- Associated Press - Saturday, April 16, 2011

MIAMI (AP) - When the NBA playoffs start Saturday afternoon, LeBron James and Doug Collins will be competing on opposite sides.

That hasn’t always been the case.

Collins was part of the 1972 U.S. Olympic men’s basketball team that was denied a gold medal following a hotly debated finish against the Soviet Union. So at the Beijing Games 36 years later, working as a broadcaster, Collins got his Olympic moment _ when a slew of American players, including James, said they were dedicating their golds to him and the rest of that ‘72 team.

Collins still remembers it all vividly.

“He came over, just over the table and gave me a hug,” Collins said. “He said, ‘We feel like you’re a big part of this. Thanks for what you did for us, and speaking to us and being there for us.’”

At the time, Collins wasn’t sure if he would ever coach again. So it’s quite a coincidence that in his first foray back to the postseason comes against James, fellow Olympians Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, along with the rest of the Miami Heat.

Collins guided the Philadelphia 76ers to the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference, and they’ll visit the second-seeded Heat for Game 1 on Saturday afternoon.

“I think about that a lot, all the way back to when he was on the Olympic team and that travesty happened with them when they played in the gold medal game,” James said Friday. “He’s one of the best guys I’ve met over the years. I’ve always had respect for him and us winning that gold medal in 2008, we kind of all went over there and showed him a lot of love. He was a big part of that.”

The gesture in Beijing, James said, was unplanned.

“Just all part of the moment,” James said. “I was happy that he was there.”

Collins was a bystander to the Olympic win in 2008.

He had a starring role in the 1972 matchup at the Munich Games.

Collins made two free throws with 3 seconds left in that gold medal game, giving the Americans a 50-49 lead and bringing them to the cusp of a 64th consecutive win in Olympic play. The Soviets inbounded the ball and didn’t score, then got a second chance _ and failed to score again.

The secretary general of international basketball’s governing body then decreed the Soviets should have a third attempt following more confusion, and on that try, they scored the controversial points that decided the gold medal. The Americans, including Collins, refused their silver medals _ a stance on which they have never wavered.

This is Collins‘ sixth trip to the postseason as an NBA coach, the first three of those coming with Michael Jordan in Chicago from 1987 through 1989. Collins left the Bulls before they started their run of titles in 1991, and once said if he ever writes an autobiography, he’d call it “Always a Winner but never a Champion.”

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