Doug Collins knows a little something about Olympic-sized heartbreak and joy.
Collins, the former Chicago Bulls coach and current senior advisor, sank two of the most pressurized free throws in Olympics history during the U.S. men's controversial, last-second loss to the Soviet Union in the 1972 gold medal game. Following Collins' two free throws, officials gave the Soviet Union three inbounds chances before it scored the winning basket, an outcome the U.S. protested and, when denied, prompted the team never picking up their silver medals.
Shortly after Team USA claimed gold at the Beijing Olympics in 2008, LeBron James and others from the so-called "Redeem Team" ran over to share their medals with Collins, who was broadcasting games for NBC. To this day, Collins gets emotional when discussing James' gesture.
So it's fitting that Team USA coach Gregg Popovich asked Collins to address this year's team on Thursday in Las Vegas as they train for this summer's Games in Tokyo. Previous Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski had done the same in 2016.
"Doug hit a home run," Popovich said during his Zoom media availability session on Friday.
Collins recently noted that Bulls guard Zach LaVine is wearing No. 5 in his Olympics debut, the same number that Kevin Durant wore at a previous Olympics. Durant is a two-time Olympic gold medalist.
"I wanted him them to feel what the Olympics meant to him," Popovich said. "To this day, what happened in 1972 hurts him. And I wanted that to be felt and transferred to our players — how important these Games are, how wonderful a memory they can have if we're successful in this quest."
Because of the ongoing global pandemic, this year's Olympics will present new challenges. No spectators will be allowed at events. And players and team officials will be under strict quarantine guidelines throughout their stay in Tokyo.
Collins, who has formed a bond with Durant over the years, made sure to acknowledge these hurdles in his talk to the team.
"He was also emotional about what the game has meant to him," Popovich said. "He lauded our guys for making this sacrifice and wanted to, in some ways, warn them about how we have to become a family. As I've said before, basically fall in love with each other and be responsible to and for each other. Be accountable and play with all that in our minds. He got all that across.
"He was especially effusive about Kevin Durant because of his love of the game and the sacrifices he's making. He's been injured quite a bit these last couple years, gone through a tough time. And he's still here. Doug really made sure that that was appreciated by everyone in the basketball world."