There is no silver lining for 1972 U.S. basketball team

The 1972 U.S. Olympic men's basketball team. Kevin The 1972 U.S. Olympic men's basketball team. Kevin Joyce is second from the left in the bottom row. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

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Forty years and one colossal disappointment have not spoiled Kevin Joyce's love for the Olympics. He still has the fervor that compelled him to write a composition in the fifth grade saying that he wanted to play in the Summer Games. The Long Beach resident has passed that enthusiasm on to his three children. What he won't pass on to them or anyone else is a silver medal from the 1972 Munich Games.

Joyce, 61, and all of his U.S. basketball teammates never have accepted their silver medals because they believed -- and still do -- that they were cheated out of the gold medals that were awarded to the Soviet Union. They have made it clear that no one ever will be allowed to accept the silver on their behalf.

"I don't think I put that in my will. I probably should," Joyce, a trader on Wall Street for Range Global, said with a laugh from his office. He is mindful that teammates Kenny Davis and Tom Henderson actually have that stipulation written in their wills. But Joyce never saw the need to put it in writing. Everyone close to him knows how he feels, especially twins Kevin, who recently graduated from Chaminade, and Mary, who graduated from Sacred Heart Academy, and younger sister Sally, who will be a junior at Sacred Heart.

Gold or nothing

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No way will they come anywhere near the medal that is rumored to be in a safe in Switzerland (although NBC did an investigation in 1992 and turned up seven of the 12 medals in a Munich basement). Family members know that Joyce and his teammates took a stand by not getting up on that awards platform. They have heard about the hurt that came after the Soviet Union was given three chances to play the final three seconds, scoring on the last one for a 51-50 victory.

"They made the right decision and they stuck to their guns," said Joyce's wife, Ginna, who didn't know him in 1972, just before the start of his senior year at South Carolina and before his pro career in the ABA. She added that her husband still believes in the Olympic ideal -- even though his experience was way short of ideal.

Joyce still is proud to have been part of that team, which will have a reunion this month in Lexington, Ky. (Davis lives there and is a representative for Converse, one of the reunion's sponsors.) It will be good for them to see each other and maybe get some closure. Joyce was asked if it will be bittersweet. "No," he said. "It's just sweet."

The bitterness wore off long ago, as Joyce and other team members told co-authors Donald "Taps" Gallagher and Mike Brewster in their book "Stolen Glory," which was released last month through gmbooks.com.

In fact, 40 years later, the story of that team might not be completely finished. That infamous game still might not be over. Gallagher, a lifelong self-described basketball nut from Massapequa who now practices law outside Chicago, is insistent about getting the International Olympic Committee to issue duplicate gold medals to the 1972 U.S. basketball players.

He is not looking to overturn the decision and have the former Soviet Union declared a loser. He cites the case of the Canadian pairs figure skaters who were awarded duplicate golds in 2002 after it was determined that an Olympic judge scandal had deprived them of their rightful prizes.

Gallagher points out that R. William Jones, the Englishman who then was the head of FIBA, the international basketball federation, influenced the final three seconds in 1972 when he had no right to do so.

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Hearing date the key"It is a really cool story," said Gallagher, who took on the nickname of a famous Niagara coach at a summer camp (his older St. Dominic schoolmate, Rick Pitino, made sure Taps stuck). He is trying to get an affidavit from the one surviving referee and is trying to get a hearing with the IOC in Switzerland. "If I can get a hearing date,'' he said, "I'll get them the medals."

And that is a medal that will be accepted by the team, including Joyce, who made two big baskets to fuel a rousing comeback on Sept. 10, 1972, and who made a desperate rush at Aleksandr Belov on the most controversial basket in Olympic history. "I was actually guarding Sergei [Belov]," Joyce said. "I was just running."

Had the Bayside Links not closed by the time he was old enough to caddie, Joyce probably would have concentrated on golf. His three older brothers, Bob, Tom and Mike, all played some pro tour golf and all were head pros at Long Island clubs. But the family moved to Merrick when Kevin was growing up and he gravitated to other sports.

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The Olympic dream

"To be an Olympian was a goal of mine since I was in the fifth grade. At the time, I was an admirer of Jim Thorpe," Joyce said, adding that his mom later found that composition. "I knew when I went to college, I fell into the right year. At the time, they were taking guys after their junior year."

He survived a tryout camp of 67 players and earned the honor of being on a team that never had lost an Olympic game. Some people believed, and still do, that Jones and other FIBA officials thought it might not be so bad for international basketball if the United States lost once.

It took a series of events that defied logic, and the rules, for that loss to happen. Gallagher and Brewster bring out all the details: Soviet assistant coach Sergei Bashkin illegally left his bench to call timeout after Doug Collins' two free throws put the United States ahead 50-49 (its first lead of the game). Jones told the scorers' table there should be three seconds left and not one, as the scoreboard said. That resulted in a second chance.

The Soviets' full-court heave failed, setting off an American celebration. But players were ordered back on the court by administrators who said the clock hadn't reset.

On the third try, the Soviets won.

Joyce agreed with teammate Mike Bantom (who later played for the Nets at Nassau Coliseum) in an interview last week. "He said it would have been different if it had been a bad call, but the refs had nothing to do with it," the former guard said.

A stacked juryThe Americans appealed, but a five-member panel ruled against them, with three Eastern bloc representatives casting the deciding votes. Joyce doesn't remember whose idea it was to boycott the awards ceremony, but he said it came completely from the players, not coaches or U.S. officials.

In the scheme of things, team members have said since then, it wasn't the biggest deal in the world. Five days earlier, they were in the very Olympic Village in which Israeli athletes were abducted and killed by terrorists.

So there will not be remorse about the Soviet game when the team gathers again this month. There will be slaps on the back, smiles and probably joy over how the 2012 U.S. basketball team rolled over its competition.

Those 1972 U.S. players still will be proud of the decision they made 40 years ago. "We stood up for something," said Joyce, a member of a team that still feels like a winner.

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