ISTANBUL – Russia's coach believes the Soviets were right in 1972. The Americans say he's got it all wrong.
U.S. coach Mike Krzyzewski responded to David Blatt's opinion that the Soviet Union's victory in the controversial Olympic gold-medal game was fair by saying that Blatt should have that belief as a Russian — either forgetting or ignoring that Blatt was born and raised in the United States.
NBA executive Mike Bantom, who played for that U.S. team, said he wasn't surprised "that someone employed by the Russian Federation might have a Russian perspective right about now, but I don't think it changes anything."
"We know how wrong it was, what happened there," Bantom told The Associated Press after watching U.S. practice Wednesday. "You watch a film, or you hear reports, you can debate whether or not it was right or wrong. But if you lived it, and you were there, you know that it was wrong what happened."
The U.S. plays Russia on Thursday in the quarterfinals of the world championship on the 38th anniversary of the Soviets' 51-50 victory in Munich. The Americans appeared to have won the game twice, but the Soviets were given a third chance and made the winning basket.
Believing they were cheated, the Americans never accepted their silver medals.
"There's a wonderful film about that, and I hate to say it as an American, but it looks like the Russians were right. The American team was not cheated," Blatt said Monday. "Funny things happened, but in reality it was fair."
Blatt was likely referring to the HBO documentary about the game, ":03 from Gold," which Bantom appears in and said he saw. The film shows the confusion that created the multiple do-overs before Aleksander Belov's winning shot.
"You can arrange film to make a lot of things seem that there's some doubt," said Bantom, the NBA's senior vice president of player development. "There was no doubt how that went down."
The Americans had taken a one-point lead on Doug Collins' free throws with 3 seconds left, and seemed to have won when the Soviets inbounded and didn't score.
But the Soviets claimed they'd called timeout, and an official had whistled for play to stop when he saw a disturbance near the scorer's table. Time was put back on the clock, and again the Americans celebrated as the Soviets failed to score after inbounding.
More confusion followed because the clock was still being reset when the ball was put in play. Given a third chance when FIBA's secretary general ordered the final 3 seconds replayed, the Soviets won when Belov caught a long pass over two U.S. players and scored.
FIBA denied the appeal of the Americans, who had their 63-game Olympic winning streak snapped and voted unanimously to decline the silver medals. Bantom isn't surprised that none of his teammates has ever decided he wants the medal.
"I don't care how it was depicted in the film," he said. "It was wrong and we felt it was wrong and we stuck by our feelings.
"First of all, all those things about the clock and all that was not known at the time. The referees were handling that game. It was not handled by the clock and what was going on. We were told to play, and we played, and the results of what went on on that court were overturned, and that's not how the game of basketball is decided."
Blatt, who was born in Louisville, grew up in Massachusetts and played at Princeton, was 13 years old at the time and said he cried after the U.S. lost. Yet Krzyzewski wasn't surprised the way he sees the game now has changed.
"He's a Russian, he coaches the Russian team, so he probably has that viewpoint," Krzyzewski said. "And his eyes are clear now because there's no tears in them."
Krzyzewski was more concerned by the problems his undersized team could face from the Russians, who he said had an average height of 6-foot-8. Other than saying "when you think of international basketball, you think of USA and Russia games, that being one of them," he wouldn't go much further into Blatt's remarks about 1972.
"Whatever he thinks, he thinks," Krzyzewski said. "It really has absolutely no bearing on what we're trying to do tomorrow. Absolutely none."