Cibona, a great one in trouble
Veteran sportswriter and Euroleague.net collaborator Vladimir Stankovic has been following the best basketball on the continent longer than almost anyone journalist, writing for decades about the sport in major publications in both Serbia and Spain. For the new 2010-11 season, he offers a blog that honors the history of European basketball - even while history keeps being made!
At first sight, dedicating a blog entry to a team that starts 0-4 wouldn't seem logical. Normally, the space in the media is for the champions, the winners, the records, the trophies and the stars. When we talk about Cibona today, we forget about all that. There are no wins, no records (save for negative ones) and no stars. There are only problems: sports problems and economic problems, and the past. A great past, filled with titles and stars. Everything that is missing not only today but the last few years. For starters, here's a curiosity: Cibona is the ONLY club that has played in all the editions of the Euroleague since the 1991-92 season.
Two decades in the elite
FIBA created its "Champions League" one year before UEFA, with as many as three representatives from the countries with the best basketball. In that first edition, Cibona still represented Yugoslavia together with Partzan Belgrade and Slobodna Dalmacija Split (the former Jugoplastika), who qualified through the Yugoslav League. Because of the war, all three played in Spain for their home games: Cibona played in Puerto Real, Slobodna in A Coruña and Partizan in Fuenlabrada. Cibona ended up with 11 wins and 7 losses and in the quarterfinals it lost both games to Joventut Badalona, who advanced to the Istanbul Final Four. Since then, until last Thursday, during its 20 consecutive years in the Euroleague, Cibona has played 329 games at the Euroleague level, winning 154 and losing 175. Of course, the global balance is negative. There are no Final Four appearances, either. But Cibona is in the Euroleague year after year and it is a name uttered with respect everywhere in the basketball world.
History of the name
The name... does anybody know why is the club called Cibona and what does it mean? Here is the story. In 1975, the name Cibona appeared for the first time in the Yugoslav League, substituting Lokomotiva after 25 years of giving its name to a sports society with several sections. The club was born in 1946 under the name Sloboda ("freedom"), but that was only until 1950. Starting then, the name changed several times: SD Zagreb, Vihor, Polet... but in 1950 it changed to Lokomotiva. The club entered the Yugoslav first division in 1951 and there it remained except for the years 1952 and 1960. In 1975, the basketball club stepped away from the Lokomotiva society and established itself with the new name, Cibona, which is a combination for two Latin words, "cibos" and "bonus", which could roughly translate to "good food", because backing the club was a strong consortium of Croatian food companies. That's how Cibona was born. However, the first title arrived under the old Lokomotiva name. For the 1971-72 season, FIBA started a third cup - after the Champions Cup (since 1958) and the Cup Winners Cup (since 1967) - called Korac Cup. FIBA needed this third cup to give the chance of playing international competitions to more clubs. The name of the cup was a tribute to the legendary Yugoslav player Radivoj Korac, who was best scorer several times in Europe and still holds the 99-point record in one game of the Champions Cup. Korac had died on June 2, 1969 after a car crash near Sarajevo in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
There were eight teams from five countries in the new Korac Cup: two from Spain, two from France, two from Yugoslavia and one each from Germany and Belgium. The two Yugoslav teams met in the final game: OKK Belgrade, Korac's long-time team before playing in Italy (with Padova) and Belgium (with Standard), and Lokomotiva Zagreb. In Belgrade, OKK won by 83-71 but in the second game, played on March 7, 1972, in the small arena of the Tresnjevka neighborhood, Lokomotiva won by 94-73 and lifted the first trophy. Nikola Plecas, the big star of Lokomotiva, scored 29 points in Belgrade and 40 points in the second game. Plecas, usually called "Saint Nikola" by the fans, was the first basketball star in Zagreb. His popularity was off the charts, only matching his scoring skills. He was a world champ with Yugoslavia in 1970 and the true locomotive in Lokomotiva as he could score as many as 70 points in league games... without three-pointers, of course.
Novosel, Cosic, Petrovic
The rise of Cibona started with the arrival of Mirko Novosel, a former player of the club in the 1950s and 1960s. After his glory days as Yugoslav national team head coach (two European titles in 1973 and 1975, world runner-up in 1974 and Olympic runner-up in 1976), Novosel started to build a great Cibona. It was hard, but he succeeded. Two of his signings were the key. In 1980, he convinced legendary center Kresimir Cosic, who was 32 then, to put an end to his brilliant career in Cibona. The first titles arrived two years later. First, on March 16, 1982, Cibona defeated Real Madrid in Brussels by a close 96-95 after overtime, with regulation ending 88-88,to lift the Cup Winners Cup. Only five players scored in that Cibona team however: Aleksandar Petrovic (22), Damir Pavlicevic (12), Mihovil Nakic (6), Andro Knego (34) and Kreso Cosic (22). Three more players went scoreless: Zoran Cutura, Adnan Becic and Rajko Gospodnetic. A few months later, the first Yugoslav league title arrived. In 1984, Novosel managed to sing a young star, Drazen Petrovic, who was only 20 by then and was the younger brother of Aleksandar. By 1987, Cibona had won 14 titles including back-to-back Euroleague titles against Real Madrid in 1985 and Zalgiris in 1986. It was a golden decade for Cibona, making it one of the only six clubs that managed to win all three European competitions.
Nowadays, Knego (general manager), Nakic (sports director) and Novosel (consultant after 14 years of absence) are together again in a very difficult moment for the club. With a big debt and a young roster, Cibona simply cannot compete with its richer, more experienced rivals. However, Cibona has what it never lost: talent. Leon Radosevic (center, 207), Tomislav Zupcic (center, 208) and Mario Delas (forward, 207) were born in 1990. Bojan Bogdanovic (guard, 200) and Karlo Vragovic (guard, 192) were born in 1989. The first four players of this list are diamonds in the rough that only need time to show their true potential. A couple of experienced players would also come in handy for the decisive moments in games. Cibona has started at 0-4 but has also lost all the games in the final minutes, something not unusual for a young team that is growing game after game. If they manage to survive this tough year, even without titles, and do not sell the talent before it gives something back to the club, Cibona will be a big name again in Europe for sure. And the city of Zagreb should also find a way to help one of its best-known brands.
Vladimir Stankovic - Euroleague.net
Saturday, November 13, 2010