ISTANBUL – After Mike Krzyzewski’s insinuation that Russian coach David Blatt was less than patriotic for suggesting the United States hadn’t been cheated out of a gold medal in the 1972 Olympics, Blatt fired back at the Team USA coach on Thursday morning.
“I think Mike’s overlooked the fact that I’m every bit as much of an American as him,” Blatt told Yahoo! Sports at his team’s hotel. “In America, we’re taught that freedom of speech and freedom of thought allow us to try and view things objectively, form our own opinions and express them.
“The ability to do that without risking it being called an act of unpatriotism may be lost upon him.”
Blatt is a U.S. native who holds dual American-Israeli citizenship.
The United States and Russia meet on Thursday in a FIBA World Championship quarterfinal game that’s suddenly been injected with a tension and nastiness straight out of the Cold War. What’s more, these two rivals meet on the 38th anniversary of the ’72 gold-medal game that is perhaps the most famous international basketball game in history. Believing that officials gave the Russians two extra chances to make a winning shot and steal a 51-50 victory, the U.S. players refused to claim their silver medals.
On Wednesday, Krzyzewski mocked a story that Blatt told about crying at the conclusion of the ’72 game as a teenager growing up in Massachusetts. Blatt recently watched a new documentary on the final minutes of the game and changed his opinion on how the events played out.
“He's Russian,” Krzyzewski told reporters. “He coaches the Russian team. So he probably has that viewpoint. His eyes are clearer now because there are no tears in them.”
“I’m not Russian,” Blatt countered to Yahoo! Sports. “I’m an American-Israeli. But I’m proud that I can view things objectively and form my own opinion with the hope that it doesn’t insult anybody. If anything, it only asks people to be a little more open-minded and fair about things.
“If there’s anything that living in Europe the past 30 years has taught me, it’s to try to view issues like this from all sides, and form an opinion based on facts and perspective and impartiality – even if it isn’t popular or goes against the tide. That’s the only way we can make any progress in life.”
Blatt, who has coached the Russian national team for six years, told Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday that he will resign from his post at the end of the tournament. Blatt has been one of Europe’s most successful coaches, winning championships in Italy, Israel and Russia. He’s returning for a second stint as Maccabi Tel-Aviv’s coach this season.
Blatt played four years for Hall of Fame coach Pete Carril at Princeton and played for the gold-medal U.S. team in the 1981 Maccabiah Games in Israel.
“I thought we were past this,” Blatt said. “Shouldn’t Mike be proud that an American coach has made his way to Europe and become coach of the Russian national team? If people are still getting emotional about that thing 40 years later or trying to use it in a way to further their own cause, so be it.
“I would’ve been happy to have the opportunity to coach the U.S. national team. That would’ve been great. But we all can’t have that.”
- Mike Krzyzewski