So much for sports being a universal language. Babel-like chaos descended on the basketball court during the final moments of the 1972 Olympic matchup between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R., complete with multiple clock resets, misunderstood buzzers and premature celebrations.
The Americans had never lost an Olympic basketball game before they went up against the Soviets for the gold in Munich. For a time, it appeared that they would keep the streak going: after two successful free throws, the U.S. led 50-49. But then play was stopped with one second left — the Soviets said they had called for a timeout — and the officials decided to put three seconds on the clock. It wasn’t enough for the U.S.S.R. to retake the lead. At least, not the first time. After Team USA had already jumped for joy, the clock was re-reset — since it hadn’t been done correctly before — and the Soviets scored, winning the Cold War–era battle 51-50. The U.S. protested, but their appeal was denied, leaving the U.S.S.R. victorious. The American players boycotted the medal ceremony and never claimed the silver.