Monday, August 13, 2012

Curmudgeon confesses: I was rooting for Spain

Although I'd said I wouldn't, I did relent and voluntarily watched the second half of yesterday's Gold Medal basketball game.

Doug Collins was doing the color commentary on yesterday's NBC broadcast -- an interesting choice. He was a collegian (at Illinois State) back in 1972, in the days when our amateurs played the world's professionals in Olympic medal games.

Back then it didn't seem at all mean-spirited to root for the good old USA. It was, after all, our boys against the world's men. Yet American Davids were still favored over foreign Goliaths; in basketball, America never lost.

Photo of the short-lived American celebration
obtained from the Guardian website
The Soviets were out to change the script in 1972. They seemed to have the game in hand before the Americans mounted a furious late charge. Then Collins sunk what seemed to be the winning free throws in America's come-from-behind victory. This Mental Floss article (by Scott Allen) picks up the narrative:
International rules prohibited a team from calling a timeout after a free throw, so the Soviets inbounded the ball. The Soviet coach and bench ran onto the court to demand a timeout and Bulgarian referee Artenik Arabadjan stopped the clock with one second remaining. Arabadjan denied the Soviets a timeout, but allowed them to re-inbound the ball. After the Soviets’ ensuing pass was deflected and the buzzer sounded, the Americans began to celebrate.
But the celebration was short-lived. The Russians (aided and abetted by a British basketball official, Dr. William Jones, the secretary of FIBA, the international governing body of the sport) got three more seconds put back on the clock. Jones had a title, but no authority to change the rules of the sport on the spur of the moment; nevertheless, the Bulgarian referee complied.


Even then, the Russians flubbed this second attempt to give them victory despite their defeat. From the above-linked Guardian article:
Play resumed, the buzzer sounded as a Soviet long pass went awol, and again the Americans jumped and whooped and hollered.

They believed they had won their seventh straight Olympic title. But as the clock was in the process of being reset when play resumed, the floor had to be cleared again and the three seconds reinstated. The Americans, frustrated at the farce, considered pulling out. People say, 'Why didn't you leave?'" says Collins. "We were told that if left we would forfeit so we were pushed out on the court."

Finally the game got under way again. But the Americans, their emotions meleed by everything that had gone on and fearful of conceding a technical foul, had no pressure on Ivan Edeshko on the inbound line. His Hail Mary pass was caught by Alexander Belov, who brushed off Jim Forbes and Joyce and sunk a lay-up before running back to his teammates, arms aloft like a track athlete who has just crossed the finishing line....
An appeal was denied, 3-2, on an obvious political basis, with Cuba, Poland and the Soviet Union deciding the clearly irregular was regular enough, as long as the Americans lost.

Times change. International basketball has gotten much more competitive and besides, nowadays, professionals can represent their countries in the games.

American pro basketball was represented in London this year by players on the teams of several nations: Our home-grown millionaires playing against our imports.

In the Gold Medal game, five of the 12 players on the Spanish squad were NBA players, including brothers Pau and Marc Gasol.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I am not a member of the 'hate America' crowd. I am an old-fashioned, sometimes starry-eyed (stripes and starry-eyed?) patriot.

But I couldn't help myself. The American 'dream team' led by LeBron James and Kobe Bryant were such overwhelming favorites. Like a lot of Americans, I sympathize with the little guy ('little' here being used in an entirely figurative sense given that the brothers Gasol are both 7-footers).

I rooted for Spain. I was sorry they lost.

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