1972 US Olympic basketball players want Hall of Fame silver medals

Members of the 1972 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team have spoken of finally getting back those silver medals they swore they would never accept and left behind in Germany.

No, they still don’t want them for themselves.

They believe the medals belong to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, but the latest attempt to get them from the International Olympic Committee has been thwarted.

To get the medals into the Hall of Fame – which is holding its induction ceremony for the Class of 2022 this weekend – the IOC has told players they must first accept them.

“If we have to accept them, then that will not be an option,” said Tom Burlesona North Carolina State center who played on the team.

It’s the same non-runner as 50 years ago on Friday.

The Americans’ first loss in Olympic competition remains one of the most complicated and controversial finishes of all time – there is no doubt that it is part of the sport’s history, which the Hall preserves.

It’s not that the IOC disagrees with the Hall of Fame option. The Olympic governing body would let team members do whatever they want with the medals – once they have gone through the organisation’s procedure to get them.

Tom McMillena Maryland forward and member of the 1972 team, told the IOC that players having to accept the medals were “sort of ridiculous” and offered a possible solution to the impasse: having a third party accept the medals medals so that they could be placed in the Hall of Fame.

“What we’ve talked about is that given the position of the IOC, we could say ‘OK, give us the medals’ and then we reject them by giving them to the Naismith museum,” McMillen said today. President and CEO of the LEAD1 Association, representing athletic directors and programs in the college Football Bowl subdivision.

“In other words, we’re saying, ‘We don’t want these, we don’t think we deserve these, we think we deserve the gold,'” McMillen said. “But I think everyone has different points of view. I mean, it’s really hard, so it’s probably going to stay that way.

At least for the foreseeable future.

The sting of loss still lingers.

The United States rode a streak of 63 consecutive Olympic victories in the final against the Soviet Union on September 9, 1972 in Munich. It appeared the Americans had extended it to 64 when the horn sounded to end the game with them leading 50-49.

The game was restarted – twice – during what even players struggle to define as errors by officials or an outright attempt to deceive them.

The referees first reset the clock after the Soviets claimed they called a timeout and the horn sounded. The clock was still being reset when the ball was put in play and the Soviets didn’t score, so R.William Jonesthe Secretary General of FIBA, ordered again to reset the clock to 3 seconds.

Given another chance, the Soviets fired a long pass to Alexander Belovwho scored to give the Soviets a 51-50 victory.

Ed Ratleff, a forward who played at Long Beach State, thinks it’s possible some players have softened their stance after 50 years, but said neither he nor anyone he speaks to yet has. One of them, Kenny Davishas in his will that his family will never accept money.

“I’ll tell you, I’m like I was 50 years ago,” Ratleff said. “My mother always taught me that you don’t take anything that isn’t yours, and I didn’t think the silver medal belonged to us.

“I’m not taking it and I’m 100 per cent sure we got screwed and I think they knew that too.”

McMillen hopes the whole team will one day be inducted into the Hall of Fame and, as it is the 50th anniversary of the Munich Games, this weekend would have been an opportune time. It’s an honor that Olympic champions like the 1960 and 1992 American teams have earned.

Other than that, he hoped that at least the medals might have a place in the museum in Springfield, Massachusetts. McMillen, a former congressman from Maryland, asked the IOC member Dick Book to put the medals in the Hall of Fame.

The IOC told McMillen earlier this year – and reiterated its position this week – that no one could accept the medals except the players themselves.

“The IOC expressed its appreciation for his efforts but felt that appointing a lawyer to accept the medals would not be appropriate,” an IOC spokesperson said in an email to The Associated Press on Thursday.

Previous conversations about being awarded double golds had also been turned down and McMillen was disappointed to learn that his latest attempt wouldn’t work either.

Considering this, McMillen said the medals might still be in a safe in Switzerland 1,000 years from now, but in fact they aren’t even all together now. The IOC said it received seven medals in 1992 from the local organizing committee, which are now kept in the collections of the Olympic Museum. The others stayed with the organizing committee.

Jerry Colangelo, chairman of the Hall of Fame’s board of directors, said the Hall is aware of the wishes of the players and wants to help them. However, it appears that these steps are outside of Hall’s purview.

“There is a scar in the heart of everyone who participated,” said Colangelo, also a former president of USA Basketball, adding that any decision will have to wait.

“That still needs to be addressed with respect to the Hall of Fame.”

There have been attempts to heal the scar, or at least lessen the pain of loss for players.

At the 2008 Olympics, the next generation of stars – NBA stars are now on Olympic teams, unlike college players in 1972 – took to the broadcast table to recognize Doug Collinswhose free throws with 3 seconds remaining had given the Americans the advantage in 1972, and they believed, the victory, after working the game for the gold medal at the Beijing Games.

Four years later, the team members held a 40th meeting, where they stood united that there would never be any money.

Two of them, James Forbes and dwight jones, have since died. McMillen hoped there would be a way to round up the remainder this year, although it appears there would be no change given what they heard from the IOC.

“We’re just going to let them keep it,” Burleson said. “I hate that, it would be nice to think they were somewhere on American soil. But again, if they want them, they can keep them.

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