| In the world of basketball, and of sport in general, it would be difficult to find a case similar to that of Dragan Todoric, the current sports director of Partizan Belgrade. At 54 years old, Todoric has been working for Partizan every single time that the club has it has won a trophy - 30 of them, in fact, spanning more than three decades. The reason is that Todoric has been part of the club non-stop since he was first signed as a junior player in 1972. Of his 36 years with Partizan, he spent the first 10 as a player and the remaining 26 in other departments of the club.
His name first drew Partizan's attention in 1971, when Yugoslavia won the first European cadets championship in Gorizia, Italy. The stars of that team were Mirza Delibasic and Dragan Kicanovic, but as the team's starting point guard, Todoric had a key role. A year later, the same generation win the European junior title played in Zadar. All the great clubs in the former Yugoslavia started eyeing the team's young talents. Todoric and Kicanovic, who came from the neighboring central Serbia towns of Kraljevo and Cacak, respectively, chose Partizan, while Delibasic signed for Bosna Sarajevo.
As he got older, Todoric had the bad luck to play in the same era as Zoran Slavnic and Srecko Jaric, the father of former all-Euroleague and current NBA player Marko Jaric, which kept him from playing a lot for the Yugoslavia men's team, but he was nonetheless an important team player. The stars or Partizan at the time were Kicanovic and Drazen Dalipagic, but without Todoric and other unsung players like Dusan Kerkez and Miodrag Maric, the dream of the club's first title would have been impossible. That dream came true in the 1975-76 season.
"The Yugoslav Leageu then was among the best in Europe, very difficult to win, and to repeat was imposible, because there were so many good teams," Todoric recalled recently for Euroleague.net. "We had a good team, coached by the great Borislav Corkovic, who everyone knew as 'Reba'. We had to overcome hard opponents like Bosna, Jugoplastika, Olimpija, Cibona, Red Star, Radnicki.... The joy was enormous. It was the first title in the 31-year history of Partizan."
Three years later, with Dusan Ivkovic on the bench, Partizan took its second Yugoslav League title, but also won the Yugoslav Cup and the Korac Cup for a triple crown that still stands as the club's greatest season ever.
Starting in 1982, Todoric began to work in Partizan's marketing department, although he returned to the court for the 1984-85 season with his original club, Sloga de Kraljevo.
"Sloga had reached the first division, and they called me for help due to my experience, because the team was very young," Todoric recalled. "I accepted and during the season I shared on room on our trips with a certain...Vlade Divac. His talent was evident at first sight. I was still an employee in Partizan's marketing department. Dragan Kicanovic, then the club's director general, gave me the job of convincing Divac to sign for Partizan. It wasn't easy, because all the big clubs wanted Divac, who had signed for Red Star but was angered when Ranko Zeravica left him on the junior team. I took advantage of the situation, and in the summer of 1986, Divac signed for Partizan, while I became a volunteer assistant coach while remaining in my marketing job."
After that came a rain of trophies, with Partizan winning 24 more. A generation that included Divac, Zarko Paspalj, Sasha Djordjevic and Sasha Danilovic started collecting titles in bunches. Todoric finds it difficult to choose the most important of them, but the lone Euroleague title in 1992 stands out.
"That was another triple-crown year: domestic league, domestic cup and the Euroleague title at the Final Four in Istanbul," Todoric said. "That trophy was historic not only for Partizan, but because never before had a team won playing all away games. Because of the war in the former Yugoslavia, FIBA obliged us to play home games in Fuenlabrada, Spain, and despite all, we reached the Final Four, beating Phillips Milan for the third time that season in the semifinal and then Joventut with the famous three-pointer by Djordjevic in the last seconds of the final."
International sanctions stemming from the war arrived a month-and-a-half after the Euroleague title and kept Partizan from playing outside its country for three years. A slow recuperation began in 1996, with a new national title and a generation led by Dejan Tomasevic, Dejan Koturovic, Dragan Lukovski and the late Haris Brkic returning the team to the 1998 Final Four. A new era began in 2000, when Divac and Danilovic took over the club. In the seven seasons since, Partizan has been the undisputed champ of its domestic competition. Last season, it returned to form in the Euroleague, reaching the last game before the Final Four although it lost to Tau Ceramica 2-1 in the quarterfinal playoffs.
"You could say that in recent years we've had sporting stability, but it's very difficult to maintain this level," Todoric says. "We lose players we have formed almost every season, and the process of forming new ones is slow and long. Our lack of money is always there, too. Our budget is like the annual salary of some of the best-paid players in Europe, but that's how it is. We know how to live with the difficulties."