While the hostage situation in the athlete's village was the biggest story off-the-field at the 1972 Summer Games in Munich, the 1972 Olympic Men's Basketball Finals were the story of the Games themselves.
The United States had breezed through the eight games in their bracket, challenged only marginally by Brazil and winning two of their games by more than sixty points. Similarly, the Soviet Union had blown by opponents en route to an 8-0 record and a spot in the gold medal game. They Soviets were touted by some as the team that could break the U.S. dominance in basketball at the Games. The men of the United States had never lost an Olympic basketball game, a streak of 63 games.
The U.S.S.R. struck quickly, scoring the first seven points of the game and holding a solid 26-21 lead at halftime. Early in the second half, with the U.S. still trailing by four points, top rebounder and scorer Dwight Jones was ejected after a loose ball scuffle with Soviet backup Dvorni Edeshko. On the very next play forward Jim Brewer was knocked to the floor with a concussion. Despite the losses, the U.S. trailed by just one, at 49-48 with forty seconds left to play. With just ten seconds left, guard Doug Collins picked off a pass by Aleksander Belov and drove to the basket, drawing a foul with 0:03 showing on the clock. The next three clock seconds were pure chaos.
As Collins was shooting the free throws to put the U.S. on top 50-49, an incidental horn blew during on his second attempt. The ball dropped through the cylinder, and the Soviets immediately inbounded the ball but failed to score.
The Americans celebrated, but one referee had blown his whistle to stop play with one second left. The referee had heard the horn, and seen confusion at the scorer's table. The officials discussed a course of action as the Russians pleaded that they had called a timeout before Collins' free throws. As an irate U.S. coach Henry Iba protested, the referees ordered that three seconds be placed back on the clock and play be resumed.
With one last chance, Belov threw a court-length pass out of bounds, and the Americans again began celebrating their gold medal victory.
But it wasn't over yet.
R. William Jones, the head of FIBA, the governing body overseeing the sport, decided that the clock had not been properly reset before the ball was inbounded, and again ordered that three seconds be placed on the clock and play resume. This time Belov's pass hit its mark, as Ivan Edsheko caught the pass, sent two defenders sprawling, and put home an uncontested layup to give the Soviet Union the gold medal with a 51-50 victory.
In the post-game aftermath, the United States prepared a 51-page brief protesting the victory. A five member panel split along Cold War fronts voted 3-2 against the U.S., awarding the gold to the Soviets. Added Jones at the appeal, "The Americans have to learn how to lose, even when they think they are right."
Prior to the medal ceremony, the U.S. team met and voted unanimously to refuse their silver medals, skipping the ceremony. To this day, the medals remain unclaimed, gathering dust in a vault in Switzerland.