Don Haskins wanted Henry Iba to pull his players off the court. Wanted Iba to send his American basketball players to the showers, and if FIBA, the international ruling body for basketball, wanted to wrap a gold medal around Soviet necks, let them have at it.
And Jack Herron wants you to know why.
America won basketball gold at the London Olympics last Sunday. It was a grand time. But it wasn't enough.
The Dream Team's 1992 dominance and the Redeem Team's 2008 gold and the LeBron/Kevin Durant spectacular of last week and whatever is to come in Olympic basketball will not make up for 1972.
The Olympiad when the U.S. first lost the gold.
The Soviets beat the U.S. 50-49 in one of the great controversies in 20th-century sport. After Doug Collins' two foul shots gave the U.S. a 49-48 lead with three seconds left, the Soviets inbounded the ball not once, not twice, but three times before Alexander Belov caught a full-court pass and laid in a basket at the buzzer.
A series of decisions, brought on by Tower of Babel communication and interference from FIBA chief William Jones, gave the Soviets three chances to win the game.
And in the end, Iba, two years retired from an epic 36-year coaching career at OSU, looked dazed and confused and powerless.
It was a sorrowful end to a glorious career.
Iba has been painted as inept for allowing his players to be foils in what appeared to be a political mess.
But Herron says Iba should be applauded, not hooted, for how he conducted himself that day in Munich.
Iba, who died in 1993, rarely talked about the '72 Olympics, but “he did talk about it with me,” said Herron.
Herron played for Iba in the 1960s, then joined the Air Force and became a scout and consultant for his old coach in the international game. Herron, a long-time educator now retired and living in Guthrie, often was with Iba during the Olympic team selection process.
Haskins also played for Iba, coached Texas Western to the 1966 NCAA championship and was known as The Bear for his gruff toughness.
And when chaos came to the gold-medal game, and Haskins, Iba's assistant on the U.S. squad, recommended getting the heck out of Dodge, Iba chose not to.
History has not been kind to that decision. Being proactive would have seemed to be the way to go in what obviously was a ridiculous stage, with Russian (Soviet coaches) and German (scoring table) and Portuguese (head referee) and English (Jones) flowing and no one able to understand the other.
The Los Angeles Times has quoted Iba as saying the reason he didn't take his team off the court was Jones threatened forfeiture and “I don't want to lose this game later tonight, sitting on my butt.”
But Herron is proud that Iba didn't relent to the temptation, even though it ended the Americans' unbeaten status in Olympic hoops history and the U.S. players voted not to accept their silver medals.
“I was aware why we didn't just tear the whole place up,” Herron said. “The thing I want the world to know, he was such a classy gentleman. He had the U.S. in mind.”
Herron said Iba told him that “I represent the U.S. We need to put our best foot forward. Go with world protocol.”
Seems like a dubious stance, especially when the American players refused to attend the medal ceremony.
World protocol doesn't sound like such a spiffy plan, then or now, but Herron said, “We should be so proud of Mr. Iba about. He took the high road. Tried to go through official channels.
“We should be extremely proud of the way he handled that deal. It took a lot of courage to do that.”
Indeed, the U.S. appealed to FIBA both immediately after the game and the next winter. Both times to no avail.
The truth about the 1972 fiasco is that U.S. basketball was in trouble before the controversy. The best American collegians weren't always playing or being picked.
UCLA players like Bill Walton and Swen Nater skipped the '72 Olympics, perhaps because of a flap between USA Basketball and legendary UCLA coach John Wooden, who never was selected to coach the Olympians.
In the 1971 Pan American Games, the U.S. finished seventh. Clearly, the world was playing better basketball, and a makeshift U.S. team was vulnerable.
Herron was privy to much of the '72 Olympic team selections. The roster was required to have a military player, and an AAU player, even though the salad days of the AAU were long past. Iba was given one personal pick; he tabbed guard Tom Henderson.
“I know for a personal fact, the desire for factions was greater than the desire to win,” Herron said.
It was an absurd process, so the U.S. hardly could gripe about absurdity in Munich. The whole danged sport of international basketball was goofy.
And so it happened. The U.S. lost Olympic gold for the first time, and Iba's career was tarnished at the end.
Yet Iba's supporters stay loyal 40 years later.
“I want the world to know how classy Mr. Iba was, that he didn't blow up the world over that game,” Herron said. “We needed to maintain dignity. I can't say enough about what that says about him.”
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.