'72 U.S. Olympic men's basketball team still feels the sting of a loss

Dwight Jones defends against a Russian player in the gold-medal game of the Munich Olympics. The U.S. lost, 51-50. AP
Dwight Jones defends against a Russian player in the gold-medal game of the Munich Olympics. The U.S. lost, 51-50. AP
Posted: August 26, 2012

GEORGETOWN, Ky. - Individually, the players of the 1972 U.S. Olympic men's basketball team have long moved on, but as a unit they are among the most interesting in amateur or professional sports history. They were not only the first U.S. men's basketball team to lose a game after the Americans had gone 63-0 in the Olympics, but they also left Munich without their silver medals around their necks.

For the first time since that controversial, 51-50 loss to Russia in the '72 championship game, all 12 players are together.

This weekend they are having a reunion, and they remain united in one simple fact - the players still have no interest in picking up the medals.

The team had a reunion in 1992, but only nine of the 12 players attended. This time, they all are on board, and there is no more popular figure here than Doug Collins, clearly the most visible member as the head coach of the 76ers and recent Olympic basketball analyst for NBC.

"The Olympics were my coming-out party," Collins said after several of his teammates took part Friday in panel discussions at Georgetown College.

And what a party it was - until the final three seconds of the gold-medal game.

With the U.S. trailing by 50-49, Collins was hammered going to the basket and awarded two free throws. He made both, two of the more clutch shots in international basketball history.

The details of the final three seconds have been well-documented. After Collins' second foul shot, the Soviets began dribbling and the game was stopped by a referee with one second left. Williams Jones, the head of the international basketball federation, FIBA, came down from the stands and ordered the last three seconds be replayed, overruling the game officials, who said there was one second left.

The Soviets again inbounded, but the officials didn't realize the clock was being reset and had 50 seconds left. The horn sounded after the long pass was tipped off the backboard, and the Americans thought they won.

The Soviets got a third try, and Aleksandr Belov converted a layup off a long pass for the controversial game-winner.

The team, composed of all college players, voted not to accept the silver medals shortly after the game, and their stance hasn't changed in four decades since.

This was a tight-knit group that went through boot-camp-like conditions in training under taskmaster coach Hank Iba and thought it had victory snatched away not by the opponent, but by the powers that be.

The reunion began Thursday night, when the players participated in a roundtable discussion for an ESPN show.

"There were tears in guys' eyes, and it shows the respect we have for each other and all we went through representing our country," Collins said. "Forty years later there is an understanding of how blessed we are over the years."

He added one important point.

"There is no bitterness."

Just plenty of togetherness.

"I love these guys, and we have a bond that nobody can break," said forward-center Dwight Jones.

Two other players with Philadelphia connections are Mike Bantom and Bobby Jones. Bantom grew up in North Philadelphia, starred at St Joseph's, and played in the NBA and Italy.

Jones played eight years for the Sixers and was the NBA's sixth man of the year during their championship season in 1983.

Despite the disappointment, Bantom put things clearly in perspective, summing up the mood of his teammates.

"I am not pained by it; we got cheated out of a basketball game," he said. "I didn't lose a kid or have anybody from the family suffering from terminal disease. There are a million things worse."

The 1972 U.S. Olympic men's basketball team that lost the controversial gold-medal game to the Russians, 51-50, is meeting for a 40th reunion this weekend at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky. Here is a look at the 12 players:

Jim Brewer, 6-foot-9, PF, University of Minnesota

 Olympic stats: 9 games, 7.6 ppg., 7.1 rpg.

After the Olympics: He played in both the NBA and in Italy.

Today: A former NBA assistant coach for 17 years, he is involved in several entrepreneurial projects.

Jim Forbes, 6-8, F, UTEP

 Olympic stats: 9 games, 5.1 ppg., 3.1 rpg.

After the Olympics: He was drafted by the Chicago Bulls but never played in the NBA. He eventually returned to UTEP as an assistant coach.

Today: He is a high school coach in Texas.

Dwight Jones, 6-10, PF-C, Houston

 Olympic stats: 9 games, 9.2 ppg., 5.7 rpg.

After the Olympics: He had a 10-year NBA career and one season in Italy.

Today: He has worked in the car business since 1987 and runs basketball camps for underprivileged children.

Bobby Jones, 6-9. SF, North Carolina

Olympic stats: 8 games, 4.6 ppg., 3.1 rpg.

After the Olympics: Jones had a 12-year pro career in the ABA and NBA. He was a four-time NBA all-star and was the 1983 sixth man of the year for the champion 76ers.

Today: He has cofounded a religiously affiliated nonprofit for underprivileged children and coaches a middle-school basketball team.

Mike Bantom, 6-9, PF-C, St. Joseph's

Olympic stats: 9 games, 7.7 ppg., 4.9 rpg.

After the Olympics: The first-round pick of the Phoenix Suns in 1973 (eighth overall), Bantom played in the NBA for nine years and then in Italy from 1982 to 1989.

Today: He is the NBA senior vice president of player development.

Tom Henderson, 6-3, G, Hawaii

Olympic stats: 9 games, 9.2 ppg., 2.0 rpg.

After the Olympics: He had a nine-year NBA career and was a member of the 1978 champion Washington Bullets.

Today: He is the administrator at a Houston-area juvenile facility.

Doug Collins, 6-6, SG/SF, Illinois State

Olympic stats: 9 games, 7.3 ppg., 2.3 rpg.

After the Olympics: He was the first overall pick of the 1973 draft and taken by the 76ers, with whom he stayed for eight seasons and earned four all-star berths.

Today: He is the Sixers' head coach. He has also been a head coach with the Chicago Bulls, Detroit Pistons, and Washington Wizards.

Ed Ratleff, 6-6 F, Long Beach State

Olympic stats: 9 games, 6.4 ppg., 3.1 rpg.

After the Olympics: He was the sixth overall pick and selected by the Houston Rockets in the 1973 draft. He played five seasons with the Rockets.

Today: He has been a State Farm insurance agent since 1986.

Kevin Joyce, 6-3, G, South Carolina

Olympic stats: 9 games, 5.3 ppg.

After the Olympics: He played in the ABA.

Today: He is an equity salesman in New York.

Tom McMillen, 6-11, F-C, Maryland

Olympic stats: 9 games, 6.8 ppg., 4.3 rpg.

After the Olympics: He played for four NBA teams and later served as a U.S. Congressman.

Today: He is the CEO of an investment firm and chairman of the National Foundation on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.

Tom Burleson, 7-2, C, North Carolina State

Olympic stats: 7 games, 3.9 ppg., 2.1 rpg.

After the Olympics: He played seven years in the NBA.

Today: He is the director of planning and inspections for Avery County, N.C.

Kenny Davis, 6-1, SG, Georgetown College.

Olympic stats: 6 games, 2.3 ppg. 0.7 rpg.

After the Olympics: He did not play pro ball.

Today: He has been a sales executive at Converse since 1972 and has a written provision in his will that neither his wife nor his children can accept the silver medal after he dies.

Contact Marc Narducci at 856-779-3225 or mnarducci@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @sjnard.

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