Stories That Don't Suck: USA Basketball's 12 Angry MenS

From time to time, we'll select stories — old and new, sports and otherwise, relevant and merely sublime — that we urge you to read for one reason or another. Today: The 1972 Olympic team, still bitter about losing to the Soviets.



"A Few Pieces Of Silver," by Gary Smith (Sports Ilustrated, June 15, 1992)
Suggested readers: Anyone wondering why Mike Krzyzewski and David Blatt have gone all shoe-poundingly bitchcakes on each other
Note: The story is a sort of oral history with the 12 members of that '72 U.S. team, 10 of whom claimed, in 1992, that they still didn't want their silver medals. A postscript adds: "The reality is that except for one or two players who didn't turn in their votes in 1982 and 1986, only three voted no to accepting the medals in the first vote, and only two voted no the second time, according to sources at USA Basketball. Could it be that roughly half of the team that made its stand for honesty and integrity in 1972 is...fibbing?"

DOUG COLLINS
Age: 41
Job: NBA color analyst for TNT
Home: Northbrook, Ill.
Married, two children

You know what those Olympics did? They made me grow up. They opened my eyes. Here I am, a kid from Benton, Illinois, 6,000 people, a kid who started only one year in high school basketball. Then I shoot up 4½ inches and put on 25 pounds in one year, and suddenly I find myself starting for the U.S. Olympic team. I'm marching into the stadium for the opening ceremonies, wearing red, white and blue, and everyone's cheering and the hair's rising on my back—I'm ready to run the 100-meter dash and win it. There's bird crap raining all over us from the white doves they've released-the older athletes who've been in other Olympics are ready for it, they've got newspapers over their heads, but I don't know anything. I'm on Fantasy Island; the world's a fairy tale to me.

And all of a sudden there's people being killed by terrorists in the Olympic Village. We go to eat and see the terrorists up in the balcony of one of the dorms with hand grenades and machine guns. We see helicopters flying over us, tanks coming in. It's like we're in a movie; it's beyond my comprehension. Everything's going wrong. Two of our best sprinters are given the wrong starting times and miss the 100-meter dash. One of our swimmers gets his gold medal taken away because he's taken some asthma medication. We felt, Let's get our gold and go home.

We're losing by one, the Soviets have the ball, the clock's running out. I hide behind the center, bait a guy into throwing a pass, knock it loose and grab it. A Russian goes under me as I'm going up for the layup. I'm KO'd for a few seconds; the coaches run to me. John Bach, one of the assistants, says, "We gotta get somebody in to shoot the foul shots." But coach Hank Iba says, "If Doug can walk, he'll shoot." That electrified me. The coach believed in me.

I can't even remember feeling any pressure. Three dribbles, spin the ball, toss it in, same as in my backyard. I hit 'em both, and we've got the lead. I didn't know what I was made of till then.

And then they take it away from us. This was the first time I'd ever seen that side of life. I remember every moment of it. It's burned in my brain. I got a tape of the last minute; I watched it over and over. The world wasn't a fairy tale, after all. You know what it did? It prepared me for the NBA, where your heart gets broken every other day. It prepared me for life.

I actually got more bitter about that game as the years went on. If my two free throws had stood up, they'd be etched in history. After the Olympics I would watch other people getting gold medals, and I'd feel teary-eyed, I'd feel jealous. I've played in NBA Finals and All-Star Games. My wife has taken my Olympic ring to the jeweler and put a cluster of diamonds in it so it looks like a championship ring. But nothing comes close to the feeling of a 21-year-old kid playing for his country and winning the gold, nothing comes close to the feeling I should've had if they hadn't taken it away from me.

Take that medal now? Hey, I'm a competitor. When the Soviets were playing the Atlanta Hawks in an exhibition game four years ago, someone said he'd like me to meet the Soviet assistant coach-the guy who threw the length-of-the-court pass for their last basket. I said, "I don't want to meet that guy." When they asked us to vote on the medal, I wrote back and said, "If you want to send the silver medal to me, fine, but don't make any effort. It means nothing to me. I vote no."

JIM FORBES
Age: 39
Profession: High school history teacher and basketball coach
Home: El Paso
Single, one child

I guess I was paranoid. I thought people were blaming me because I didn't stop Belov from catching that pass and scoring. When I got back to school, at UTEP, I'd go in my room and close the door and not come out. I'd lie there and just think about it. My mind would play tricks and I'd start thinking, If someone else had been back there, would it have happened? But I never should've been put in that situation—those last three seconds never should've been played. Every now and then during a college game a fan would yell at me, "You blew it, you should have stopped it," and that would set me off again.

I spent most of the night after that last Olympic game alone. They picked me for the random drug test, and because of all the emotion, I guess I was drained—I couldn't go to the bathroom. I sat there in that nurse's office for 2½ hours, drinking umpteen glasses of water, thinking about what had just happened. It must have been 3 or 4 a.m. before I finally peed. Just think about it. We were jumping and we were hugging, feeling such exhilaration one moment, and the next we were in a state of shock. And then came the anger, and the anger just goes and goes and goes.

The first scrimmage I played in after the Olympics, I ripped up the cartilage in my knee. I had three operations and an arthroscope, but I never had the mobility again.

It crosses my mind sometimes that I'd like that medal now. The older you get, the anger begins to mellow, the stubbornness isn't quite as strong. It is an Olympic medal, after all, and not many people get one. I watch the Olympics and I imagine the feeling of getting that gold. But my first instinct is still the same. We earned the gold. I vote no.