- Last Updated: 7:29 AM, August 12, 2012
- Posted: 1:22 AM, August 12, 2012
LONDON — Unless something unfortunate happens this afternoon, such as a bizarre transportation mishap that somehow delivers their bus to Greenwich, Conn., rather than North Greenwich Arena, the United State will win the basketball gold medal for the 14th time in the 18 Olympics in which the sport has been played.
It is a fine tradition, one with which the U.S. rightly beams with pride. Since 1936, with only four exceptions, the U.S. has been a runaway wire-to-wire front-runner.
The exceptions, in many ways, are far more memorable than the rules: the 2004 team that won bronze and simultaneously tried to lose as much international good will as possible; the 1988 team that took bronze and sped along the invention of the Dream Team; the 1980 team, coached by Dave Gavitt, that never got a chance to win anything thanks to the U.S. Boycott.
And, of course, the star-crossed ’72 team. This is the 40th anniversary of USSR 51, USA 50 — the game that had three different endings, only one of which counted; the one that ended the USA 63-game and seven-Olympics winning streaks. For 40 years the players have dealt with that gut-wrenching loss in their own ways, the same way American basketball fans have.
And for 40 years, the silver medals they earned have sat in a vault in Switzerland, unclaimed. The Americans refused to take the medal stand during the ceremony. They’ve refused all overtures to accept them since, an,d in what may make it a permanent gesture, the captain of the team, Ken Davis of Georgetown (Ky.) College, has had it put in his will that no family member ever is to accept the medal. Since basketball is a team sport, Olympic rules dictate that all team members must receive medals, or none do.
For 40 years, that has been none.
Look, I understand what a bitter loss that was. Almost every one of the members of that team have gone on to achieve enormous success — some in basketball (like Doug Collins and Bobby Jones), some as executives (Mike Bantom is an NBA executive) and elsewhere (Tom McMillan became a Congressman, Davis has been a successful Converse sales rep for 39 years).
Though the memory may haunt, it hasn’t hampered. Many of that team represent the Olympic ideal to a tee.
They don’t deserve to be looked upon the way the rest of the world looks upon them: as the highest-profile spoilsports in history.
It’s time for them to take the final, higher ground here. They are not the first team to ever lose a game, or a championship, by a terrible decision. Outside the ex-Soviet players, few believe they weren’t wronged here. Maybe that’s not as good as having an actual gold medal, and there should be empathy for the fact that they never will have it.Follow @NYPostsports