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Sunday, September 02, 2012

Was the 1972 Gold Medal in Basketabll Stolen from the US?

OK, first watch this:


This is certainly a massively snafu'ed ending. Don't think for a second that I would claim the officials did a good job here! But here's what I see happening:

1) A Bulgarian official calls a foul on a Soviet player with three seconds left, giving the Americans a shot. So here's the first thing: If there were a concerted plot to steal the game from the U.S. involving all of the officials, the Bulgarian just wouldn't have called this fall. Game over, U.S.S.R. wins. Too obvious, you say? Less obvious than resetting the clock, I say! In fact, the ref could easily have called a charge on Collins there.

2) After Collins made his first free throw, the Soviet coaches try to get a timeout. They are ignored until the ball is in Collins's hands, by which time it is too late: timeouts are not permitted once the shooter has the ball in his hand. If the time out had been granted earlier, Collins might have tightened up and not hit the go-ahead free throw. (I am assuming international rules are like current college and NBA rules in this respect, but I am not sure!)

3) When Collins hits, the U.S.S.R. gets the ball out of bounds. The Soviet coaches are still trying to get a timeout.The ball gets thrown in, and play is finally stopped with one second left. A discussion ensues, and it is decided that the U.S.S.R. should have three seconds, the thinking being, I suppose, that it is not their fault their calls for a timeout were ignored.

Some British international basketball official, William Jones, got himself involved at that point, running around by the scorer's table insisting that there ought to be three seconds on the clock. At about 5:38 into the video, Kenny Davis claims that Jones had said he would try to throw the game to the Soviets. Right, Kenny, because high officials who conspire to throw games often also just baldly tell others they are going to do so.

4) While the scorer's table officials try to reset the clock back to three seconds, a referee brings the ball down and gives it to a Soviet player to throw in-bounds. He does so, and the buzzer sounds immediately. The Americans think they have won.

5) More discussion ensues. The decision seems to be reached that the inbound play was invalid, since the timekeeper hadn't yet reset the clock. The U.S.S.R. gets to inbound with three seconds on the clock. They score, and win.

What a mess! You can understand why the Americans felt cheated, but were they? If the U.S. had won, the Soviets certainly would have felt cheated themselves: after all, their attempts to call timeout had been repeatedly ignored, and then a ref re-started play before the timekeeper was ready.

But a deliberate attempt to rob the US of a medal? That claim looks to me like someone claiming, say: "My enemy Bill has been out to get me. Only yesterday, he crashed his car into a tree in front of my house. That caused a squirrel to jump off the tree, which excited my cat. She leaped to the window, knocking over the goldfish bowl, which fell on my electric blanket and shocked me. So, you see how Bill was plotting to electrocute me, don't you?"

If this was a plot, it may have been the worst plot that ever actually turned out as the plotters wished.

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