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He wants to unfix an Olympic fix

Updated: April 22, 2013 2:13AM

Donald “Taps” Gallagher insists history can be rewritten for the outcome of the 1972 Olympic men’s gold-medal basketball game between the U.S. and Soviet Union.

Amid American jubilation over a narrow U.S. win, the Soviets were given end-of-game do-overs because of timing errors and involvement by the governing body, until the U.S.S.R. scored a winning basket to end the game. U.S. players, amateurs in their early 20s, believed they were pawns in geopolitics unjustly defeated and refused to accept silver medals. To this day the players, including Illinois native and former Bulls coach Doug Collins, are in agreement to decline them forever.

Gallagher, who lives in suburban Clarendon Hills, co-authored the book “Stolen Glory” about the game. The native New Yorker is a personal-injury lawyer and a basketball fanatic who played in college in Canada.

He is also a recreational marathon runner who strikes me as a bit restless. Years ago, he spent his free time coaching high school basketball for Chicago Public Schools, mostly at Prosser. Since 2008, he has taken up pursuit of a gold medal for the 1972 U.S. team.

“I like challenges,” he told me.

I think Gallagher, 59, is chasing a lost cause. But his zealous work on this got my attention and might resonate with those who couldn’t believe their eyes back in 1972 as well as anyone who once believed the Olympics embody fair play.

His legal background suits Gallagher well as he seeks a hearing with the International Olympic Committee to claim an undue influence, in this case the head of FIBA, the international basketball governing body, ordered referees to play the final seconds over, then again until the outcome was favorable for the Soviets.

FIBA and the IOC have sent Gallagher letters telling him the matter is closed. Nevertheless, he has tracked down a referee from the game who is still alive, FIBA Hall of Famer Artenik Arabadjian of Bulgaria. Gallagher told me that through an intermediary in Bulgaria, he is asking Arabadjian to submit an affidavit essentially acknowledging the outcome was unduly influenced.

Gallagher said that based on two phone conversations with the man he is optimistic he will get it. He is sympathetic to the pressure referees must have felt once the order came from FIBA, which controlled future international assignments for referees. Perhaps now the man can unburden himself.

Such an admission would be a victory of sorts, and Gallagher is hinging his hopes for a hearing on it.

He went to great lengths to find the referee. Three years ago, after hearing the man had just moved from New York back to Bulgaria, he went through his garbage and found an envelope with an address for the man’s son, he told me. That set in motion the latest development.

Gallagher says he isn’t looking for a stripping of the Soviet’s gold but a duplicate gold for the U.S. “Then the players can decide if they want them.”

He believes there is precedent for this, pointing to a judging scandal in figure skating in 2002 that led to duplicate gold medals being awarded.

“My daughter said very few people change history,” Gallagher said. “That’s what I plan to do.”

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