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Olympics: Revisiting Henry Iba's role in USA basketball's lowest moment

COMMENTARY — Was Henry Iba dazed, confused and powerless during USA basketball's lowest moment? Or was Oklahoma State's legendary coach just doing the right thing in the midst of chaos when the Russians toppled the USA 40 years ago next month.
by Berry Tramel Published: August 17, 2012

photo - DUOTONE: OSU college basketball coach Henry Iba, left, and A.L. Bennett (Original photo dated 03/26/47, ran 03/01/50, 01/28/52 TIMES)
DUOTONE: OSU college basketball coach Henry Iba, left, and A.L. Bennett (Original photo dated 03/26/47, ran 03/01/50, 01/28/52 TIMES)

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.

Iba refused.

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.”

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by Berry Tramel
Berry Tramel, a lifelong Oklahoman, sports fan and newspaper reader, joined The Oklahoman in 1991 and has served as beat writer, assistant sports editor, sports editor and columnist. Tramel grew up reading four daily newspapers — The Oklahoman,...
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