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Scott Howard-Cooper

For '72 U.S. team, Hall could be a welcome consolation


Posted Jul 30 2011 12:37PM

The words carry across continents and cut through the years.

The 1972 U.S. Olympic team in the Hall of Fame.

It would be a weak consolation prize, of course. The team's potential candidacy wouldn't change anything and would be launched as much to try to embarrass a foreign body -- one that clearly does not embarrass -- as to salute the inductees. It would be one big middle finger to the International Olympic Committee and, to a lesser degree, FIBA, the worldwide governing body of basketball.

The disclaimer is that the '72 American team, the silver medalists (cough, cough), have not even been brought up for election yet. That's a minor matter, though. Anyone can nominate an individual or group for enshrinement in Springfield, Mass., before committees decide whether a candidate should move forward to the final voting round.

But what an consideration it would be: The Americans should be inducted to attempt to right the wrong of being jobbed out of the championship in the highly controversial gold-medal game against the Soviet Union.

That's it. That's the sole basis of the candidacy. It couldn't be that they were really good, because of all the Olympic champions, from any country, only two teams have made the Hall. It took the United States squad of 1960 being crushingly good with Jerry West, Oscar Robertson, Jerry Lucas and Walt Bellamy to get there. And it took the 1992 Dream Team being the transcendent Dream Team.

Realistically, the '72 club being enshrined in 2012 would be nothing more than a push back, 40 years after the hotly contested finish in Munich. That game's outcome was so hotly disputed that United States players have refused to accept the silver medals.

"That's a little more political than you might imagine," Hall chairman Jerry Colangelo said of the hypothetical. "We all know what transpired. Having said that, to potentially embarrass FIBA, the Olympic committee, that's a major concern, problem, etc. But no one is really pushing for that to happen. It has not come up."

And if it did? How would the Hall handle it?

"Delicately," Colangelo said.

The principles who mangled the closing seconds and the subsequent U.S. appeal that went strictly along party lines -- reps from Puerto Rico and Italy voted to disallow the finish, while Hungary, Poland and Cuba sided with the Soviet Union to let the outcome stand -- are long out of view. But, as Colangelo says, it's still a touchy topic.

"I think we'd settle for the gold medal, frankly," said Mike Bantom, one of the standouts on the team that also included Doug Collins, Bobby Jones, Tom Henderson, Jim Brewer and Tom McMillan, among others. "But that (a Hall induction) is an interesting alternative. I don't think anybody would be upset about it."

Bantom, now the NBA's senior vice president for player development, said he thinks most 1972 teammates would consider enshrinement "an honor," as a pointed message to FIBA and the IOC or otherwise.

Whether they would be inducted is impossible to gauge, given the Hall policy of never disclosing the voters. Some might like the idea of using the ballot box in an attempt to reclaim a fraction of satisfaction for the team. Others might be less convinced the U.S. squad should be inducted or be concerned about setting the precedent that would encourage the International committee to counter-punch by approving a champion from overseas. Say, the Soviets of 1972.

The absolute soonest possible induction would mean getting on the ballot later this year for the Class of 2012. Colangelo, who is also head of USA Basketball, still notes that the sensitivity factor is telling about how an induction would be perceived outside North America.

"I wouldn't speculate on that," Colangelo said. "Certainly there'd be some support (for the U.S. team), certainly there'd be some that thought the other way."

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

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