Reunion 40 years in the making
It’s been four decades since the 1972 US Olympic basketball team shocked the world by refusing to accept silver medals after losing to the Soviet Union in the controversial clash of Cold War adversaries.
The Americans, many of whom went on to NBA stardom, have never had a reunion — until now.
The 12 men are set to reunite in August to revisit that heartbreaking loss, discuss how basketball has changed, and, more than anything, rekindle old friendships.
“We have never ever been together as a group since we left Munich,” said team captain Kenny Davis, who works for Converse.
“It will be a treat just to be with the whole team and kind of catch up on what everybody’s been doing,” said Mike Bantom, who was drafted by the Phoenix Suns the year after playing in the Olympics, and is senior vice president of player development with the NBA.
Overall, the squad had 10 NBA first-round picks, including four-time All-Star and current Philadelphia 76ers head coach Doug Collins, four-time NBA All-Star Bobby Jones, and Rhodes Scholar and former Democratic congressman Tom McMillen, who played nine years in the NBA before going into politics.
The former teammates have cleared their schedules to attend a three-day reunion in Lexington, Ky., which will feature a barbecue at Woodford Reserve Distillery, horse racing at Keeneland Racetrack, golf, and a day of seminars at Georgetown College.
“I’m excited to go back and see all the guys,” said seven-year NBA vet Tommy Burleson, who is a city planner in Charlotte, N.C. “A lot of the guys are still bitter about it. Hopefully, there won’t be much dwelling on the negative.”
At least one person at the reunion is determined to revive the controversy: Donald Gallagher. Though the Chicago-based attorney never played for the U.S. team, he is petitioning the International Olympic Committee to reverse its 40-year-old decision and award the Americans the gold. Meanwhile, the lawyer’s book about the contentious game, “Stolen Glory,” hits stores this month.
“Hopefully he will be successful, but I don’t know if that will be the case,” Davis said. “But if you’re objective and look at the rules that the game was played under, we did win.”
The Americans refused to accept the silver and the subject of the team’s unclaimed medals remains an emotionally charged issue.
Burleson calls the decision to boycott the medal ceremony “the most unsportsmanlike act in athletic history.”
Believing they deserved the gold, the teammates agreed to renounce the silver in protest. They made a pact in the locker room 40 years ago, and the premise remains — though some opinions, including Burleson’s, have wavered over the years.
Today, he insists he has “no desire to accept it.”
Davis said that despite his frustration, one thing helps keep the decades-long plight in perspective.
“What happened in Munich was more than just a basketball game,” he said, referring to the horrific hostage-taking and massacre of 11 Israeli athletes and coaches four days before the gold-medal game.
“They were our age, ate at the same cafeteria, lived in the same village, and their lives were taken from them,” he said. “Each time I start feeling sorry for myself that I don’t have that gold medal, I think about those Israeli athletes that they took out of there in caskets.”
Burleson is similarly somber.
“They lost everything,” he said. “We only lost a game.”