Three Seconds at 1972 Olympics Haunt U.S. Basketball


Nikolai Beshkarev, chief of the basketball office of the Soviet Sport Games Department, rarely traveled abroad with the national team. He made an exception to attend a pre-Olympic tournament from June 30 to July 2, 1972, in Munich for the Soviets and three other European squads.

The tall, elegantly dressed bureaucrat found time to visit Renato William Jones, secretary-general and co-founder of the International Federation of Amateur Basketball, known by its French acronym, FIBA, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in its September issue. A bow-tied, cigarillo-smoking, ex-British spy, Jones ran the sport’s Olympic and world championships out of his office in a leafy Munich suburb.

Jones didn’t speak Russian, so Beshkarev may have brought an interpreter. He also likely arrived with vodka: the Soviets, like most federation members, bestowed gifts on Jones, who reigned over every aspect of international basketball, such as deciding who would referee, who was eligible to play, and even the rules of the game itself.

With the Cold War elevating every meeting of the superpowers into a contest of political might, the Russians were desperate to prevail in basketball. Going back to 1936, when Jones persuaded Olympic authorities to introduce the sport, the Americans had won seven straight gold medals en route to a 63-game undefeated streak, the longest in the history of Olympic team sports.

Booster Club

Beshkarev had good news for his superiors in Moscow. Jones, who’d rooted for the Soviets at an earlier Olympic championship game, remained a booster. Jones lauded the 1972 team’s “strong athletic mastery” and its new coach’s “professional skills, intuition, and strategy,” according to Beshkarev’s never before cited report to his bosses in Moscow, which Bloomberg News unearthed in a Russian government archive.

Ten weeks after Beshkarev’s visit, Jones sparked one of the biggest disputes in Olympic history, one that’s still festering on the eve of the London Games. With play stopped and one second left on the clock in the championship game in Rudi-Sedlmayer-Halle in Munich, the U.S. was ahead by a point -- 50 to 49.

Jones emerged from the packed crowd and, in an act as startling as if Commissioner David Stern were to overrule a referee in the NBA Finals, ordered game officials to put two more seconds back on the clock. The Soviets got not one, but two chances to score the go-ahead basket. And they did, upsetting the U.S. 51-50 to win the first-ever basketball gold medal for another country.

‘Got Screwed’

Jones’s close friend, Hungarian Basketball Federation President Ferenc Hepp, headed the panel that denied the U.S. appeal and Jones himself at first refused to admit his responsibility for resetting the clock.

Even the respective heads of state weighed in.

“Well, we got screwed,” President Richard Nixon lamented to aides the next day in Washington. “I now know that there is a God above,” Soviet General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev needled U.S. National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger in Moscow.

As more than 200 nations prepare for London, the 1972 championship looms as a reminder of the rancor that can tarnish the Olympics, one of the world’s most revered sporting events. The Cold War is over, the USSR disintegrated more than 20 years ago, and half of the Soviet players, who today would have represented six different countries, have passed away.

Yet, the American players -- all living -- reject history’s verdict. They never accepted their silver medals, which are stored at the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland. Captain Kenny Davis and starting guard Tom Henderson even instructed their descendants in their wills not to settle for silver.

‘Earned’ Gold

Davis, 63, who works as a Converse footwear account executive out of his home in Paint Lick, Kentucky, is organizing the team’s first reunion in August. “We didn’t earn the silver,” he says in a speech that he has given about 1,000 times in the past 40 years. “We earned the gold. All these years later, not one player on our team has come forward to accept the silver medal.”

The ending of the Munich game provoked one of the longest-lasting and most politically charged wrangles in the Olympics, which have been plagued by officiating complaints since the first modern Games in 1896, says David Wallechinsky, president-elect of the International Society of Olympic Historians. It also may have marked the first time athletes spurned Olympic medals, a method of protest that has since caught on. In 2008 in Beijing, a Swedish wrestler upset about the judges’ awarding victory to his semifinal opponent discarded his bronze medal.

‘National Problem’

The surviving members of the 1972 Soviet team dismiss the U.S. players as whiners.

“Americans always want to be first,” Ivan Edeshko, 67, whose pass led to the game-winning basket in Munich, says in a telephone interview. “If they’re not, they’re always looking for a reason. That’s their national problem.”

Supporters have rallied around the graying Americans, who count Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doug Collins and former U.S. Representative Tom McMillen in their ranks. Illinois attorney Donald “Taps” Gallagher is pressing Geneva-based FIBA and the International Olympic Committee for a rehearing and gold medals for the U.S. players.

The Lausanne-based IOC won’t reexamine the case, legal counsel Andre Sabbah wrote Gallagher in May. “The matter is not open for discussion,” FIBA Secretary-General Patrick Baumann concurred in June. Gallagher has also petitioned the New York office of the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which hears sports disputes. It has yet to respond, he says.

Close Ties

Documents examined by Bloomberg News in Russia and the U.S., and interviews with players, coaches, spectators, game officials and basketball authorities, shed light on Jones’ motivations, the contest’s final seconds, and the aftermath. Jones, who died in 1981, enjoyed close ties with the Soviets. He expected whiskey and other gifts from favor-seekers, and ran European basketball by whim. And he feuded with some American basketball coaches and executives, who considered him a tyrant and Communist sympathizer, according to unpublished correspondence of longtime IOC President Avery Brundage.

Jones believed that U.S. domination was hindering basketball’s growth worldwide, says James Fox, basketball administrator from 1971 to 1981 for the Amateur Athletic Union, which used to govern U.S. Olympic basketball.

Playing Field

“He was always hoping that someone would beat the United States and level the playing field,” says Fox, 67.

In that mission, Jones succeeded. The Soviet victory punctured the invincibility of the U.S., where James Naismith invented basketball in 1891. Today it’s the second most popular team sport behind soccer, with more than 500 million competitive and recreational participants.

In 1972, the National Basketball Association was entirely stocked with Americans. Alexander Belov, who scored the winning basket in Munich, became the first Russian drafted by the NBA in 1975. Today, the NBA has 78 foreign-born players from 39 countries and territories. Among them is Germany’s Dirk Nowitzki, who in 2007 became the first European named the league’s most valuable player. The 11 countries besides the U.S. that will compete in London boast 26 current or former NBA players.

“Nobody looked at European basketball until ’72,” says Bill Bertka, 84, scouting director for the Los Angeles Lakers. “When the Russians beat us, people started paying attention.”

‘Dream Team’

By proving that U.S. collegians were no longer a guarantee for gold, the 1972 game also hastened the opening of the Olympics to American professionals. The “Dream Team” headlined by Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird restored American dominance with the 1992 gold medal.

“It let us know the rest of the world was getting a lot better,” says Mike Bantom, a U.S. forward who led the 1972 final with nine rebounds and is now the NBA’s senior vice president of player development. “We could no longer pick some of our best college players, send them to train for three or four weeks, and then beat the rest of the world,” says Bantom, seated in his Manhattan office, a 1972 Olympic team photo hanging behind him. “It was a preview of things to come.”

It was also a sobering lesson.

“At the time, it was the worst thing that ever happened to me,” Bantom says. “For the first time, the good guys didn’t win, justice didn’t prevail, and everything didn’t turn out right.”

For the Soviets, who had long studied U.S. basketball, the championship proved that the pupils could overtake the master.

Talked About

“They still talk about that particular game on TV and in magazines,” says Atlanta Hawks center Zaza Pachulia, who was born in the Soviet republic of Georgia in 1984. “It was an amazing historical moment for the whole country, and especially for Georgia.” Two Georgians were in the Soviet starting lineup.

Russian billionaire and Brooklyn Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov, 47, recalls watching the game on television as a child in Moscow. His father, who handled international relations for the Soviet sport committee, attended in Munich. “It made heroes of the players, so it certainly didn’t hurt in terms of my interest in the game,” he says.

The game’s significance transcended sports. In 1972, a decade after the Cuban missile crisis brought the U.S. and USSR to the brink of nuclear war, they were fighting the Cold War on safer terrain -- hockey rinks and chessboards. In September, the same month as the basketball gold-medal game, the Soviet hockey team humbled North American pride by proving in the “Summit Series” that it was the equal of Canada’s best. The world chess championship in July-August 1972 in Reykjavik, Iceland, in which Bobby Fischer of the U.S. defeated Boris Spassky of the USSR, drew more than a million viewers on American public television.

‘Proxy War’

“We were a proxy war,” says McMillen, a forward on the 1972 team, who represented Maryland in Congress from 1987 to 1993. “Brezhnev and Nixon could have arm-wrestled. We didn’t have to go on court.”

The Olympic gold-medal game almost didn’t take place. The Munich Games, which the host nation intended as a celebration to erase the memory of the Hitler-orchestrated 1936 Games in Berlin, were devastated by terrorism. A Palestinian group calling itself Black September sneaked into the Olympic Village, murdered an Israeli athlete and coach and took nine other Israelis hostage.

Terrorist Attack

Television viewers tuning in for boxing or volleyball instead saw armed, ski-masked terrorists patrolling the balcony of the Israeli dormitory. After hours of negotiations, the kidnappers killed the hostages during a rescue attempt at an airfield. At a Sept. 6 memorial service in the Olympic Stadium, IOC President Brundage decreed, “The games must go on.”

And they did. Both teams had already steamrolled lesser rivals in the preliminary round, the U.S. winning its seven games by an average of 33 points and the Soviets by 23.

The U.S., which had defeated the Soviets for the gold medal in four previous Olympics, was favored to do so again even though its squad averaged 20.6 years of age, five years younger than its opponent. Each superpower was allotted a referee from its sphere of influence, one from Bulgaria and one from Brazil.

To accommodate American TV, the Sept. 9 game began at 11:45 p.m. local time. There were so many Olympic athletes and international celebrities among the 6,500 spectators jamming the arena that King Constantine II and Queen Anne-Marie of Greece and the Grand Duke and Grand Duchess of Luxembourg couldn’t find seats.

“They enjoyed the game sitting on the floor” courtside, Aliki Strongylos, assistant to Constantine’s private secretary said in an e-mail. “His Majesty recalls the excitement and confusion of the final moments.”

Halftime Lead

Like U.S. college basketball, the Olympic championship was played in two 20-minute halves. The Soviets quickened their normally methodical attack, pulling away to an early 10-point lead. They were ahead at halftime, 26-21, and maintained their advantage through most of the second half, only to falter in the final minutes.

A furious American comeback culminated with eight seconds left when Collins, then a 21-year-old senior at Illinois State University, stole the ball and raced to attempt a layup. A Soviet defender knocked him into a stanchion. The officials whistled a foul, stopping the clock with three seconds remaining. Revived by trainers, Collins sank the first of two free throws, tying the game, 49-49.

Bizarre Sequence

Then the bizarre sequence that has bedeviled U.S. players for four decades began to unfold. Soviet Head Coach Vladimir Kondrashin wanted a timeout before Collins’ second shot, as the rules allowed. He pushed a wired button that was supposed to light a lamp on the officials’ table, signaling his request.

Instead, a mix-up ensued. The time-out horn didn’t sound until Collins was already shooting his second foul shot, too late for the referee to accommodate Kondrashin.

Kondrashin didn’t signal soon enough because the Soviets had inadvertently thrown the wire apparatus under their bench and had trouble retrieving it, official scorer Hans-Joachim Tenschert says in a telephone interview. Coach Kondrashin, though, said in a 1977 interview that the light system worked. Kondrashin, who died in 1999, blamed officials for ignoring the lamp.

Collins swished his second shot, giving the U.S. its first lead, 50-49. A FIBA rule -- no longer in effect today -- prohibited calling timeout after a second free throw. Play continued with Soviet guard Sergei Belov, defended by Collins, dribbling futilely at mid-court -- until, with one second left and an American victory seemingly assured, Brazilian referee Renato Righetto halted the game.

‘Drei Sekunden’

Soviet coaches complaining about the lost timeout were disturbing officials at the scoring table, and he wanted to move them back to the Soviet bench, Righetto said in a Nov. 10, 1972, affidavit accompanying a U.S. appeal to the International Olympic Committee.

Enter Jones. The FIBA chief approached the officials’ table and held up three fingers. He was signaling Longines technician Andre Chopard to restore the clock to the three seconds remaining when Collins took his foul shots, according to a Sept. 17, 1972, statement Chopard gave supporting the U.S. appeal.

“It was a good thing that Jones was standing behind the table near our bench,” assistant Soviet coach Sergei Bashkin told journalist Anatoly Pinchuk in an interview published in 1977. “He raised three fingers and said, ‘Drei Sekunden.’”

Unprecedented Order

Today, referees sometimes use instant replay to reverse a call and reset the clock. In 1972, Jones’ order was unprecedented.

“It is 12 years that I have been timekeeping for Longines and never once in my career did anyone ever ask me to extend the time!” Chopard said in his statement. He complied, he said, because Longines, a Swiss watchmaker, “does its work in the service” of FIBA.

FIBA rules specified that the officiating crew was responsible for on-court decisions. That mattered little to “the pope of basketball,” says scorer Tenschert, 64, a math teacher in Dortmund, Germany.

“He was god of the rules,” says Willy Bestgen, 77, who refereed seven games in the 1972 Olympics, and is retired in Hagen, Germany. “He said on Saturday, red is red, and on Sunday, red is blue. He told me always, ‘The last I said is correct.’”

International Sphere

Jones was suited to the international sphere. Born in Rome in 1906 to a British father and Italian mother, he learned basketball as a teenager at a YMCA in Turin. He attended Springfield College in Massachusetts, where Naismith had invented the sport. Fluent in half a dozen languages, he co-founded FIBA in Geneva in 1932. Based in neutral Switzerland during World War II, Jones spied for Britain, say referee Bestgen and Ursula Frank, who was Jones’ secretary, girlfriend and confidante.

“He facilitated the exchange of information via various channels, some slightly less legal than others,” according to a 1998 biography co-written by FIBA treasurer Manfred Stroeher and published by the federation.

Separated with three children, Jones collected model trains and antique whiskey bottles, invariably wore a bow tie over a white shirt, and relished Chivas Regal. After moving from Bern to Bavaria in 1956, Jones ran FIBA out of a three-story, box-like, postwar building in Solln, a Munich suburb, holding executive meetings on weekends.

‘Outstanding Drinkers’

“From Saturday afternoon to Sunday night it was a drinking and eating contest,” basketball journalist Noah Klieger, who covered the meetings, recalled in an interview posted on FIBA’s website. “The people involved were all outstanding drinkers.”

Bill Wall, 81, a teetotaler who ran the governing body for U.S. basketball overseas, remembers meeting Jones for the first time in 1975. Jones offered Wall a shot of Scotch with the remark, “Young man, I don’t trust anyone who doesn’t drink.” Wall complied, taking his first-ever drink of whiskey, he says.

Referees from East European countries with weak currencies showered Jones with presents, hoping for lucrative assignments to Western tournaments, according to Wall and Tenschert. Some bottles and boxes for Jones and Frank, who arranged his schedule, piled up at the Munich Olympics, Tenschert says.

“We don’t know what was in these things,” he says. “We wondered about the fact itself -- they are bringing presents. We in Germany don’t do this.”

“I received so many gifts,” says Frank, now 84 and ailing.

Both superpowers courted Jones. In 1961, Jones showed up from Moscow at a referee training program in England carrying cartons of caviar, vodka and a crab delicacy known as Chatka, gifts from the Soviet basketball federation, Bestgen says.

Scotch, Silks

“We would always bring homage,” says Fox, the former Amateur Athletic Union basketball administrator, now a special assistant at U.S. Figure Skating in Colorado Springs, Colorado. “The first thing you had to do was provide a half gallon of high-quality Scotch,” plus silks and perfume for Frank.

George Killian, 88, then executive director of the National Junior College Athletic Association, catered to Jones’ fondness for model trains. Killian, who later became president of FIBA, said he bought locomotives at a Lionel Trains store in Manhattan for Jones.

Such gratuities couldn’t smooth over Jones’ turbulent relationship with the U.S., which dated back at least two decades before the Munich Olympics. After attending the 1952 gold-medal game in Helsinki, Finland, in which the U.S. overcame the USSR’s delaying tactics to win 36-25, University of Kansas basketball coach Forrest “Phog” Allen complained to the IOC’s Brundage about Jones.

‘High Glee’

“I am convinced in my mind that R. William Jones is a collaborator,” Allen, enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame’s inaugural class in 1959, wrote in 1953 in correspondence preserved in the Avery Brundage Collection at the University of Illinois Archives.

“Jones sat with the Russians and was in high glee with them” when they were stalling to hold down the score. “If Jones belonged any place, it certainly was not with the Russians at that time or during any contest. He should have maintained a neutral position.”

Jones defended himself to Brundage and American basketball authorities.

‘Loyal Subject’

“I have done my best to develop international basketball in accordance with the Olympic ideals, transcending barriers raised by politics, race or religion,” he wrote that same year. “I am not a Communist. I am a loyal subject of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II and do not belong to any political party.”

Jones received an honorary doctorate in 1963 from his alma mater, Springfield College, and was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame, in Springfield, a year later. He was nonpartisan, says Russian referee Mikhail Davydov, a member of FIBA’s Technical Commission. “He was basketball man,” says Davydov, 64. “The interests of basketball dominated in his decisions.”

Davydov recalls a European championship game between clubs from Madrid and Varese, held in the Italian city, in which there was a dispute over a last-second basket by Madrid. The timekeeper ruled that Madrid scored before time expired, giving the victory to the Spanish team. For the timekeeper, an Italian, “it was like suicide,” Davydov says. “Jones flew from Munich and gave him a special medal for courage.”

Objectivity Tested

Jones’ objectivity was tested by the competing claims of Taiwan and People’s Republic of China to represent China. At the world championships in Chile in 1959, the USSR refused to play against Taiwan. Resisting pressure to ban the Soviets from international competition, Jones imposed a milder penalty, relegating them to the bottom of the standings.

As a result, “some experts in the USA and other Western countries even suspected Jones of ... harboring secret sympathies for socialism,” according to the FIBA biography.

Jones further strained his relationship with the U.S. by intervening in a factional dispute. FIBA had anointed the Amateur Athletic Union, which ran leagues in which corporations sponsored teams and employed players, to choose the U.S. Olympic team. As industrial leagues waned, college basketball challenged the AAU’s control. When Jones proposed a compromise, AAU officials felt betrayed.

Clifford Buck, then AAU president, wrote Brundage in 1966 that Jones ran FIBA in a “dictatorial, undemocratic manner.”

Renewed Life

Six years later in Munich, Jones gave the Soviet team renewed life. To reset the clock to three seconds, as Jones demanded, Chopard turned it back to one minute, one second, and started a countdown.

When the game resumed, a Soviet pass went astray, and a horn sounded. Assuming time had expired, the Americans celebrated and spectators stormed the court. Amid the chaos, U.S. Head Coach Henry Iba’s wallet was stolen. ABC-TV announcer Frank Gifford proclaimed that the U.S. had won its eighth straight basketball gold, and a “final” score of 50-49 flashed on viewers’ screens.

The horn, however, didn’t signal the game’s end. Instead, the blast meant play had begun prematurely with the clock at 50 seconds, not three. Jones again insisted on restarting at three seconds. When the Americans responded that it was done and won, Jones threatened to strip them of the victory.

“A lot of people wanted to walk off the floor and go to the locker room,” says John Bach, 88, then a U.S. assistant coach. “I was the guy at the table talking to Dr. Jones. I brought the message back from him, ’Put the U.S. team on the floor or forfeit the gold.’

Head Coach Iba, who died in 1993, told Bach, “We won’t lose the gold medal sitting on our asses,” says the assistant, who has refused until recently to discuss the game publicly. “To the day he died, he probably regretted putting the team back on the floor.”

Game Over

For the Soviets, the third try was the charm. Alexander Belov outjumped two American defenders, caught Edeshko’s full-court pass, and carefully laid the ball off the backboard into the basket. Jubilant Soviet players piled on top of him.

Bestgen, who wasn’t assigned to referee the game, sat in the second row next to Vasily Alekseyev, the Soviet gold medalist in super heavyweight lifting, who consumed four beers and four sausages at halftime. The U.S. and USSR should have replayed the game the next day, Bestgen says. “It’s impossible that you have two winners in three seconds.”

Jones’ coverup began immediately.

“For a period of two days, Dr. Jones denied that he ordered the clock set back,” M.K. “Bill” Summers, chairman of the U.S. men’s basketball committee, wrote in February 1973 to Lord Killanin, who succeeded Brundage as IOC president after the Munich Games. “Only after many witnesses and officials stated publicly that they saw him order the last three seconds did he finally admit doing so.”

Howard Cosell

The U.S. could only appeal to FIBA -- Jones’s organization. Hungary’s Hepp, whom the FIBA biography calls “among Jones’s closest friends,” headed a five-judge panel. Sportscaster Howard Cosell, also a lawyer, “skillfully pleaded” the U.S. case, supported by referee Righetto, according to McMillen’s 1992 memoir, “Out of Bounds.”

Hepp protected his drinking buddy. “Dr. Hepp told us forcefully we should only answer to their questions, nothing more,” scorer Tenschert says. “About Jones and his actions at the end of the game the committee did not want to know.”

The committee upheld the Soviet victory along Cold War lines on Sept. 10. Hepp and judges from Cuba and Poland were in the majority; those from Italy and Puerto Rico reportedly dissented.

U.S. Refuseniks

Caucusing after the game, U.S. players agreed to forego the silver medals. McMillen, at first a holdout, yielded. The refuseniks withstood pressure from U.S. Olympic officials aware that the International Olympic Committee was considering moving up bronze-medalist Cuba to second place, and Italy to third. The IOC ultimately rejected that option, and the silver medalist platform sat empty.

The 84-year-old Brundage, a Detroit native, was inundated with letters and telegrams from compatriots. “Maybe you should renounce your citizenship, you senile old goat,” wrote a Virginia Tech student.

Jones’s old AAU adversary, Clifford Buck, who had become president of the U.S. Olympic Committee, called for retaliation. The U.S. should pull out of Olympic basketball to avoid subjecting “our athletes to any more of the gross malfeasance we have experienced at the hands of the FIBA administration,” Buck announced.

The Nixon administration fumed. “The game has to have been over,” White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman told Nixon on Sept. 11, 1972, in the Oval Office in a previously unreported conversation preserved on the White House tapes.

Kissinger Gibe

That afternoon in the Executive Office Building, Nixon and staffers discussed how to respond. When the president complained that “we got screwed,” they warned him against acting like a sore loser. While “everybody here believes we got screwed,” an unidentified aide said, “You’re better off not to be on record as complaining about the officiating.”

That same day, Brezhnev and Kissinger talked in the Kremlin. Kissinger had just arrived from Munich, where he’d met with West German Chancellor Willy Brandt. “We are hoping to finalize” plans for a conference on European security, Brezhnev told him.

“You will defeat us in the last three seconds,” replied Kissinger, according to a declassified White House transcript.

The IOC refused to review the gold-medal decision in February 1973, despite statements supporting the U.S. from Longines’ Chopard, referee Righetto, and four officials from the courtside table. Killanin wrote Buck that it was “a technical question outside the competence of the Executive Board.”

Olympic Boycotts

The superpowers waited 16 years for a rematch after Munich. In 1976, the USSR lost in the semifinals to Yugoslavia, which the U.S. defeated for the gold.

The U.S. stayed home in 1980 to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. In a speech in Moscow, which hosted the Olympics, Jones called President Jimmy Carter a “son of a bitch.” In 1984, the Soviets boycotted the Olympics in Los Angeles.

When they met in the 1988 semifinals in Seoul, Korea, the 1972 victory inspired the Soviet team, which prevailed 82-76.

“We knew the Americans were not unbeatable,” says Alexander Volkov, a forward on the 1988 Soviet team and now president of the Ukrainian Basketball Federation. “They already lost once.”

Successive defeats to the USSR were more than the American public could stand. McMillen circulated a resolution in Congress to send professionals to the Olympics. With the backing of NBA Commissioner Stern, FIBA dropped restrictions on professionals in 1989. Three years later, the “Dream Team” coasted to the gold.

Younger Olympians

The London Games may be the last time that NBA superstars represent the U.S. in the Olympics. To protect franchise players from injury, Stern will talk with FIBA about sending a team of players aged 23 or under in 2016, says league spokesman Michael Bass. All nations competing in Olympic basketball would have to comply with the age limit under Stern’s proposal, Bass says.

Such a young squad might struggle against global competition, as the U.S. collegians did in 1972. The Munich debacle has haunted them ever since. NBA senior vice president Bantom, who fouled out of the game, says he ran into Soviet hero Edeshko in Moscow in the early 1990s, at an NBA clinic for Russian coaches. After they shook hands, Bantom says, he asked, “Where do you keep my gold medal?”

Edeshko laughed.

“I’m not joking,” Bantom says he replied. Edeshko says he doesn’t recall the incident.

Winner, Loser

Edeshko does remember that Doug Collins brushed him off when their paths crossed at an exhibition game in the U.S. in the late 1980’s. “I said, ‘I don’t want to meet that guy,’” Collins told Sports Illustrated in 1992.

Gallagher, the Illinois attorney, offered a solution to four decades of U.S. disappointment. Since 2008, he has collected agreements from 11 of the 12 U.S. players that gold medals for both teams would be a fair solution. Not Davis. The captain only wants gold if the Soviets are stripped of it. “Basketball games have a winner and a loser,” he says.

Davis, who is looking forward to the team reunion in August at his alma mater, Georgetown College in Georgetown, Kentucky, remains a prisoner of the Munich loss, he says. Because his grandson’s kindergarten graduation this past May took place in a gymnasium, it set him brooding over his Olympic disappointment.

“‘Three more seconds,’” he says in a mock-German accent, imitating the game’s public-address announcer. “‘Three more seconds.’ I hear that in my sleep.”

(A condensed version of this story appears in the September issue of Bloomberg Markets.)