Friday, July 5, 2013

Review: Stolen Glory (2012)

By Mike Brewster and Taps Gallagher

If you are a basketball fan who is old enough to remember the final in the 1972 Olympics, you'll know what an absolute train wreck of a finish the game had.

That makes it an excellent subject for a book. Authors Mike Brewster and Taps Gallagher must have agreed, because they compiled a look back it in "Stolen Glory."

Let's review here for a minute. The United States had taken a one-point lead over the Soviet Union with three seconds to go, thanks to Doug Collins' two free throws.

The Soviets somehow had not one, not two, but three chances to win the game. There was total confusion, language barriers among the participants, rules infractions, an international basketball figure sticking his nose into matters, and threats concerning international competition.

It's not really a spoiler to say the Soviets won on Try Number Three. The United States protested but lost the vote that fell along Cold War lines by country. The American players are still angry about it, 40 years later. A couple have it in their wills for their relatives never to accept the silver medal.

Brewster and Gallagher get big credit for talking to everyone on the team, plus some of the other coaches and officials that were part of the American team. It was an odd time for basketball in the U.S., since there was a war between the National Basketball Association and American Basketball Association, and several players had taken rich contracts as soon as the school year ended rather than waiting for the Olympics to end before turning pro. There were still some good players around, such as Doug Collins and Bobby Jones. But America didn't have its absolute best, and the time was rapidly coming where the rest of the world was starting to show signs of catching up with us.  That's a trend that continues to this day.

Most of the players on the '72 team today are quite frank about their feelings about that team. It was coached by Henry Iba, one of the legends of the game but who preferred a slow-down style that wasn't a good fit for the talent on hand. Iba, sadly, will be remembered for the Olympic game he lost rather than the two Olympic finals he won in 1964 and 1968. The players also give plenty of details about the entire tryout experience, including a stay in Hawaii that featured three practices a day and living quarters that were five steps below spartan.

There are two drawbacks here. The Soviet side of the story essentially is ignored. There is a comment taken from a documentary from one of the Soviet players, but that's about it. It would add a bit of perspective to the story to hear from them.

Meanwhile, the last major chapter of the book consists of profiles of most of the principals. After an introduction, each subchapter reads something like a transcript of the interview done for the book. Since the important details are already in the narrative, this all feels like padding. That's not an issue for the Kindle edition, which I read for less than $5, but might draw a complaint at the paperback version at four times that.

Still, "Stolen Glory" works quite well. International basketball has gone through some fascinating changes in 40 years, and this is a knowledgeable look at what happened on that amazing night in Munich in 1972.

Four stars

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