The Wolfpacker

July-August 2022

The Wolfpacker: An Independent Magazine Covering NC State Sports

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58 ■ THE WOLFPACKER There's No Silver Lining To This Cloud, Even After Half A Century Tim Peeler is a regular contributor to The Wolfpacker and can be reached at PACK PERSPECTIVE BY TIM PEELER T he 1972 Olympic men's basketball gold medal game was a Cold War battle conducted in short shorts and sneakers, with high-pressure geopoliti- cal tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union spilling onto the hardwood in Munich, West Germany. Two of those countries no longer ex- ist, but that game, played 50 years ago this summer, still simmers in the minds of those who were on the court on Sept. 10, 1972, just days after Black September terrorists brought the Munich Games to a halt with an attack on Israeli athletes in the dormitories. After a brief 34-hour pause, the Olym- pics resumed, and everyone's attention was on the gold medal game between the Americans and the Soviets. For former NC State All-America center Tom Burleson, the final moments of that game — recorded, but not ac- cepted by the U.S. team, as a 51-50 loss to the Soviets — still burn. In what has often been called the most controversial finish in sports his- tory, the Soviets were declared winners after successfully scoring the final bas- ket on their third attempt, a layup by Aleksandr Belov. An uncalled timeout, a scoreboard malfunction and a visit to the scorer's table by the secretary general of inter- national basketball's governing body, who had been seated in the stands, left the Americans shellshocked over an un- precedented outcome and the end to Team USA's dominance at the Olympic level. The loss was the Americans' first- ever in the Olympics. They had won 63 games in a row dating back to 1936, the year the sport made its debut at the Berlin Games. The American players refused to participate in the medal cer- emony, and, after an official protest to the Olympics' governing body failed to overturn the result, the 12 players took a vow to never accept their silver medals. "If we don't get the gold, we don't want the silver," has long been the team's rallying cry. Since 1972, those medals have been locked in a vault in Lausanne, Switzer- land, untouched by players who didn't want them. Two players on that team, Jim Forbes and Dwight Jones, went to their grave without them. Jones, whose controver- sial ejection led to part of the end-of- game confusion, died in 2016. Forbes died earlier this year from the effects of CO- VID-19. Two other players have it written in their wills that no one in their families may accept the medals on their behalf. Burleson hasn't gone so far as to codify his wishes, but his two sons and the rest of his family know his thoughts on the matter. "I don't want it," said Burleson, who had just completed his sophomore sea- son at NC State and earned a spot on the Olympics team when UCLA's Bill Walton refused to participate in head coach Henry Iba's tryouts. "My family knows that." Perhaps, though, this is the time that spurned medals make their way to the United States. The team is considering a jubilee reunion in September, a full 10 years after they gathered for their first full-team reunion, a gold-star, three- day event in Kentucky sponsored by the Converse shoe company. Members of the team have been mak- ing plans and have opened the discus- sion of bringing the silver medals to the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass., and locking them away in the archives there forever. As long as all the surviving team members agree on it, Burleson has no objections to that idea. "That would be fine, I guess," he said. "Maybe that's where they will be in 100 years when we are still talking about that game. "I don't think they should sit in a vault in Switzerland." At the same time, Burleson and the rest of his teammates still believe the gold medals belong to them. ■ NC State great Tom Burleson was a member of the American men's basketball team that saw a 63-game Olympic winning streak come to a controversial end with a 51-50 loss to the Soviet Union in 1972. PHOTOS COURTESY NC STATE ATHLETICS

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