Three seconds of chaos

Was the United States basketball team robbed of a gold medal in 1972?

Depends on who you ask. The U.S players, who still have not collected their silver medals, will say yes, absolutely. Their Russian counterparts will say no, that the U.S. players can't accept defeat.

In truth, both sides are probably right.

The chaos that the final three seconds of the 1972 gold medal game turned into is, unquestionably, a travesty that rests at the feet of the officials. In those final three seconds (take a deep breath) … the referees missed the Russian bench calling for a timeout, if you believe the Russians' claim that they did call one before Doug Collins was handed the ball and subsequently sunk the second free throw to give the U.S. a 50-49 lead. They then ordered the Russians to inbounds the ball, which they did, only to have the referees subsequently halt play because of a disturbance at the scorer's table, where Russian coach Vladimir Kondrashkin was lobbying he had called a timeout. The referees allowed for a second inbounds play with only one second on the clock, but as that ended with the U.S. celebrating now a second time, the referees caved to the wishes of R. William Jones, the British head of the International Basketball Association, to put three seconds – not one – back on the clock. Finally, on the third inbounds play, a referee signaled for Tom McMillen to stand off the baseline, even though the rules didn't stipulate he had to, allowing Ivan Edeshko a clear passing lane down the court that led to the eventual winning basket.

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It never should have even come to the Russians being granted three opportunities to inbounds the ball. But if it hadn't, the Russians would have been able to lay claim that they were the ones cheated, and they would have been right, too.

The bottom line is this: The referees screwed up, royally, something the International Olympic Committee has never copped to. And that is why what happened in 1972 in Munich is still open to debate.

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