It was a case of now-you-win-it, now-you-don't. That's what people remember about 1972's gold medal game&md;how the USA celebrated victory only to watch in horror as the Soviets won the second time around.
The Soviets had control of the game from the opening tip until the furious final seconds. They led 26-21 at half time and 38-28 with 10 minutes to play. Then the USA began to chip away. With less than 40 seconds left, Jim Forbes made a 20-foot jump shot to cut the deficit to 49-48. Here's what happened in the chaotic final 10 seconds&md;or to be precise, 13 seconds, since those last three were played twice:
The Soviets inbound the ball; two seconds elapse while their coach continues frantically to signal time out.
Only it wasn't final. Enter Great Britain's R. William Jones, secretary general of the International Amateur Basketball Federation (FIBA), the organization that governs international amateur basketball. Technically, he had no authority to intervene in an Olympic game. But he ruled international basketball with an iron hand, and when Jones ordered three seconds restored, apparently to honor the Soviets' attempt to call a timeout, game officials acquiesced.
Under international rules of the time, the Soviets were not entitled to a time out. "I think Jones thought he could avoid controversy by giving them the time out," says Bill Wall of Amateur Basketball Association/USA. "Instead he created it. I just think he never thought they'd score."
USA coach Henry Iba says one of the referees suggested he pull his team off the court. "But walking away with your tail between your legs is not the American way," Iba says.
As it was, the Soviets appear&md;on tape replay&md;to commit at least three infractions on the winning play.