The USSR-USA gold medal game.
Former senator Freddie Webb was part of the Philippine basketball team that competed in the 1972 Munich Olympics, the last time the country sent a basketball team to the quadrennial meet. Here Webb talks about his Olympic experience, including the controversial gold medal match between the USSR and the USA and the tragic death of several Israeli athletes in a terrorist attack.
Describe your road to the Olympics.
In my case, having gone through a horrible experience in the ’68 Olympics, I was very straight but at the same time there is satisfaction, because if you missed one, you don’t want to miss the next one. In ’68 we were 15, and there were only gonna be 12. We knew from the start that the three were going to be considered reserves, and I was one of the three unlucky ones that did not make it.
It was a satisfaction which I really fulfilled. Any athlete would like to represent his country in the highest competition in the world, which is the Olympics.
In the qualification round, we were supposed to be tops, but Japan beat us. But we still made it because at that time it was still the top two teams in Asia (that advanced). We were humiliated by the coach of Japan, who said he could beat the Philippine team with his players blindfolded. So it was an insult to us and a challenge for us to play harder, and play as a team. When we played them (at the Olympics), everybody was energetic (Note: the Philippines beat Japan 82-73 in Munich).
What was it like to witness the opening ceremonies?
It was a fulfillment of your imagination. You imagine yourself being there witnessing this spectacle, an event that cannot be forgotten. The host country usually gives its best so people, when they leave, they will always say that’s the best Olympics. Some of the spectators really travel from one country to the other just to watch the Olympics. They’re not even athletes. What more the athletes?
How was the basketball competition?
When some of the players that you idolize are there, when you’re not playing, you stay in the coliseum to watch their games.
I did okay. I did what was expected of me, which was to steal the ball, pass, go for a lay-up.
Of course, some of the teams that we played there were huge and tall. They overpowered us. I would say Brazil was the most impressive. They were huge. Spain was also impressive. Puerto Rico, these are the teams that impressed me.
(Note: the Philippines finished 13th out of 16 teams, winning three and losing six. One of the wins was a walkover against Egypt, which pulled out its athletes after the terrorist attack.)
The USA-USSR gold medal match ended in controversy, with the Americans claiming they were cheated. Did you watch that game live?
I was there. I don’t think there was any cheating. It was bad because in a way, losing that game, the coach has got to shoulder the responsibility. But in that particular game, it really was the coach’s fault. He became cocky. It was a throw-in from the baseline going towards the Russians’ basket. He had a seven-one, seven-two player there. All you had to do was raise your hand and the inbounder won’t be able to see. What were they doing in their frontcourt when they should be in the backcourt trying to defend? That’s the only way Russia can win. I think they dribbled once and then shot, so that means all you have to do is make them dribble two, three times, the game would have been over. I think they became too cocky. They were already celebrating. It was a nightmare for them.
Would you agree with the decision to repeat the last three seconds?
I didn’t understand it, that’s why I couldn’t believe it. There were two free throws (by the United States’ Doug Collins), and then all of a sudden when the Russians couldn’t inbound it properly they were saying, ‘Wait a minute, the clock didn’t move’. But in fairness, they weren’t cheating. There was really something wrong that happened. The United States was really meant to lose. If you weren’t cocky, if you weren’t celebrating, there were only about two or three seconds left, you should think of a play that can make sure they won’t get that ball from the inbounds.
Do you agree with the decision not to get the silver medals?
I don’t think so. It’s their fault. They couldn’t believe that they lost. They would blame the referees, they would blame the timer. There is the spirit of sportsmanship, something that has to be the number one priority in sports.
Munich 1972 will forever be remembered for the terrorist attack that resulted in the death of several Israeli athletes. Could you recall what happened when the terrorists stormed the athletes’ compound?
I would say it was still dark. I can’t remember the exact time, but it was still dark. Maybe it could have been 4:30 or 5:00. All of a sudden, [mimics gunfire]. We were like, ‘What was that?’ We thought maybe the West Germans were just practicing their target shooting. So we went back to sleep. Then when there was light, at about 6:30, the helicopters were there. That was it. We were not allowed to go down. No one was allowed to go down while this event was unfolding.
You know, when you’re young, you think more of yourself than that. You don’t open your eyes to the reality that there are lives involved. Of course, there would be pit, the feeling that what happened was really terrible, you’d feel it and then forget about it in less than 20 days. I’m being honest. But now I would feel different. I would feel very hurt, sad, because these people are athletes, and we are of the same career or hobby at that time. It could happen to us. It could happen to anyone.
Did you ever think back then that you would be part of the last Philippine Olympic basketball team?
Never in my imagination did I think we would be the last to make it to the Olympics. Although it’s not yet final. We can qualify in later Olympics. I was thinking we would be there again. You have to realize, that thing also happened when we started our PBA, in ’75. The next Olympics was in ’76, so those who were in the PBA couldn’t play. It could have been a great toss-up again among three nations, Korea, the Philippines and Japan.
What do you think of Philippine basketball today?
I don’t know if it’s right that we’re naturalizing Americans. As long as it is legal and there is no falsification of documents, it’s okay. We really need it, because without guys who are six-eight, six-nine, forget it. If our tallest man on the court is gonna be six-six, forget it. We’re not even gonna win against Japan and Korea.
(Editor’s note: Yahoo! Sports Philippines interviewed several Filipino Olympians about their Olympic experience. Each week we will be featuring at least one interview and will continue to do so until the London Olympics are over. Check back here regularly for updates.)