Russian coach says USA not cheated out of gold in 1972 Olympics


David_blatt.jpgIt remains one of the most controversial basketball games ever.

The ending of the 1972 Olympic gold medal game in Munich featured a Russian team getting three chances to inbound the ball late in the game and down one point, and it was on the third they were able to execute a length of the court pass and layup that gave Russia the gold medal (the first time the USA hadn’t won the gold since 1936).

The USA team considered it unfair and never picked up their silver medals, not showing up to the ceremony in protest.

But Russian coach David Blatt — who grew up a Celtics fan in Massachusetts — says it was the right call, as reported at TrueHoop.

“By the way, there’s a wonderful film about that, and I hate to say it as an American, but it looks like the Russians were right,” Blatt said. “The American team was not cheated. Funny things happened, but in reality it was fair. It was fair.”

The USA and Russia will play each other Thursday in the FIBA World Championship quarterfinals, 38 years to the day after that infamous game.

The USA team now is filled with NBA players — young ones primarily this time around, but guys still seasoned by NBA-level play. Back in 1972 we sent our top college kids, that year led by Doug Collins (yes, Sixers coach Doug Collins) and Paul Westphaul (now the Kings coach). The team was coached by the legendary Henry Iba, who demanded a slow-paced offense and a focus on defense. Bill Walton was the notable absence, having been advised by doctors to take the summer off due to knee issues he was already having (although other factors about coaching and his USA experience in 1970 played into his decision).

The Russians had what was essentially a professional team, part of the Russian military technically the team was older and had played 400 games together ad were much older.

The USA had rolled almost untested to the gold medal game, but in the Russians found the most talented foe they had faced. And a team that like the slow pace the Americans were forced to play at by Iba.

Russia controlled this game. The USA was down by five points at halftime and at the start of the fourth quarter were down 10.

The USA’s Kevin Joyce sparked a comeback that had the USA down one with 30 seconds remaining. The Russians tried to protect that lead by running out the clock (there was no three point line at the time so today’s strategy of fouling was far less effective). Then Collins intercepted a Russian cross-court pass and went racing for a breakaway layup only to be fouled in the act of shooting.

Two pressure free throws, and he drained both. The USA was up one with three seconds on the clock.

The Russians inbounded the ball then with one second left the referees stopped the game. They gave in to complaints from the Russian coach that he had called a time out between Collins free throws that was never granted. Three seconds were put back on the clock and after the timeout given late the Russians got another chance.

The Russians inbounded the ball again, didn’t score and the USA players celebrated… until the referees said the Russians got to inbound the ball again. They said the clock had not been reset to three seconds and the play had to be done over. Again.

The third time a Russia’s Alexander Belov caught a length-of-the-court pass and laid in the game winner.

It was a game — played in then Soviet bloc East Germany — that was filled with Cold War implications and politics. Whether what happened or not was fair has divided the international basketball community ever sense. (Even some American writers, such as the Los Angeles Times Randy Harvey, weren’t convinced the USA was cheated.)

Thursday the teams and stakes will be completely different. But the ghost of the 1972 game will be haunting the game in Turkey, a shadow over the latest matchup in this rivalry.

Before season starts, watch top 10 dunks of preseason

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Starting Tuesday night, the games matter. The dunks matter.

But before we move onto those dunks, let’s have some fun with the top 10 dunks of the meaningless preseason. They may not matter, but they certainly were fun.

Of course there are some expected highlights — can you have a dunk reel without Russell Westbrook? — but game-winning dunks always get the top slot.

Carmelo Anthony says rather than take knee during Anthem he wants action in communities

NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 26:  Carmelo Anthony #7 of the New York Knicks looks on against the Cleveland Cavaliers during their game at Madison Square Garden on March 26, 2016 in New York City.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)

Colin Kaepernick certainly fired up a discussion — not always the conversation he intended, but a discussion of the treatment of African-Americans in our society was part of that conversation.

No NBA player has taken that same step through the preseason, taking a knee during the national anthem (only anthem singers have done that). Some teams are locking arms during the anthem in a show of solidarity, but they stand in two orderly rows.

Carmelo Anthony explained in an interview with Bleacher Report that what he and many others want to see is the next step in Kaepernick’s protest — action in the community.

“I’m past the gestures,” New York Knicks star Carmelo Anthony told B/R Mag. “I’m past that. It’s all about creating things now and putting things in motion. So, that’s what I’m on. I’m trying to get guys on board with that and help them understand that—enough of the gesturing and talking and all of that stuff—we need to start putting things in place….

“He’s done it,” Anthony said of Kaepernick. “He was courageous enough to do that. He created that. He created the kneeling and that protest. And people fell in line with that. Some people supported it. Some people didn’t. But at the end of the day, and I’m not taking nothing away from him…I just don’t think the gesturing is creating anything. I think it’s bringing awareness, but I think doing stuff and creating awareness in the communities [is more effective].”

What are those things? Players, the players’ union, the NBA itself, and it’s teams are all working to figure that out. This is not something where one blanket program fits all — what is needed in communities in New York is different from the needs in Milwaukee, is different from the needs in Sacramento. This needs to be local, with players involved.

There have already been some steps. The Bulls held a basketball tournament between police and a mentoring agency, which was followed by a panel discussion. Dwyane Wade biked with police through Miami. The Grizzlies have revived the Police Athletic League in Memphis. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg, there are teams from New Orleans to Los Angeles are working to bring youth and police together to talk.

It’s a start. A good start.

There is no one magic gesture, no one simple measure that can heal the deep divides in our nation right now. There are no easy answers, and as a nation we can be too dependent on easy answers. We need to listen. We need to talk to each other, not at each other. We need to practice empathy.

NBA players can help lead that effort, that conversation. It would be the next step after a protest — to act on those steps. Good on Anthony and the NBA for attempting to go down that road.


Rockets change from earlier reports, waive Pablo Prigioni, keep Tyler Ennis

HOUSTON, TX - MAY 17:  Pablo Prigioni #9 of the Houston Rockets celebrates in the third quarter against the Los Angeles Clippers during Game Seven of the Western Conference Semifinals at the Toyota Center for the 2015 NBA Playoffs on May 17, 2015 in Houston, Texas. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and/or using this photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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The Rockets traded for Tyler Ennis., sending Michael Beasley away in the deal.

Which is why it was a bit of a surprise on Monday when early reports had the Rockets waiving Ennis, but either the report was off or the Rockets changed their minds.

With Patrick Beverley out injured, this leaves the Rockets thin at the traditional point guard spot. However, in practice James Harden, Eric Gordon and others will initiate Mike D’Antoni’s offense, so the bigger challenge will be defensively. Prigioni was not much help there at this point in his career.

I wouldn’t be surprised if a team snaps up Prigioni as insurance, or he certainly can make money overseas. Prigioni played last season as a backup point guard for the Clippers.

Want some dance lessons from Hassan Whiteside? We got that.

MIAMI, FL - SEPTEMBER 26: A portrait of Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat on September 26, 2016 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Rob Foldy/Getty Images)
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Miami’s Hassan Whiteside is a lot of things: An elite shot blocker, up-and-coming NBA star who worked hard for the right to be that, a Heat cornerstone.

Dance instructor?

I’m not sold, but he’s showing off his groove in this Twitter video.

When you get a $98.6 million contract, you can do whatever you want. So he can be a dance if he wants to.