We’ve all heard the story and we’ve all seen the video.
The 1972 US Olympic basketball team was cost a gold medal when the Soviet Union was given three chances to inbound the ball and score with just seconds left on the clock and the score 50-49. Doug Collins, who is currently the head coach of the Philadelphia 76ers, had hit two free throws to give the Americans the lead, but the Soviet Union eventually scored on a layup from Aleksandr Belov for a 51-50 win.
The US protested, but they were never given a gold medal.
Fast forward to 2008, and Doug’s son Chris, an assistant on Coach K’s staff at Duke, was on the coaching staff of the Redeem Team, who won the gold medal in basketball that year. He didn’t receive an actual gold medal, as those are only given to the Olympians, but Jerry Colangelo, the executive director of USA basketball, had replicas made up for everyone on staff.
“To me, it’s the greatest gift of being involved,” Collins said. “I gave the gold medal from 2008 to my dad. It’s one of the proudest things I’ve done in my life because of what happened in ’72.”
Collins said he was moved by the gesture of the team putting their gold medals around his father’s neck in Beijing as a gesture. But he wanted to do it for keeps.
“They went through so much hurt, going through with such a commitment and then having the game swiped away from you,” Collins said. “I’ve always said that if it weren’t for all the funny stuff at the end of the game, my dad might be one of the greatest Olympic heroes for making those two free throws. You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who made two pressure-packed free throws in that moment.
“He was robbed of that moment, and for us as a family not to have that medal in our house for this many years, it meant a lot to help him get it. I wasn’t an elite player where I was going to be considered. The only chance was to be a part of the staff and I have for two Olympics and two world championships. It’s been incredible and I owe it all to [Coach K] to be associated with him, making the decision to play for him and to see how it all turned out. It’s been once in a lifetime.”
Those two have a special relationship. Chris turned down the chance to coach at Illinois State — his father’s alma mater, where Doug is a legend with the court named after him — in an effort to avoid putting any kind of tarnish on his father’s legacy there.