SI Vault
Gary Smith
June 15, 1992
Robbed of gold medals in Munich, the '72 U.S. Olympic basketball team will not betray its principles.
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June 15, 1992

A Few Pieces Of Silver

Robbed of gold medals in Munich, the '72 U.S. Olympic basketball team will not betray its principles.

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We thought the world was out to get us then—I don't know if it was our paranoia or our perception. Maybe it forced me to choose sides. And then all those flags and colors and national anthems got to me. You can't help but feel special when you're in the Olympics. At the time I thought it was just because we were Americans that we got screwed. But after watching the Olympics every four years, I don't think so anymore. Somebody gets screwed every year, not just Americans. It always happens—lifelong dreams and careers end there.

Three or four years later I was out gardening one day. I walked in the house and saw something on the TV—I think it was called Great Olympic Moments. They showed the end of our game, and there I was on the screen after the Russians had scored, sitting on the bench...crying. It amazed me. I remembered confusion, anger, screaming, but I never remembered crying. All of a sudden all of the feelings came back. I sat down and started crying all over again.

There's one other thing I remember. It was in 1984, when I was playing for Siena in Italy. The Russians had just shot that Korean airliner down, and a Russian team was playing Siena as part of its tour of Italy. The Russians brought their own ref, and they started roughing us up, and their ref wouldn't call anything. So for two hours I lost my mind.

I elbowed guys in the mouth. I kneed guys. I shot 2 for 20, but I wasn't interested in making shots. I was something to behold. The Russians' coach was the same guy who coached them in '72, and he confronted me at halftime.

"Why are you doing this?" the coach asked me.

I said, "I know who you are and I know what you're doing. You, more than anybody, should know why I hate you sons of bitches."

I guess I accept it a little more now. The only photograph of myself that I have out, on the bookcase in my office, is an action shot in the Olympics. Each time I get that letter about taking the medal, I look at it for a minute, I think about it for a minute, and then I say, "The hell with it." The last time, I started thinking that I'd like to have [the medal] to show my kids. But it was just my ego talking.

The underlying principle is still there. If enough guys want it, I'll go along. But I vote no.



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