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

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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.

Rumor: Indiana coach Nate McMillan is on hot seat

Indiana coach hot seat
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Last season, Indiana’s Nate McMillan finished fourth in Coach of the Year voting, taking a team that lost star Victor Oladipo after just 36 games and still got them into the playoffs. McMillan is going to get COY votes again this year for much the same reason — his teams play good defense and overachieve.

Indiana coach Nate McMillan is also on the hot seat.

It’s surprising, and it’s just a rumor, but ESPN’s Jeff Van Gundy and Zach Lowe had this conversation on a recent episode of The Lowe Post podcast (hat tip PacersTalk.net).

Van Gundy: “I had two people come up to me since I’ve been here [in the NBA restart bubble] and say, ‘Nate McMillan’s in trouble.’”

Lowe: “It’s been the hottest rumor all season… What you’ve heard in Orlando’s been going around all season…

“Let me be clear: It’s just a rumor. I don’t know if it’s true. When you talk to people around the Pacers, they say, ‘It’s not true’ or ‘Where you’d hear that from?’”

Maybe management wants a more modern offense, the Pacers are bottom eight in both three pointers attempted and pace. Overall, Indiana’s offense is middle of the pack (18th in the league), which is not bad considering it was without Oladipo for most of the season (and he was playing his way into shape when he returned and was not at an All-NBA level).

It’s hard to imagine that the Pacers would make a change this offseason, which will be short and give a new coach less time to ramp up a program. Plus, does owner Herb Simon want to pay two coaches? The finances of the league are helping other coaches keep their jobs.

More than all that, McMillan doesn’t deserve to be fired.

Not that “deserved” has had much to do with NBA coaches keeping their jobs in the past.

 

Report: NBA players bypassing ‘snitch’ hotline to call Adam Silver directly

NBA commissioner Adam Silver
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No NBA players have been diagnosed with coronavirus in the bubble. And they want to keep it that way. A championship and a lot of money are on the line.

That means preventing players from having close contact with anyone outside the bubble. And, in case someone contracts coronavirus, wearing masks (intact masks) to prevent a wider outbreak.

The NBA set up a hotline – quickly dubbed the “snitch” hotline – for players to report violations.

Chris Haynes of TNT:

Players have been circumventing that process. Sources informed me that multiple players are personally calling commissioner Adam Silver to issue their complaints with things they’re seeing in the bubble.

Adam Silver is accessible to players – particularly the president of the union.

I’m not sure about tattling straight to the top boss when there are other protocols in place. Are hotline calls not resulting in changed behavior?

Either way, it’s important for the NBA to keep players safe – both for their health and the league’s revenue (about half of which goes to players in salary). So, cut Chris Paul anyone calling Silver a break. They’re at least trying to help. And so far, violations inside the bubble have led to reminders, not harsher discipline.

Zion Williamson sitting out Pelicans-Wizards (rest)

Pelicans big Zion Williamson
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The Pelicans have been one of the NBA’s most disappointing teams in the bubble. New Orleans has gone 1-3 at Disney World and fallen to 13th in the Western Conference.

Still (barely) hanging in the race to make the play-in, the Pelicans must face the Wizards without Zion Williamson.

Pelicans:

The Pelicans are treating Williamson carefully – and they should. He’s their 20-year-old franchise player with major health concerns.

But New Orleans still has its highest ceiling now with Williamson on the floor. He’s an offensive force. His interior scoring and gravity create efficient looks for himself and teammates.

Williamson has been woeful defensively, and the Pelicans have bigs – Derrick Favors and Jaxson Hayes – to take Williamson’s minutes. New Orleans can go small, too.

The Pelicans should still beat Washington, even without Williamson. Ideally, this will have Williamson ready for a closing stretch against the Spurs, Kings and Magic without sacrificing today’s game.

Yet, this is really just proof New Orleans isn’t as ready to launch as it appears during Williamson’s most exciting moments. His availability remains murky. His team has run hot and cold. I wouldn’t assume a win over the Wizards – though it’s a game the Pelicans need to preserve their fading playoff hopes.

Rumor: Next NBA season could begin in March

Wizards guard Bradley Beal and 76ers center Joel Embiid
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The NBA could reportedly delay the start of next season – currently planned for Dec. 1 – if fan attendance becomes foreseeable.

How long would the league wait?

Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times:

one plan includes starting in March if the NBA feels they can get fans in the arena by then, as well as not lose personnel and viewership to the Summer Olympics.

I understand the temptation to delay. The coronavirus pandemic has made it more difficult for NBA teams to turn a profit.

But this plan would invite all sorts of complications:

  • What if there’s no vaccine, cure or comparable solution by March? Then, the league would have wasted months getting practically no revenue – rather than reduced revenue – without reaching a more favorable point. (However, maybe owners could also reduce costs with a lockout.)
  • Starting the season in March would radically alter the NBA’s calendar. Shifting back to an October – or even December – start date would mean even more upheaval, potentially for several years.
  • The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled for July and August 2021. The Olympics have been a powerful tool for the NBA and its players expanding their global reach.

These are unique and trying circumstances. Coronavirus is a massive and confounding variable. Everything should be on the table.

Do I predict next season will begin in March? No. But apparently the possibility is being considered, which is something.