Dramatic? Of course.
But were the final three seconds of 1972's infamous gold-medal basketball game between Team USA and the Soviet Union a gross miscarriage of justice?
Well, that's at least debatable—regardless of what the frothing patriots may tell you.
Let's review the facts.
With his team down one and three seconds remaining, American guard Doug Collins hits two free throws (after nearly being knocked unconscious on a hard drive to the hoop, mind you).
International rules stipulate that the clock start after the second free-throw make and that the bench cannot call a time-out. The clock starts. The Soviets inbound the ball. Time expires. Team USA wins.
But there's a hang-up. The Soviets had attempted to call a timeout before the second free throw in order to make a substitution. A mistake, either by the referees or the scoring table, causes the timeout to go undetected.
R. William Jones, the secretary general of FIBA, recognizes the mistake and comes down from the stands to correct the officials. He has no jurisdiction over the affair, but the officials put three seconds back on the clock.
After the hubbub dies down, the Soviets run a second inbound play. Again, the shot attempt goes awry. Again, it appears the Americans have prevailed.
This time, however, the referee has made a crucial error. He starts the play while the official clock reads 50 seconds instead of three. The time never ran. The Americans are ordered back onto the court.
The third time...well...you know what happens.
The Soviets throw a full-length pass to one of their forwards. He catches the ball at its highest point—perhaps after a slight shove—and lays it in for a one-point victory.
The loss was America's first in Olympic basketball. Layer that atop brimming Cold War tensions, and one can see where the outrage stems from.
But was it unfair?
I'll let you be the judge.
Note: Facts above based on ESPN SportsCentury's chronicling of the game. Part Two can be found in the clip above. Part One is online here.
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