In 1972 the best basketball nation in the world was undoubtedly the USA. The Americans hadn’t lost a single game since basketball was introduced in the Olympics in 1936 ... a span of 63 games. In the 1972 Munich Games the US met up with the perennial silver medalists, the Soviets. Both teams we undefeated in the lead up to the gold medal game, and all expected a close match.
The match lived up to expectations as it was back and forth all game. The Russians held the lead most of the game but the US continued to stay close. At halftime, the US were down by five points. The Russian lead increased to 10 with only ten minutes left to play.
The US weren’t dead yet. They mounted a massive comeback so they only trailed by a single point with 38 seconds left to play. The Russians fouled American Doug Collins hard as he was driving to the basket to sink the go-ahead basket ... giving Collins two free throws.
Collins had only three seconds on the clock so his two shots would likely decide the game. In one of the most pressure filled situations an athlete can be Collins sunk both shots to give the US a one point lead.
Now things get messy.
After the Soviets in-bounded the ball to make one last desperate play to score the referees stopped the game with only one second left. The Soviets believed they called for a time-out between Collins' free throws, which was never acknowledged by the referees.
In a surprising decision, the officials put three seconds back on the clock and the Russians got another shot to score the winning basket.
The Soviets in-bounded the ball again and failed to score. The buzzer sounded giving the Americans an apparent victory. As the US team started to celebrate they were told that due to a timekeeping error the play would have to be replayed a third time.
The head of the FIBA, Renato William Jones ruled that the clock had not been reset properly, and ordered that it should again show three seconds remaining. Jones was not an official and had no auithoriy to make this decision but after a conference with the officials, his decision stood.
The stunned Americans couldn’t believe what was happening:
"We couldn't believe that they were giving them all these chances," said U.S. forward Mike Bantom. "It was like they were going to let them do it until they got it right."Soviet Alexander Belov (who fouled Collins with three seconds left) grabbed the full court pass from his teammate and scored the winning basket on a lay-up just as time ran out. The USSR had won the gold medal, ending the Americans impressive winning streak.
The U.S. filed a 51-page brief protesting the Russian victory. A panel rejected it by a 3-2 vote along Cold War lines, Poland, Hungary and Cuba supported the Soviet Union.
The players met after the game and all agreed never to accept the silver medal as they felt the officials had taken the game from them:
That's a rough way to end a 63 game losing streak.
"That was the players talking. And they were saying they not accept the medal." said player Ed Ratleff. "To this day, I will not accept the medal. One player, Kenny Davis has it in his will to never accept it. My former wife tried to get me to accept it for the sake of our kids. I couldn't do it.
Day 1 - Eric "The Eel" Moussambani
Day 2 - Betty Robinson
Day 3 - Sally Robbins
Day 4 - Abebe Bilkila
Day 5 - 1972 USA Basketball team
Day 6 - Bobby Pearce
Day 7 - Byun Jong-il
Day 8 - Stella Walsh
Day 9 - Spanish Paralympic Basketball Team
Day 10 - Ingeborg Marx
Day 11 - Vanderlei de Lima
Day 12 - Hans-Jurgen Todt
Day 13 - Liu Changchun
Day 14 - Dorando Pietri
Day 15 - 1956 Hungarian Water Polo Team
Day 16 - 1960 Tunisian Modern Pentathlon Team