The Evolution of Olympic Basketball

Aug 27, 2012

A reunion offers a time for reflection.  Over the weekend, Americans who played basketball during the 1972 Olympics had that opportunity.  They came to central Kentucky on the 40th anniversary of their controversial loss to a team from the Soviet Union.  The Americans also reflected on the changes they’ve seen in the sport since they played the game.  From its very beginnings, basketball has seen a lot of change, especially in its style.  Mike Bantom, who came to the 1972 Olympic squad from Philadelphia, says in some ways it’s improved.

  ‘It’s suffered some in terms of the fundamentals of the game and how the fundamentals are executed.  But I think that the athleticism and the talent of the athletes has gotten so great.  It’s become a much more spectacular game,” said Bantom.

If the 60-year-old Bantom has concerns about an erosion of basketball’s fundamentals, Johnny Bach has more a direct commentary on how the game is played.  The 88 year old Bach was an assistant coach in 1972.  He says the game was, at one time, much more of a team sport.

“You didn’t have to watch your teammate.  You had to watch the ball and its movement.  The general rule was three seconds.  No player held it longer than three, so one thousand one, one thousand two, pass, cut, do something now.  That’s the way you were brought up in basketball,” said Bach.

Bach says it’s a whole different game, particularly at the professional level in 2012.  Forty years ago, it was much more of a passing game.  Today, he says it’s not unusual to observe a player dribbling the ball 14 to 20 times and not moving very far.

“I see the game right after the national anthem, screen roll, repeated by screen roll to screen roll to screen roll.  I don’t think, I’d like to see the team game.  ‘Will that ever happen again?  Oh, it has to, has to, the players have to go back to enjoying the game, having teammates, having plans offensively and defensively that involve a team,” added Bach.

Also participating in the reunion of the 1972 U-S-A Olympian team was Doug Collins.  It was Collins who made two free throws near the end of the game that the Americans still believe should have guaranteed victory.  After a very successful college and professional career, Collins kept his hand firmly in the game.  He serves as coach of the Philadelphia 76ers.  Collins sees a lot of excitement and athletic talent in the game today.

“Players are playing at an incredible high level.  The skill level is off the chart.  The size , the speed of the athletes is amazing.  I watch as a fan, as a broadcaster, as a coach and I see players doing things that I couldn’t fathom them being able to do,” said Collins.

Collins adds hard work, dedication, strength and conditioning have today’s pro-athletes playing at a phenomenal level.  When asked if there is too much money in professional athletics, Collins replied, ‘absolutely not.’  When asked why, he simply said, ‘I just don’t think there is.’