played just as stiffly and were in jeopardy of losing.  Down at the half and down by several points with six minutes to play.

The US started playing aggressively and came back.  With only a few seconds to go, the US was down by only one.  Then, Doug Collins, a college kid from Illinois State (all US players were amateurs before the 1992 dream team),  made a terrific steal.  He drove the length of the court for the go ahead layup and was taken down by an opponent who undercut him sending Collins smashing into a temporary wall.

Collins was unconscious for a few seconds.  He got up wobbly, but with all the pressure of the US never having lost a game, playing against a cold war rival, Collins hit two free throws--nothing but net--to put the US up by one with only three seconds left.

Then came something I will never forget. The Russians took the ball out of bounds chucked up a desperation heave and missed. Game over.

Not game over.  The officials said that the Russians had called a time out.  The Americans were stunned but hey three seconds left, it is only three seconds.  Again the Russians take it out, and again no basket. This time the Americans celebrate jubilantly. Game over.

Not game over. Again the officials came out and said that there were three seconds left. Apparently the clock had not been reset to three seconds before the prior play.

This time the Russians heave the ball the length of the court.  A big guy from Russia grabs it and puts in a layup.  Game over.

Game over. Yes. The game had been stolen from the Americans.  And Doug Collins whose head had been concussed yet made two free throws to win the game became only a footnote.

The US players refused to go to the medal ceremony and to this day have not received their silver medals, knowing that they had won the gold.  One player has put it in his will that no descendant shall ever pick up the silver medal.

Forty years since the Munich Olympics and Doug Collins is doing the broadcast in London. He should never be forgotten as the hero of the 1972 Olympics.

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