Doug Collins gives Team USA unique perspective on Olympic hoops

People often don't appreciate the significance of what they are doing because, well, they are doing it and it is happening now. You know, just part of another day.

Which was why USA Men's Basketball Olympic coach Gregg Popovich Thursday invited Bulls senior advisor Doug Collins to speak to Zach LaVine and the USA team. Because next year will be the 50th anniversary of the most controversial closing moments in Olympic basketball history and Doug Collins relives it regularly.

"Doug hit a home run yesterday, very honestly," Popovich told media on a Zoom conference Friday. "He was fantastic. I wanted them to feel him. I wanted them to feel what the Olympics meant to him. To this day what happened in '72 hurts him. I wanted that to be felt and transferred to our players, how important these games are and how wonderful a memory they can have if we are successful in this quest. He did that."

Or have a memory that haunts them the rest of their lives.

Collins was just about to be the basketball star of the tragic, terrorist-infected 1972 Munich Olympics when he made two free throws with three seconds left in the game to—it seemed—give the USA team a 50-49 victory and preserve the US's undefeated streak in the Olympics.

And then on the third inbounds of the same possession, Russia got a layup to win the game with a full court pass and score similar to Christian Laettner's famous 1992 game winning shot over Kentucky in the NCAA tournament.

The USA team, losing the protest by the votes of then so called Eastern bloc nations still in the midst of the Cold War, refused to appear at the medals ceremony. None of the USA players ever accepted their silver medals. They remain in a vault supposedly in Switzerland or Munich.

It's an historic story, but such things and memories become gauzy with time, forgotten in the rush, especially these days, to declare the most momentous events the last one seen. But there never has been anything like the finish of that basketball game that gave the USA team its first Olympic basketball loss.

At least in the official records.

Not to any of those players.

Collins from Illinois State on the way to being the No. 1 pick in the 1973 NBA draft was one of the stars of that team along with Maywood's Jim Brewer. Future Bulls assistant Johnny Bach was on the coaching staff. It still was a time of bitter US/Soviet Union relations. Olympic judging was as political as equitable.

Doug Collins played his entire NBA career with the Philadelphia 76ers.

The veteran Soviet team led most of the gold medal game against a USA team of top collegians, who still were dominating worldwide basketball. With a few seconds remaining and trailing by one, Collins stole a pass and sprinted for his basket. He was fouled and almost knocked unconscious in the exceptionally rough game that often resembled hockey. Collins finally rose and swished both free throws for what seemed like the win.

International rules did not permit a timeout, so the Soviets inbounded the ball and threw up a fullcourt shot that missed. Their coach claimed he had called a timeout. Which wasn't allowed. The officials, who couldn't communicate with one another speaking different languages, denied the timeout. But they gave the Soviets a second inbounds with a second left. Again it failed and the game was over with a USA win.

Then an Amateur Federation executive came out of the stands to say there should have been three seconds on the clock. He wasn't permitted to do so, but the referee again gave the Soviet team another inbound. This time with the USA defender asked by the referee to back up, the Soviet inbound threw a fullcourt pass to a teammate for the winning layup. The Soviets won 51-50. Almost 50 years later, you still can't convince Collins. Or many others but the Soviets.

"He (Collins) was also emotional about what the game meant to him," Popovich related. "He lauded our guys for making this sacrifice and wanted to in some ways warn them how we had to become a family, as I have said before, basically fall in love with eachother and be responsible for and to each other and be accountable and play with that in our minds.

"He got all that across and he was especially effusive about Kevin Durant," Popovich added, "because even though I've already said about his love of the game and the sacrifice he is making, he also has been injured quite a bit in the last couple of years and has gone through a tough time, and he's still here. Doug really made sure that was appreciated by everyone in the basketball world. He was great."