Going for the gold
Donald “Taps” Gallagher (JD ’83) is trying to correct what some consider the biggest mistake in sports history
Donald “Taps” Gallagher (JD ’83) has spent $75,000 and eight years on an unusual quest: He hopes to secure duplicate gold medals for the U.S. men’s basketball team that—officially—lost to the Soviet Union at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich.
“I watched that game the summer of ’72 before going to college,” recalls Gallagher. “Whenever they talk about the biggest blunder, the worst ending ever in sports, this game is No. 1 every time. I said to myself, ‘This isn’t right. If I ever become a lawyer, I’m going to try to get them the gold medal.’”
To recap: The U.S. team and millions of television viewers thought the Americans were on their way to gold when Doug Collins made two free throws to give the US a 50-49 lead with three seconds remaining. The Russians inbounded the ball, but there was confusion as Soviet players and coaches ran onto the floor and play stopped. That’s when R. William Jones, president of the International Basketball Federation, bounded out of the bleachers. Rulings that Jones made regarding time on the clock resulted in the Russians getting two more chances to win the game, which they did, 51-50, on a last-second layup.
Afterward, the U.S. team refused to accept their runner-up silver medals, a stance they have stuck by ever since.
Gallagher, a native New Yorker, is a 6-foot-7 attorney in Clarendon Hills. He has been involved with basketball his whole life as a player and coach. In 2006, Gallagher began to focus on the “injustice” he’d vowed 34 years earlier to set right. He began researching and interviewing the coaches and 12 players from the 1972 team. In 2012, his research led to the publication of Stolen Glory: The U.S., the Soviet Union, and the Olympic Basketball Game That Never Ended, with co-author Mike Brewster.
Gallagher doesn’t want the Soviet Union to return its gold medals; he wants the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to award duplicate golds to the U.S. team due to improper interference with game officials.
Toward that end, Gallagher hopes that Artenik Arabadjan, one of two living referees who worked the controversial game, will soon sign an affidavit citing “undue influence” from Jones.
So far, the IOC has denied Gallagher’s appeal for a hearing. When Gallagher met with a former IOC vice president in Montreal, however, he was told that if he got the affidavit, the door will be open.
If the IOC slams that door, Gallagher has one last option in his playbook: a request for a hearing from the international Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“Every one of these players said, ‘I won a gold medal,’ but they weren’t sore losers,” Gallagher says. “They said if the game had been played right and they lost, they would gladly have accepted the silver medal.”