Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Error in ESPN 30-for-30 short on 1972 Olympic basketball

I highly recommend the recent ESPN 30-for-30 digital short Silver Reunion which includes all 12 members of the 1972 USA Olympic Basketball team. The episode focuses on the continuing refusal by the players to accept silver medals after the controversial conclusion to the gold medal game. Unfortunately, this otherwise excellent documentary contains an inaccuracy.

At the 2:02 mark, the film displays a graphic which incorrectly states that the 1972 Olympic basketball games were played without a shot clock. Right after this, Doug Collins comments on the late game situation and perpetuates this myth which he has repeatedly done over the years.

The Olympics have always been played under international (FIBA) rules. FIBA introduced a 30-second shot clock in 1956 and that rule was indeed in effect for the 1972 games. The reason the USSR didn't try to run out the clock entirely on that possession was to avoid a shot clock violation. The 30-second clock also explains why the USA didn't attempt to foul a Soviet player as time was running out.

In September, Ken Pomeroy wrote an intriguing retrospective on 40th anniversary of this game where he also pointed out the shot clock rule, the faulty memory of Collins, and the staggering fact that announcers Frank Gifford and Bill Russell never once mentioned the shot clock during the entire ABC telecast. Perhaps that omission contributes as much to this longstanding myth as anything.


  1. Very interesting, Jeff. This was another game I didn't see (although I can't blame this on the high school basketball tournament - instead, KCMT was showing something besides the Olympics. Didn't see any of McKay's coverage of the terror attack live either), but until now I'd always assumed, because of the score, that there hadn't been a shot clock.

    Just out of curiosity (since I'm too lazy to check for myself), is the shot clock ever visible during the coverage? I know that at this time the NBA had the clocks on the floor in the corners, but did they ever show up in camera range on this broadcast?

  2. Good question. I haven't noticed the shot clock being visible during the game footage, but I've only rewatched a small portion of it. Occasionally, ABC showed a shot of a main scoreboard with a game clock, but no shot clock. I don't know where the various clocks were stationed relative to the court.

  3. The shot clock is not visible on the game footage - it's tucked underneath the basket support. And it wasn't really even a clock, just a series of six lights, with each one dimming every five seconds. Here's a good picture of it -

    1. Thanks for the informative details and picture, Ken!

  4. In an ESPN or Classic Sports retrospective on the game hosted by Dave Revsine, Collins DID say there was a shot clock. The video is on YouTube.