ISTANBUL -- The next team the Americans face is coached by an American, a man who learned in 1972, back when he was a 13-year-old in Framingham, Mass., about the heartbreak international basketball can cause.
He is David Blatt, actually an Israeli/American dual citizen whose past successes have been chronicled here before. He is also the head coach of the Russian national team, which will face Team USA in the quarterfinals of the FIBA World Championship after defeating New Zealand 78-56 Monday.
"I grew up in the great, great years of the Boston Celtics, and I had a transistor radio, and I used to hold it against my ear and listen to Johnny Most broadcast all the Celtics games," Blatt said. "Bill Russell was my idol. My first book report I wrote on Bill Russell, and I was a huge fan of basketball, American basketball. I didn't know anything about European basketball. I didn't even know it existed until 1972, and then we all knew about it. I was one of those kids crying when the American team lost the game in the Olympics when [Alexander] Belov made the shot at the end after the three replays."
Blatt's team used its superior size and got an assist from the referees Monday to get past New Zealand, whose star, Kirk Penney, picked up three fouls in the first half and went to the bench with 6:50 left in the third quarter when he picked up his fourth.
"Every time we touched them, it was a foul," Penney said. "It was just very, very frustrating."
Russia led just 36-32 at the time but went on a 15-3 run after Penney was brought off the bench in a desperation move with 88 seconds remaining in the third quarter. But New Zealand was never able to get the deficit back into single digits despite 21 points from Penney, who entered the game as the second leading scorer in the tournament (25.4 points per game).
Timofey Mozgov, a 7-foot-3 incoming rookie for the New York Knicks, had 16 points and seven rebounds, and power forward Andrey Vorontsevich scored 18 points on 7-for-8 shooting for Russia.
The Russians and Americans now have two days off before they meet Thursday, which should give everyone plenty of time to recall the robbery that happened in the gold medal game in Munich in 1972 that Blatt spoke of.
Only Blatt doesn't agree with that sentiment.
"By the way, there's a wonderful film about that, and I hate to say it as an American, but it looks like the Russians were right," Blatt said. "The American team was not cheated. Funny things happened, but in reality it was fair. It was fair."
I wonder what Doug Collins will have to say about that. He was a member of that '72 team, and his silver medal is still sitting in a vault somewhere in Geneva after the U.S. team refused to accept them.
Collins' story was an inspiration to the members of the 2008 Redeem Team, several of whom immediately went over and hugged Collins, who was broadcasting the game for NBC, after they won the gold medal in Beijing two years ago.