From the Stars and Stripes archives

Russian cage gold upheld; U.S. turns down silver

U.S. basketball coach Hank Iba pleads his case at the scorer's table after his team's controversial loss to the Soviets in the basketball finals at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.


By JACK ELLIS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: September 11, 1972

MUNICH — Well it's final now. What just about everybody figured would happen did. An appeals jury did not uphold the American protest of the Russian victory in the basketball finale late Saturday night, and the score stands, Russia 51, U.S. 50.

The upset was the first defeat ever for the Americans in Olympic history and broke a skein of 63 straight triumphs.

The American representative at the Sunday press conference, M.K. Summers, U.S. Olympic basketball chairman, announced after the ruling of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) that the United States, although complimenting the Russians on their victory, could not accept the decision. Later, the American team refused to accept the silver medal or to appear at the victory ceremony scheduled in the main stadium. The latter was rained out anyway.

In a sometimes stormy press conference, it was plainly established that the officials were in error, in giving the Russians three "overtime" seconds.

The Americans said they would protest the decision to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and announced they would not accept the silver medal.

Ferenc Hepp of Hungary, chairman of the five-man committee which reached the decision, attempted during a long, loud news conference in a stifling room of the Olympic basketball hall to explain why the Russians were awarded the victory.

Not only the Americans were displeased with Hepp's reasoning.

"Under FIBA rules," said Hans Tenschert of West Germany, the game's scorekeeper, "the United States won."

Hepp's explanation picked up from the moment Doug Collins hit two free throws with three seconds remaining to put the United States in front for the first time in the game, 5049.

From there, according to Hepp:

— The ball was played in by a Russian player with three seconds to go, but Renato Righetto of Brazil, one of the two officials in the game, "saw a disturbance on the sideline which made the normal flow of the game impossible." The whistle was blown and play was stopped with one second showing on the clock.

— Righetto came to the scoring table to determine how much time should be on the clock. Righetto was of the opinion when he arrived at the scoring table that only one second should be left, but that "after consultation with the timekeeper, scorekeeper and FIBA officials," it was decided three seconds should remain.

— Play then resumed, but for some reason the clock had not been put back to three seconds and after one second the horn sounded to end the game.

— Because the clock had not been properly returned to three seconds, play was allowed to begin again with the three seconds left. This time the Soviet Union scored on a long pass and a layup by Aleksander Belov.

The controversy stemmed from two things — what was the disturbance on the sidelines which caused Righetto to stop the play in the first place, and who specifically on the scoring table ordered the clock be put back to three seconds.

The Americans had the answer for one of the controversies and Tenshcert had an answer for the other.

"The disturbance on the sidelines was caused by the Russians," said Herb Mols, the assistant trainer for the American team, speaking directly to Hepp. "They were jumping up on the floor. Why should an American team be penalized for the actions of the Russians?"

"The referee has a right to stop the action when he sees a disturbance," said Hepp.

The most condemning evidence against the FIBA decision, however, came from Tenschert.

Tenschert stood up in the mob of newsmen and spoke directly at Hepp.

"It is true that when Righetto came to the scoring table," said Tenschert, "that he said only one second remained on the clock.

"But there was a sign of three seconds held up by a person not on the scoring table, by Mr. William Jones. Righetto had no choice but to rule the clock back to three seconds."

Jones, of England, is the secretary general of FIBA, but he had no responsibility on the scoring table during the game.

It was Jones, according to the Americans, who not only made an incorrect and illegal decision during those last frantic moments, but who also was in control of the five-man panel which ruled on the winner.

Along with Hepp, those making the decision by secret ballot were Claudio Coccia of Italy, Rafael Lopez of Puerto Rico, Andres Keiser of Cuba and Adam Baglajewski of Poland.

Thus ended the proud reign of the U.S. in Olympic basketball. It had won seven straight gold medals, starting at Berlin in 1936, and had never lost a game in Olympic competition.

Russia's winning basket was scored on a two-handed layup shot by Aleksander Belov on a floor-length pass from Ivan Edeshko. The play followed two free throws by Doug Collins, which had put the U.S. ahead, 50-49, for the first time in the game.

Belov eluded Kevin Joyce and Jim Forbes to take the pass with a leaping catch. He came down, then jumped again to bank in the ball.

The decisive play came after the game had ended, claimed the furious American head coach, Hank Iba.

The dispute raged over Russia being given two inbound plays in what was supposed to be the final three seconds.

Toss in a questionable Russian timeout and a floor mob scene with one second left and you've really got the makings of a controversy.

In any case, Iba said, there wasn't enough time left in the game for all the action that transpired, leaving the Russians on top.

The coach also said that it was a "mighty funny call" on Belov's bucket. He said that Joyce and Forbes were knocked down by Belov — "they certainly didn't trip themselves."

Iba was asked why hi let his players return to the floor to resume play on what he considered an extra chance for the Russians and the coach replied, "The official told me there was time left in the ball game, and if an official tells me that I've got to believe him. I've never seen anything like this in my life."

The floor had been a scene of wild jubilation before play was re-started as the Americans celebrated their "victory."

But seconds later it was the Russians who were jumping for joy and smothering each other with bear hugs.

Russian coach Vladimir Kondrashin commented: "We deserves the victory no matter what the circumstances. We had them puzzled from the start since we used a different lineup to confuse them at the beginning."

Russia led at halftime, 26-21.

Until Collins's clutch free throws it looked as if the Russians were going to snap Uncle Sam's string without the aid of a clock. They jumped off to a quick 4-0 lead and upped it to 10 points halfway through the period as they outrebounded, outshot and outdefensed the Americans.

But Collins, Tommy Henderson and Tom McMillen hit for goals late in the period to bring the Yanks back to within five points, 26-21, at the half.

The second half was almost a repeat of the first. The Russians opened a 10-point gap with less than 10 minutes remaining and the Yanks seemed out of it.

But Ed Ratleff, Jim Brewer and Mike Bantom brought it back to 44-38 and the big American cheering section came alive.

Then Joyce got it really hoping when he connected for two quick fielders and it was 44-42 with four minutes left.

The Russians got three quick foul shots before Joyce hit another fielder and Collins netted two free throws to move within one point.

The Russians got it back to three again on a pair of charities only to see Jim Forbes hit from the key with a jumper that put it 49-48 and set the stage for Collins.

U.S. basketball coach Hank Iba pleads his case at the scorer's table after his team's controversial loss to the Soviets in the basketball finals at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.

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