You'd have been hard-pressed to find a happier man on earth Wednesday than Alexandre Gomelski, the head coach of the Soviet national basketball team. This was thelook of a man who will never see the inside of a Siberian salt mine.
He had just finished coaching the Soviets to their 82-76 Olympic semifinal victory over the United States and there were a few people he wanted to thank.
In the spirit of glasnost, he started with his friends/comrades in America. Let's see, there were the Milwaukee Bucks, the Atlanta Hawks, the people who run the Atlanta summer league; and there were also the Portland Trail Blazers and any number of colleges, too numerous to mention.
If he missed anybody, well, they know who they are.
You had to give Gomelski credit; he was giving credit where credit was due.
He admitted that an Olympic victory over the Americans probably wouldn't have been possible if the Soviets had only trained the past eight years against the usual town teams in Leningrad and Omsk, and played in the Europa cup against the Yugoslavs and Spaniards and other stiffs from Europe. What the elite Russian players needed was In-Your-Faceski basketball.
"In America childen start dribbling, shooting . . . after talking," said Gromelski. "In Russia they don't start until 14. Big difference."
So the Soviets infiltrated from within. As Gromelski explained, they played exhibitions against colleges from Seton Hall to Cal-Santa Barbara. They played in the summer league in Atlanta with the best players greenbacks could buy. They came to Milwaukee and got blown out by the Bucks - but kept notes and made movies the whole time. They invited the Hawks over for a three-game series this summer to warm up for the Olympics.
And, just for good measure, they sent their 7-foot-4 center, Arvidas Sabonis, to Portland for the past spring and summer, where the Trail Blazers' doctors and trainers worked on his sore ankle in the hopes he'll one day repay them by playing the post as a Trail Blazer in the NBA.
John Thompson, the U.S. coach who went down with the ship Wednesday - the first coach to lose to Russia when the clock worked properly - said at the time of Sarbonis' treatment, "Lenin was right. The capitalists are selling the rope that they'll hang themselves with."
Showing no sign of injury, Sabonis scored 13 points and 13 rebounds Wednesday.
He was just the tip of the attack. This wasn't a Soviet team that had to be lucky to win, or, like in 1972, get a break from the officials. This was a Soviet team that looked very familiar. Close to home, even. They looked like, they played like, they ran the break like, they even talked jive like . . . like the guys they were beating.
Gomelski wanted to dedicate the win.
"I would like to thank America," he said. "I'm very happy to United States basketball. I know Coach Thompson critical when we play Milwaukee Bucks, and go to summer league, and play Atlanta Hawks. But after Atlanta visit everybody talks basketball. Basketball is now No. 2 in Soviet Union, only to soccer football.
"Not only is this friendship good for Russia-U.S.," he went on. "But it's very good preparation for me."
A more gracious winner you're not going to find.
"Mr. Thompson is a great coach but he's not foreign minister," said Gomelski, thankfully. "All people in Russia very happy with this (new) friendship. People sleep now, no problem. Maybe Coach Thompson not understand this."
What Coach Thompason did understand was that Arvidas Sabonis personally destroyed any notion America's Team had of playing pressure defense.
"His body and movement are such factors in pressure defense," said Thompson. "And he's improved a lot this summer. But he's been working hard - against America's finest - so he should have improved a lot."
Thompson said he didn't want to talk further about America's foreign aid as it applies to basketball. Not now, anyway.
"It would not be appropriate," he said.
Gomelski said he just wanted to reiterate his thanks. And add this thought: "I think that maybe if Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan play," he said, "then we can't win."
But if they let the NBA players into the Olympics in the future (as they no doubt will following Wednesday's U.S. loss), that will be another Soviet coach's problem. By then, Gomelski will be enjoying his retirement in his villa overlooking the Volga River in Moscow, taking Sunday drives in his chauffeur-driven sedan and dining on caviar - all of it paid for by his capitalist friends in America.