The 1972 U.S. Olympic team's No. 1 advocate on Earth is a personal-injury attorney in the Chicago area who bills himself first as a basketball fanatic who was 18 when the Americans lost to the Soviets.
Donald "Taps" Gallagher says he vowed from that moment, as a teenager, to run the point on this crusade to get the "robbed" Americans gold medals if he ever made it into the field of law.
So for years, Gallagher has been pressing the International Olympic Committee and International Basketball Federation (FIBA) to hear his appeals. Both international governing bodies have steadfastly refused. Attempts to engage the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which hears such disputes, have also failed to spark so far.
Gallagher, though, won't relent. He remembers the exact date -- Aug. 8, 2008 -- that an IOC official told him that "you will never, ever get duplicate golds for the American team." But the 6-foot-7 lawyer continues to press.
Step 1 was getting his book into print. Released just last month, "Stolen Glory" includes interviews with every player from the '72 squad, 11 of whom have signed agreements that a duplicate gold would be a fair solution to end their four decades of agony. The only holdout is U.S. captain Kenny Davis, who hasn't budged from his position that he not only wants his gold medal but insists that the Soviets be stripped of theirs.
Gallagher will have to convince Davis to revise that position if it ever gets that far, but Step 2 is pivotal. Gallagher says he's trying to get a signed affadavit from Bulgarian referee Artenik Arabadjan detailing then-FIBA chief R. William Jones' involvement in granting the Soviet Union its third opportunity to inbound the ball after the United States robustly celebrated what it believed to be a 50-49 victory. Arabadjan is the only surviving referee of the two; Brazilian parntner Renatto Righetto died in 2001.
The hope, Gallagher says, is that a signed affidavit from Arabadjan will eventually lead to a new hearing in Switzerland. IOC policy dictates that medal disputes must be resolved before the start of the next Olympics, but Gallagher, to further his claims, contends that the clock never actually started running on the Americans' appeal because their harried postgame protest was heard by a five-man panel from FIBA and not the IOC.
Describing Jones as "a dictator" who far overstepped his bounds by coming down to the floor in the first place, Gallagher says: "I allege that the IOC never heard the appeal, so our statute couldn't have started.
"If you think about what happened in Salt Lake City with Canadian figure skaters, it's really the same thing," Gallagher continued. "I don't see how they can differentiate it."
He's referring to the precedent sent at the 2002 Winter Games, when Canadian pairs figure skaters David Pelletier and Jamie Sale were awarded duplicate golds after it was ruled that they were initially victimized by an Olympic judging scandal.
Not collecting their silvers, U.S. backup center Tom Burleson contends to this day, represents "the worst sportsmanship in history." U.S. forward Tom McMillen was the last of the players to be convinced at the time that skipping the medal presentation was the right move, but in his political role as a U.S. Congressman in 2002, McMillen asked the IOC to award duplicate golds "to rectify the errors of that game," just as it had for Pelletier and Sale.
"I never received a response to my request," McMillen wrote this week in a first-person article for The Daily Beast. "But when I brought up the issue with my former teammates, all were willing to accept dual medals."
Said Gallagher: "R. Williams Jones was in charge of bringing the 16 teams to Munich. That was his job. For him to come down and tell the refs to put more time on the clock is absurd. I'm not saying that [the game officials] made mistakes or influenced the outcome. I'm just saying that R. William Jones came in and had no jurisdiction to do so."
Doug Collins added: "Taps has sort of taken command of this. He's met with all of us and he's still trying to get in front of the IOC. We don't really put much stock into the fact that that's going to happen. But who knows? Let's see."
In his Daily Beast article, McMillen says he intends to propose a "grand compromise" at the '72 team's reunion later this month in Kentucky.
"If the members of the Soviet team agree to the awarding of dual gold medals to our team and the IOC approves, the U.S. team will donate our medals, worth a great deal as sports memorabilia, to a Russian charity for orphaned children," McMillen wrote. "With the help of other donors, we could raise millions of dollars and help build a bridge between our nations. This gesture could bring us closer together -- and could show that, even in a world increasingly marked by partisan strife, sportsmanship and goodwill can sometimes trump geopolitics."