Alexander Belov gained worldwide fame after Munich 1972. At those Games, the USSR basketball team won its first Olympic gold, sensationally breaking the long-term hegemony of the United States. It was the 20-year-old striker who scored the decisive shot in the last second of the final, thus leaving his name forever in history.
At that time, seemingly fantastic prospects opened up for the young basketball player, but he was not destined to fully realize his potential. Just five years after the Olympics, Belov’s career was unexpectedly cut short due to a ridiculous crime.
Alexander was banned for life from the national team.
the first bell
At the beginning of his career, Belov showed incredible results and was considered perhaps the country’s main basketball hope. “Just an example of Christian values: incredible kindness, openness, sincerity, tremendous work,” is how his colleague Andrei Makeev later spoke about the young athlete. Perseverance and talent quickly began to bear fruit: already at the age of 17 he became European champion, a year later he won the Universiade and then won the historic gold of the Olympic Games.
Munich 1972, however, changed Belov forever. Fame, as other players of the national team later testified, corrupted Alexander, and photographs of him at that time hung throughout Leningrad: the player played for the local Spartak. From a hard worker, the athlete quickly turned into a party animal. He lived large, organized parties with friends where alcohol flowed freely and did not disdain venal love. The basketball player was still known as a kind and understanding guy, but more and more often he found himself in dubious situations and only miraculously escaped from trouble.
The first truly alarming bell rang for Belov in 1973. In spring, the Soviet team was returning from a tour of America, from where the athletes often brought “forbidden” food. Being one of the few citizens of the USSR who had the right to regularly travel abroad, the team members subsequently sold the products they brought to their homeland. The authorities usually turned a blind eye to this petty smuggling, but black market dealers were sometimes shown to be “pressured” to discourage others.
Arriving in Sheremetyevo, customs detained several basketball players at once, including Belov. It was discovered that the player had foreign goods, so Alexander was immediately punished with disqualification for life, and he was also threatened with a trial… However, in the end, they made another champion, Ivan Dvorny, who brought a pair of American jeans from abroad. . He was harassed by the press and then sent to prison. All charges against Alexander were dropped, but from now on the edifying example of his teammate was before his eyes.
Over the next few years, Belov continued to compete successfully on the national team, but did not particularly change his lifestyle. In 1974 he won his first world championship and at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal he helped the team win bronze medals, but the accomplished basketball player was no longer interested in trophies.
– I remember asking him: “Sash, how do you want to finish your degree?” And he answers: “I want a Volga, a good apartment, a good country house and money – 20 thousand.” Why exactly 20 thousand? I never understood it or discovered it. “And not a word about winning the second Olympic Games and about basketball in general,” Makeev said later.
By this time, Alexander had become close to his partner Vladimir Arzamaskov, whose wife was involved in smuggling. It was he who, in 1977, proposed to the basketball player to transport valuable icons for resale from the USSR to Italy, where international competitions would be held. Vladimir, Alexander and another player drew lots: Belov had to go through customs with illegal cargo.
This undertaking did not seem dangerous for the athletes, despite the Dvorny case: at that time such “hares” were chosen in each delegation. However, customs that day worked with extreme attention.
– Maybe from somewhere above came an order to teach a lesson to athletes known throughout the country? The baggage shakeout did not begin immediately after the Olympics, but a year later. Belov was caught with two icons, was forced to miss the European Championships due to disqualification, and he and Alzhan Zharmukhamedov were stripped of the titles of Honored Masters of Sports. But then they gave it back to me,” recalled the captain of the USSR national team, Modestas Paulauskas.
A stupid accident finally ruined Belov’s career. This time the athlete was not forgiven for his offense and Spartak was finally expelled from the team. Exclusion from basketball had a serious impact on the health of Alexander, who previously suffered periodically from heart pains. Just over a year and a half later, the player, who had recently been invited to return to the national team camp, died unexpectedly at just 26 years old.
The Russian basketball player saved the team at the last second. The Americans were already celebrating gold!