Coaching rivalries through the years
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!
Rivalries on the benches The sixth week of the Turkish Airlines Euroleague regular season offered, aside from interesting games and some surprises, an added feature: coaching rivalries. It is true that we see such rivalries throughout the season, but on Thursday we had several direct duels between coaches who have faced each other often over the years. For instance, in the game between Real Madrid and Olympiacos, the war on the benches was between Ettore Messina and Dusan Ivkovic, two of the most prestigious and heralded coaches in Europe. Their rivalry dates to almost 20 years ago, when Ivkovic was coach at PAOK Thessaloniki and Messina was at Kinder Bologna. Another duel of greats was seen in Athens, on the benches of Panathinaikos and Power Electronics Valencia, where we could find Zeljko Obradovic and Svetislav Pesic, who amass about 50 titles combined among their clubs and national teams. In Istanbul, we witnessed an interesting duel with coaches of the new generation, Velimir Perasovic of Efes Pilsen and Jure Zdovc of Union Olimpija. Curiousliy enough, both were World Champs with Yugoslavia in 1990 together with Obradovic while the coach of that team was Ivkovic. David Blatt of Maccabi Electra and Dusko Ivanovic of Caja Laboral have a shorter but intense string of games between them, too, while Aleksandar Trifunovic of Lietuvos Rytas and Neven Spahija of Fenerbahce Ulker have a common in their résumé: both have been Lietuvos Rytas coaches.
Coaching rivalries are at least as old as club rivalries in Europe. At the start of the Champions Cup, Aleksandar Gomelskiy, the legendary leader of ASK Riga, CSKA Moscow and the USSR national team, had a Bulgarian coach, Bozidar Takev of Akademik Sofia, as his biggest rival. In the fifties, Bulgaria was a European powerhouse in basketball and its domestic champion reached the final twice in consecutive years, 1958 and 1959. Takev was also the Bulgarian national coach in the Budapest Eurobasket of 1955, where his team finished fourth. A fun fact about the first two finals is that both were played outdoors in football stadiums. In Sofia, 17,300 fans attended the game while in Riga there were 16,000 people. The following year, the repeat final in 1959 between ASK Riga and Akademik Sofia gathered 20,000 fans in Sofia's Vasil Levski Stadium.
A few years later, a new big rivalry was born between Real Madrid legend Pedro Ferrandiz and Simenthal Milano great Cesare Rubini. Their first big clash happened during the 1963-64 semifinals, which Real Madrid finally won by just 2 points. Their big date was on April 1, 1967 in the final, played in Madrid. Again, Real Madrid prevailed by 91-83.
In the early sixties, the rivalry between Gomelskiy and the Professor, Aleksandar Nikolic, the Yugoslav national coach for many years, carried on at the club level. Nikolic was coaching Ignis Varese and Gomelskiy was with CSKA. In the 1973 final played in Liege, Belgium, Varese won by 71-66. In fact, there was a trio of wise men going against each other then, because on Real Madrid's bench one could find Ferrandiz, who took the 1974 title by beating Varese, which now had Sandro Gamba on the bench. That trio formed by Gomelskiy, Ferrandiz and Nikolic was broken precisely by Gamba when his Varese teams won the title in 1975 and 1976, both against Real Madrid. Of course, these coaches were not only rivals in the finals: they had eliminated each other many a time on the road to the title games.
The new heir on the Real Madrid bench was Lolo Sainz, who had played for many years for Ferrandiz. Sainz won his first title in Munich in 1978 against Nico Messina in what was Varese's ninth consecutive final. Sainz and Real Madrid reappeared again two years later in Berlin against Maccabi Tel Aviv, coached by Ralph Klein, who had been his big rival in that era together with two Italians, Valerio Bianchini (Squib Cantu, Banco di Roma) and Giancarlo Primo (Ford Cantu), and Croatian Mirko Novosel of Cibona.
At the end of the eighties and start of the nineties, new rivalries were born. First between Boza Maljkovic of Jugoplastika and Aito Garcia Reneses of Barcelona, and later between Ivkovic and Aito plus Ivkovic and Messina. More big duels appeared with Maccabi's Pini Gershon and Obradovic at Panathinaikos. In Thessaloniki 2000, Obradovic took the title, while in the Suproleague final in 2001, Gershon prevailed. After that, Obradovic defeated Messina in the 2002 Final Four in Bologna and a new rivalry was born. In 2005 in Moscow, Gershon managed to get the crown back to win his second straight title, something only six coaches before him - Gomelskiy, Ferrandiz, Nikolic, Gamba, Maljkovic and Obradovic - had done.
In the most recent years, the biggest rivalry is between great friends like Messina and Obradovic. In the 2007 final in Athens, in a classic for the history books, Panathinaikos won by 93-91, and the same thing happened in Berlin in 2009, 73-71, but Messina won the previous titles each time, in Prague 2006 and Madrid 2008.
With the comeback this year of Dusan Ivkovic and Svetislav Pesic to the top competition, the rivalries among veterans will carry on, but the excellent new generations of coaches will look for their spot in the long series of historic rivalries. A decade into the future people will probably write about "eternal duels" between Xavi Pascual and Neven Spahija, or Simone Pianigiani and Jure Zdovc, or Matteo Boniciolli and Velimir Perasovic, or Aco Petrovic and Tomas Pacesas...
Long live great rivalries!
Vladimir Stankovic - Euroleague.net
Saturday, November 27, 2010