Said Mike Bantom, Collins’ teammate on the ’72 team and now an NBA senior vice president of player development who’s also traveling with Team USA at the 2012 Summer Games: “It doesn’t impact my day-to-day life. I’m not sitting around brooding about it. As far as where we are today, I think most of us have moved on, and I think we all feel justified in not taking that silver medal. But I don’t think you ever get over it.” Not fully. And maybe never unless Gallagher’s long-shot quest is successful. Members of the ’72 squad are nonetheless unanimous in saying that the Munich Games should be remembered, above all, for the slayings of 11 Israeli athletes by Palestinian kidnappers. “The first act of terrorism as we know today,” Collins calls it.
Jones’ close friend, Ferenc Hepp of Hungary, and judges from Cuba and Poland voted against the U.S. protest; panelists from Italy and Puerto Rico reportedly approved the protest. “I’m pretty sure it’s the only game of that magnitude, in the history of sports, decided by an arbitrary committee,” Collins said during a recent sitdown with ESPN.com in his Philadelphia office. As for an ending he can’t bear to watch over again, Collins said: “If you would do that all over again about a hundred times, that pass would probably never be completed again.” Said Bantom: “With some hindsight and some perspective, you realize that bad decisions happen quite frequently in the Olympics. You’ve seen it happen in gymnastics, track and field, boxing. It happens all over the place. It was pretty personal to us that it happened, but looking back it’s not that unusual that something like that happened. In 1972, it just so happened that we were the people who got screwed.”
“The most historically important team, in truth, is the 1988 team,” Edelman says. “Because without the ’88 team, we don’t have the Dream Team and we don’t have NBA players playing in the Olympics. And the rest, as they say, is basketball history.” Where you’ll get no debate, no gray area, is the feeling among the surviving Soviet players and officials from that era about their dismay with the Americans’ stubborn refusal to accept their defeat. “I can assure you that they don’t feel sheepish [about the ending] for one second,” Edelman said. “They view it as a just victory. And I think when you actually look [at the final three seconds] in detail, although it wasn’t square, it was fair. Mistakes were made along the way, but they were corrected before the game was over.”
Kirilenko tried to make the same claim when he was asked about the prospect of playing his NBA colleagues for a gold medal and the flood of 40-year-old memories such a showdown would trigger. “Right now it’s a different time,” Kirilenko said. “Then it was a communist time. Right now everybody is playing together. Some Americans play in Russia. Some Russians play in America. It doesn’t really go into politics.” Yet when pressed about 1972, Kirilenko couldn’t stifle a huge grin as he kept talking. “What do you want me to say?” he asked. “I like the win. I like the win in ’72.”
After LeBron James and the rest of the 2008 gold medalists made it a point to include the broadcasting Collins in all of their postgame celebrations, Chris Collins gave his medal to his father to hang as part of an ’08 shrine at home, where Collins says it’ll stay “until I die.” And then the following year, in 2009, Collins was inducted into the media wing of the Basketball Hall of Fame as a broadcaster. Said Collins: “I remember sitting there [after the acceptance speech], with my whole family around, just thinking, ‘You can take me now.’ “I’m a sap.” Then Collins carried on, saying: “I think what happened [in Munich] set me up to realize that life is difficult,” Collins continued. “That there’s going to be tremendous heartache. The question is: How do you grow from it?