It was the shot heard around the world when Alexander Belov scored on an uncontested layup at the buzzer to give the Soviet Union a 51-50 victory and dealt the United States their first loss in Olympic men’s basketball. Team USA had won 63 straight games and seven gold medals in the sport before that game.
The final three seconds of the Gold Medal final is perhaps the most controversial three seconds in Olympic basketball history. After being fouled, USA’s Doug Collins made both free throws to give his team a 50-49 lead for the first time in the game. After the Soviets inbounded the ball, the referees stopped the game with one second remaining. The decision was made to put three seconds back on the clock after the Soviets claimed that they had called for a timeout between the two free throws by Collins. The game official never acknowledged the timeout. After the Soviets brought the ball inbounds, the horn sounded for what should have ended the game and a Team USA win; however, referees ruled that the clock had not been properly reset to show three seconds remaining. Belov caught a full court pass and scored the winning basket as he rose between two USA players to make the layup.
It was certainly a bizarre series of events. You can see the video by clicking here.
The USA filed a formal complaint with the International Basketball Federation but they ruled in favor of the Soviets. Team USA refused to accept the Silver Medal.
Even years after the controversial game, most of the players feel strongly about refusing the medal even when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) offered to award them at the 1992 Olympics. A few have relented but would only accept the medal if it was unanimous among the team. It is reported that Kenny Davis still strongly opposes so much that he has even had a clause put in his will forbidding his wife, children or descendants from ever accepting the silver medal after his death.
Team USA teams have gone 59-3 since that game winning seven of the last 10 Gold Medals. Team USA was again shocked in 1988 losing to the Soviets 82-76 in the semifinals which was the first meeting of the two teams since the controversial game. In 1992, NBA players were allowed to participate in the games.