Friday, August 31, 2012

Observations on the ABC coverage of 1972 Olympic basketball

One of the episodes in the ESPN Classic series on the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics focused on USA basketball. This 2-hour special (which will be re-aired a few more times) contained original ABC footage from 4 of the USA games. Over half of the show was devoted to the gold medal game against the USSR.

Frank Gifford and Bill Russell were the primary basketball announcers and called the final. However, Bill Flemming worked with Russell on a few games. (Gifford also called wrestling in Munich.) The special included Olympic host Chris Schenkel leading into the game coverage (which was shown on tape delay) and providing the results in advance.

Gifford sounded out of his element calling basketball play-by-play. At times, ABC showed a fullscreen view of the scoreboard while game action was taking place. At one point, you could hear loud coughing (presumably Russell) and soon afterwards, it sounded like a microphone got switched off.

Throughout the end of the controversial gold medal game, Gifford seemed extremely confused although it is hard to blame him too much considering the bizarre scene and strange actions by the officials. Right as the USSR was about to inbound the second time with 3 seconds left, ABC inexplicably cut to a shot of the scoreboard and missed the attempted play. After the finish, Gifford provided the incorrect score when he referred back to the earlier apparent USA victory. For some reason, Russell, after making a comment during free throws with 1:50 left on the game clock, was not heard on-air for the rest of the game.


  1. Gifford's presence on basketball was a case of Roone Arledge, his biggest booster, giving him a "star" assignment while relegating their main basketball voice, Keith Jackson, who had worked the NBA with Bill Russell to lesser events. Howard Cosell's blistering "I Never Played The Game" memoir recounted how Bill Flemming came up to him, furious that Arledge had given Gifford the assignment since Flemming had been a veteran of college basketball PBP.