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35 years since the ultimate screw job

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friend of the friendless:
Sirs, Madames,

I can't find Gary Smith's article but here's one other take on it.

Funny, the official coming out of the stands was a British basketball official. No Tony Blair he.

A Matter of Perspective The '72 U.S. Team Made Do Without Some Top Players, but Dynasty Ended Series: BARCELONA 1992 OLYMPICS: 20 Days to the Games.
1798 words
5 July 1992
Los Angeles Times
(Copyright, The Times Mirror Company; Los Angeles Times 1992 All Rights Reserved)

As good old days go, there have been better than July of 1972, when 12 young U.S. basketball players gathered in the heavy air of Pearl Harbor to prepare to defend the national honor.

This was before Reagan and Gorbachev.

There were two superpowers and neither was Japan.

There was a Cold War, and an undeclared hot war in Vietnam, which President Richard Nixon said must be pursued to an honorable conclusion, lest the world regard the United States as "a pitiful, helpless giant."

Two Washington Post reporters had recently begun investigating implications of a burglary of Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate complex.

Against a real backdrop, the fortunes of the U.S. Olympic basketball players barely register. But basketball was the one U.S. spectator sport with international "competition." U.S. domination was considered a given, so American players, too, were hostages of the Cold War.

They were treated almost as military auxiliaries. They practiced three times a day, for up to three hours a session, under crusty Hank Iba on the Naval base at Pearl Harbor, still a staging area for war-time operations. They slept in barracks, all 12 in a single bay. Doug Collins recalls that when they finally got a night off, they joked about going over the hill.

Their loss to the Soviet Union in the Olympic final was a blow to the national pride, no matter how unjust the circumstances. Twelve young men 23 and under came home feeling as if they had helped launch Sputnik I.

Sixteen years later, when the Soviets beat the United States fair and square in Seoul, the popular reaction was: Dammit, next time we send in the pros.


A few days before the game, Palestinian terrorists massacred Israeli Olympians.

Within two years, the war would end in Vietnam, and Nixon would resign.

Somehow, this game carved out its niche and kept it.

Here are the facts everyone agrees upon:

-The United States goes ahead, 50-49, on two free throws by Collins with three seconds to play.

-The Soviets in-bound the ball while their reserves try to call time out. In international basketball, the coach then had to press a button, turning on a red light. Soviet Coach Vladimir Kondrashin doesn't.

-With one second to play, referee Artenik Arabadjan of Bulgaria stops the clock because there are fans on the court.

-The Soviets aren't allowed a timeout. Their in-bounds pass is deflected. Time expires.

-The Soviets protest. Williams Jones of Great Britain, secretary general of the International Amateur Basketball Assn., comes out of the stands, puts three seconds back on the clock and grants the Soviets a timeout, despite having no statutory authority during a game.

-Ivan Edesheko throws a length-of-the-court pass to star forward Alexander Belov, who grabs it between Texas El Paso forward Jim Forbes and South Carolina guard Kevin Joyce. The American players fall. Belov makes the winning layup.

Opinion about this depends on perspective.

American players refused to accept silver medals and persist to this day, despite quadrennial entreaties by USA Basketball to change their minds-in the words of executive director Bill Wall, to "put it all behind us."

The Soviets believe it was a well-officiated game.

"Our boys come back after Olympic Games, 1972, this is big story," says Alexander Gomelski, coach of the '80 and '88 Soviet teams.

"All people give them heroes. . . . Every day Russian people and Russian newspapers, journalists on TV, talk of three seconds in Munich. And every basketball person knows Alexander Belov is great player.

"This is great story. I like it same."

The rest of the world, though, seems to be with the United States on this one.

"The game was stolen, I would say," says Crystophe DeRollez, a member of the French national team from 1978-83, now a correspondent for Mondial Basket magazine.

"People in France say the U.S. has always won in Olympic basketball. If someone says, `What about '72?' we say, `Remember how it was.' "



"Pearl Harbor, that was fun.

"I'd never been to Hawaii before, coming out of Benton, Ill. I was looking forward to it. Well, my thoughts of Hawaii then and when I go to Maui now are not really the same, trust me.

"It was not Monte Carlo and the French Riviera (where the 1992 team will train). We should have been where there was no sunshine because we were in the gym probably about nine hours a day-practiced three times a day.

"I really don't know how we got through that. It seemed like it would never end. Hot. Mosquitoes. Practices were brutal. I mean, they were brutal! Guys just absolutely knocking the crap out of each other. All 12 of us slept in the same room in the barracks. The food was horrible.

"In the evenings, the Naval base had a movie for the sailors. We'd watch the movie, then we'd go over to the bowling alley, get something to eat. Then we'd go to bed.

"The big night out was on my 21st birthday. (Assistant coach) Johnny Bach talked Coach Iba into giving us the afternoon off and dropped us off at the Polynesian Cultural Center, with matching Hawaiian shirts on and white shoes Sears gave us. It was like, `Here guys, I'm picking you up at midnight, enjoy yourselves.' There was concern maybe some of us wouldn't come back.

"It's hard to believe it's 20 years ago. Everything's so vivid in my mind. . . . I remember marching into the Olympic stadium. We were all in our red, white and blue. I remember people chanting, `USA! USA!' The goosebumps, the hair standing up on your arms-it's a feeling you can't really describe.

"All we heard was, `You've got to beat the Russians. You've got to beat the Russians.' From the day we made the team, we knew the confrontation was going to be with us and the Soviet Union.

"The day was forever. The game started at 11:45 p.m. (for U.S. television). Here you are, 21 years old, waiting to play for a gold medal and you think the game is never going to get started. They had these places where you could sit in a booth and listen to music. I was real big into Motown. I remember the last song I heard that day: `What Becomes of the Broken-Hearted?'

"I was crushed at the time. It really didn't set in for a while. And then you started reading about being the first Olympic team that had ever lost in basketball, and then the circumstances-you get angry.

"Every Olympic year, I see it on TV. From a selfish standpoint, you think about your place in Olympic history that has been washed away. I've become very patriotic, and every Olympics you become so aware of what a great country this is and all the opportunities.

"To see those athletes, with the national anthem playing and the tears of joy and all the years of hard work, and you stand there and watch the flag raised-I missed that. I felt that was taken away from me, and that bothers me as much as anything."


In retrospect, it was an accident waiting to happen.

U.S. Olympic basketball was a throwback, descended from the days when the Amateur Athletic Union and the NCAA dominated the game. The first team was built around Universal Studios' AAU champions.

The founding fathers of Olympic basketball were venerated conservatives in a fast-changing culture. Iba, the pattern-ball purist from Oklahoma State, coached three teams from 1964-72 while the cream of the collegiate crop turned a progressively colder shoulder.

UCLA's Bruins, the lords of the game, almost gave it a pass altogether. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar skipped it in 1968, Bill Walton and Jamaal Wilkes in 1972.

The 1972 team also could have had North Carolina State's David Thompson, but he was only a freshman.

Instead, the committee worked with whatever players were readily at hand.

In 1968, an unknown from Trinidad, Colo., Junior College, Spencer Haywood, bailed out an underwhelming U.S. team.

In 1972, as the world edged up, all but unnoticed, the United States went with a front line of Tom McMillen, Jim Brewer and Dwight Jones.

The team had to rally from six points behind in the final minutes to get to the controversial three seconds.

"Everybody talks about how we were robbed," says former Marquette coach Al McGuire. "What the hell! How about the other 39 minutes?"

Says Collins: "Let's face it, we would never ever be having this discussion if Bill Walton had played. End of discussion. Forget it. Doesn't matter."

Of the 12 Olympians, 10 played in the NBA.

Kenny Davis, the NAIA representative on the team-that's how it was done then, one from Column A, one from Column B-became a sports-shoe representative and lives in Paint Lick, Ky.

"Every time I get to feeling sorry for myself," he recently told Sports Illustrated's Gary Smith, "I think of the Israeli kids who were killed at those Games. . . . Think of being in a helicopter with your hands tied behind your back and a hand grenade rolling toward you . . . and compare that to not getting a gold medal. If that final game is the worst injustice that ever happens to the guys on that team, we'll all come out of this life pretty good."

Forbes, who fell trying to stop Belov, told Mike Bantom six months later that he couldn't get over it. As a senior at Texas El Paso, he suffered a knee injury and never played professionally.

"I just saw him at our 20-year reunion," Collins says. "He's teaching school in El Paso. He's doing great. Fact, he's going to work at my basketball camp."

All's well that ends, more or less.

And as far as Alcindor passing on '68, it probably had a lot more to do with Harry Edwards and the mood of the times than Iba (although you might make the case that Iba was a symptom of the times and USOC).

YHS, etc

friend of the friendless:
Sirs, Madames,


SUNDAY SPECIAL SILVER LINING For Kevin Joyce, the basketball controversey of 1972 remains a bitter memory, but still he cherishes his Olympic experience
2609 words
19 July 1992
(Copyright Newsday Inc., 1992)

ON A SMALL television screen in a Long Beach home three blocks from the ocean, a 21-year-old with shaggy hair and big thick sideburns is yelling for help but nobody will listen. His name is Kevin Joyce and he is a blip on a videocassette and a small figure in history. There is barely a minute to play in one of the most controversial athletic events ever, the gold-medal basketball game in the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

Teams from the Soviet Union and the United States have returned to the court from a timeout, after the USA's Mike Bantom was called for a rebounding foul. Sergei Belov, the USSR's leading scorer, stands at the free-throw line and Joyce is seen in the foreground, gesturing madly to the officials. One of them is Brazilian, the other Bulgarian. They don't understand him.

Ten feet from the television and 20 years into the future, a 41-year-old stockbroker leaned forward, his eyes filled with wonder and revelation. "That's the wrong guy," he said. "On the foul line, it's the wrong guy." Almost as if the Brazilian and the Bulgarian could hear him now. The stockbroker's name is Kevin Joyce. He understands what the kid on the screen is trying to say.

The tape, a copy of ABC's telecast on Sept. 9, 1972, that Joyce watched with his wife, Ginna, and a Newsday reporter, is rewound to the point of Bantom's foul. Then played again. Sure enough. Bantom clearly fouled Soviet center Aleksandr Sharmukhadev; Belov wasn't near the play. Those shifty Soviets . . . Got away with it, too, except that Belov, a lethal outside shooter who later carried the torch for the 1980 Olympics in Moscow, made only 1 of 2 free throws, extending the Soviets' lead to 49-46. (Sharmukhadev was a wooden center who was 2-for-4 from the line in the game.)

What happened next is unforgettable. The United States' Jim Forbes made a 20-footer to make it 49-48, the Soviet Union ran the clock inside of 10 seconds before the USA's Doug Collins intercepted a pass at the top of the key, drove to the basket, was fouled, and made both free throws under emasculating pressure to give the United States a 50-49 lead with three seconds to play.

And the ending: The Soviet Union given an inexplicable timeout, and three chances to score an impossible basket from 94 feet away and, ultimately, hauntingly, getting it when Aleksandr Belov caught a pass from Ivan Edeshko and dropped home a layup at the horn.

And the epilogue: How the United States' players wouldn't take their silver medals. Never have. How this game, more than any other, burned into reality that the rest of the world was catching up to the United States in basketball. Why is there a Dream Team in Barcelona this year? In the beginning, because of this game, that's why. But we digress.

Joyce, who grew up on Long Island in North Merrick, was never much on remembering basketball games. So many of them. In high school at Molloy, in college at South Carolina, in the ABA with Indiana and San Diego and Kentucky. He had a friend in high school who could remember every basket that he made or that Joyce made. Good grief. For Joyce, the joy of basketball was in the playing, not in the cataloging.

So when NBC called him a few weeks back and asked him to participate in a remembrance piece the network was preparing on the '72 final, for airing during the Barcelona Blowouts, he was largely defenseless in the face of their questioning. Couldn't remember many details. "I probably played 1,000 games after that," he said. Not that it softened the experience, but just the same . . .

Which brings him to his living room, imploring a referee to put Sharmukhadev on the line. "Like it will make a difference now," kidded his wife. Remembering the play. Slowly, watching and recalling everything now. "Did I remember that play?" he said, repeating a question. "Not until right now, watching right now. It was the wrong guy . . . look." It was the wrong guy.

Just like that, on a summer night in the present, Joyce watched the robbery again. He watched himself wither on the bench for the first 14 minutes of the second half. "I kept telling {assistant coach John} Bach, `Get me in the game, any way you can.' " He watched himself score six crucial points in the last five minutes, without which there would have been no controversy. He watched as his 21-year-old counterpart tried to deflect the long pass intended for Belov and then tried to call a timeout, even as the horn was sounding. "Reflex," he said.

And here is the oddest part of all. As the stockbroker melted into the screen and became once again the Long Island kid, soon-to-be-senior at South Carolina, he embraced him and the experience as if it was nothing more terrible than just a tough loss. "Too bad it ended like that," he said when the tape was finished. He didn't have to say that. And, "No, I don't want the silver medal." He didn't have to say that, either.

"This is really great watching this," Joyce said during one of the 20-year-old commercials inside the telecast ("Once you get your hands on a Toyota, you'll never let go . . ."). "It really is. I can't believe it was 20 years ago."

Twenty years ago. A very difficult night for disbelievers across the good old U.S. of A., who thought all along that we owned the game of basketball and could never lose, not after 63 consecutive Olympic victories and seven gold medals. A wrenching night for 12 young men, the youngest team in U.S. Olympic history (average age: 20.7 years). "A bunch of babies," said the coach, Hank Iba, now 87 years old and living in Stillwater, Okla. But for Joyce, a memory to be cherished, not discarded. So much more than a landmark loss.

These were the Olympics in which 11 Israeli athletes were killed by terrorists, shutting down the Olympic Village (and the Games themselves) for two days. During the hostage negotiations, Joyce's 63-year-old mother, Helen, leaned against a fence outside the village, and listened to Radio Free Europe on a tiny transistor radio. A widow, she had come to Munich alone to watch her youngest son win a gold medal.

The Games took place during a time of sweeping social change and disharmony in the United States, and the basketball team - six white players, six black - represented a cross-section of many of the issues. The Olympic ideal has been terribly scarred in the last two decades, but for Joyce, it sprung intact from '72.

"My mother has a thing I wrote when I was a little kid," Joyce said. "I was into `The Jim Thorpe Story' and all that stuff and I wrote that when I grow up, I wanted to be a big-league ballplayer and an Olympian.

"What happened to us in that game has nothing to do with the experience of being in the Olympics," he said. "It was great. It really opened your eyes to the world. One minute I'm there thinking, `People work together, they really do,' and the next thing, boom, people are getting killed. Our rooms were maybe 500 yards from the building where the hostages were. But just the experience of it, living through all that . . . it was tremendous. My memory is positive, absolutely."

At least two of Joyce's teammates, Jim Brewer and Mike Bantom, have never seen the game in its entirety. "I've never cared to find a tape of it," said Brewer, who works for the NBA's Minnesota Timberwolves. "Maybe I should. It might open some insight for me."

But like Joyce, both have taken into adulthood only a touch of bitterness, mixed with fond recollections. "I don't know if we ever came together as 12-man team," said Bantom, who in '72 was to enter his senior year at St. Joseph's. "Smaller groups, I think. But not cliques. There were no cliques on that team, no separations from within."

Brewer, who suffered a concussion late in the game and had to have the ending explained to him by teammates, said, "The associations there, the world village and then having to grow up so fast. You don't have to accept what happened, but you learn that it's a part of everything."

On the last weekend in May, Sports Illustrated arranged for 10 of the 12 team members to meet in Washington for a picture that accompanied a story about them. (Brewer and Bantom couldn't make it). They gathered and reminisced, with no writers around to eavesdrop. Ginna Joyce was the only spouse present.

"None of the stories they told were about the games {or the game}," she said. "They remembered little things, like traffic jams." Kenny Davis, the 23-year-old designated AAU player on the '72 team, chided Joyce about his frequent back spasms. "The thing I remember most about practices," Davis said, "was that Kevin Joyce didn't."

There was something about just being on an Olympic team. Joyce noticed back in high school that he would fall into that perfect year . . . between his junior and senior years in college . . . when he could make an Olympic team. That's the way it worked pre-Dream. The training camp in late June in Colorado Springs was brutal. Marvin Barnes got cut. Tom McMillen got cut, but was later added when UCLA's Swen Nater made the team but quit during three-a-day workouts at Pearl Harbor.

Playing on that team was an honor. Joyce, a fierce competitor, can't recall a similarly taxing athletic experience. "It was all so final," he said. "If you got hurt, they'd bring someone in to replace you and that was it."

Iba said, "I always worked my teams hard." He asked them to play slow, as well, a delicate subject even 20 years later. They came from 10 down in the last 10 minutes against the Soviets only because, "We let it all hang out," Bantom said. But that was Iba's way and it was good enough for gold in '64 and '68. For his part, Iba said, "We just didn't play very smart that night." He thanks a reporter for calling to ask.

The stockbroker is back in his living room now, watching the chaos after the game. The 21-year-old Joyce is milling about, waving his arms. " `This is crazy,' that's what I was thinking," Joyce said. He remembers now, going into the locker room and sitting on a bench. Bill Russell, who worked with Frank Gifford as ABC's analyst, coming into the locker room and telling the team not to get changed, that surely they will be brought back out for another chance. Going to a TV truck to watch ABC's replays. Deciding not to take the silver.

It has been written that the players from that team are asked to vote, every four years, on whether to take the silver medals. Joyce produces a letter, from 1981, asking him to vote. "I never sent it back," he said. "And they never sent me another one. I voted once, that night in Munich."

For many years thereafter, he wore a ring from the Games. His wife-to-be noticed it while they rode together to work on the Long Island Rail Road. It looked like a class ring, but she just couldn't think of a college that started with O-L-Y . . . Her brother explained who the guy was. They've been married four years now. Joyce doesn't wear the Olympic ring anymore.

"I replaced it," he said, holding up a wedding band. "Another bad ring." They both laugh deeply, secure in themselves and comfortable with the past. One game lost, but so much more. ** An Imperfect 10

Few Americans have seen the entire 1972 Olympic gold medal basketball game between the United States and the Soviet Union. Most have seen, over and over and over, the last, controversial three seconds. Newsday viewed a tape of the game provided by ABC sports and it stands as one of the oddest athletic events im history. Ten things you probably don't remember:

1. The game was deadly dull. The Soviet Union played mechanically, if efficiently, and the USA played Hank Iba's favored passing game. If it was a midseason college game on ESPN, you'd flip to {INCHES}Home Improvement. {INCHES}

2. Twenty years is forever in television production. ABC's production, considered cutting edge at the time, included no replays, no slow motion and a scant few camera angles. The words {INCHES}Via Satellite, {INCHES} appeared often on the screen.

3. The USA led only once in the entire game: 49-48 on Doug Collins' two famous free throws with three seconds left. They trailed, 44-36, with less than six minutes to go.

4. The biggest basket of the game for the U.S. was scored by Jim Forbes, a 6-9 center from UTEP, who bravely stepped out and drilled a 20-footer with 41 seconds left, bringing the U.S. within a point and setting up Collins' free throws.

5. Tom McMillen, the 6-11 future congressman from Maryland, made a clean, delicate, block on Aleksandr Belov seconds before Collins' interception and drive, leading to the free throws.

6. Dwight Jones, a 6-9 center from Houston and the USA's leading scorer (9.3 ppg), was ejected for fighting midway throught the second half. Essentially, he ripped a rebound loose from a Soviet player. On the ensuing jump ball, the USA's Jim Brewer fell hard on his head and played most of the rest of the game with a concussion.

7. At the age of 21, with the tight-fitting uniforms of the day, Collins looks like he hasn't eaten in two weeks.

8. Between Kevin Joyce's bushy sideburns, Mike Bantom's six-inch Afro and bell-bottomed spectators, the game looks more dated than the 1960 gold medal game.

9. Collins' two foul shots came immediately after he was fouled. No timeout. As he was handed the ball before the second shot, the Soviet coach sounded his horn for a timeout, which is not allowed. The horn can be heard clearly, yet no official took action, except to grant an illegal timeout after the ball was inbounded.

10. Even after 20 years, the finish is thoroughly unimaginable. Ivan Edeshko clearly steps in bounds while passing long to Belov, whose layup still seems like a dream sequence.

Joyce, disagreeable little weasel. Nice line in front of your wife, too.

YHS, etc

In addition to Edeshko stepping WAY over the endline on the throw-in, Belov absolutely bulldozed Jim Forbes to the floor under the basket. Oh yeah, and shuffled his feet before putting in the winning shot, too.

No matter how many tries it took, no matter how many dozens of violations by the Soviets had to be waved off, ole Bucktooth Billy Jones was going to keep waving the teams back out on the court until the USSR finally made the shot. A little drip of a man saw a chance to be a part of athletic history, and he had to make sure it happened.


I'd say Roy Jones getting absolutely fucked out of a gold medal in the Olympics was a bigger screwjob than any college football game aside from the ridiculous pass intereference call against my Canes in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State.

Thank you for your time.


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