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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!
American college basketball may have March Madness, but European basketball had April Madness. The title game for the European competitions was played in April for many years, with several heart-stopping games, heroes and tragic figures, polemic decisions and appeals included. In this blog entry, I will go over the decade between 1991 and 2000, with all the finals played in April, before the Euroleague decided to lengthen the season a little and finish it in May.
1991: Jugoplastika's hat-trick
It's 20 years now already since POP 84, as the legendary Jugoplastika team was named that year, won its third straight title, something that only ASK Riga accomplished in the first three years of the competition, from 1958 to 1960. For the 1990-91 season, the team from Split had lost two important players - Dino Radja and ace shooter Dusko Ivanovic, who was also the team captain - and also its head coach, Bozidar Maljkovic, who had moved to F.C. Barcelona. As fate would have it, POP 84 and Barcelona squared off three times that season. First they met in the group stage (with respective road wins for each team) and then in the title game, played in Paris on April 16 at Bercy Arena. The Split team won by 70-65 after having led 40-34 at halftime with Zoran Savic scoring 27 points and being named MVP. Toni Kukoc, Zoran Sretenovic, Luka Pavicevic, Velimir Perasovic and Zan Tabak won their third titles while their former coach would have to wait for another chance to get his.
1992: Djordjevic's miracle three
That year the title game was played in Istanbul on April 16, and that game will always be remembered by the unbelievable three-pointer shot by Sasha Djordjevic of Partizan Belgrade in the last second against Joventut Badalona for a 71-70 win. But this game and its road to the title all that season deserves a dedicated story about Partizan, which, by the way, I will talk about next week.
1993: The triumph of the 'miners'
One of the biggest surprises ever in the history of the competition happened in the Final Four played in Athens that year. Boza Maljkovic had left Barcelona and moved to Limoges of France in January of 1993, where he started to build a great team formed by 'miners', as he used to call his players, instead of stars. In the semifinal, Limoges beat the Real Madrid by 62-52 despite 19 points from Arvydas Sabonis for the losers, and in the final, the victim was Toni Kukoc and Benetton Treviso by 59-55, after Limoges had trailed 22-28 at halftime. The 'miners' won the first and only European title for French basketball to this day, and they wereled by Michael Young (18 points, 7 boards), Jim Bilba (15 and 10), Jure Zdovc (9), Frederic Forte 4, Richard Dacoury 3, Willie Redden (6), Frank Butter (1) and Jimmy Verove (3). They defeated a star-studded Benetton team: Kukoc (14), Terry Teagle (19) and Stefano Rusconi (13). The low score caused some turmoil about the style of play, called basket-control, employed by Limoges. Benetton's coach Petar Skansi stated: "We came here to play basketball but this turned into a wrestling match instead." Maljkovic responded: "I ask my friend Skansi to lend me Kukoc for the game and he can pick any player he wants from my team and then we will talk about who is playing anti-basketball."
1994: Thompson's three
The three-pointer by Djordjevic in the 1992 title game is the most famous one for being made down the stretch. However, the 1994 title game in Tel Aviv between Joventut Badalona and Olympiakos, played on April 21, also featured a great shot from downtown by Corny Thompson to make it 59-57 with 15 seconds left. With 4 seconds to go, Thompson himself fouledZarko Paspalj, who went to the free throw line for a 'one and one' (eg. if he scored the first one, he could shoot a second one, but if he missed the first one the game went on with no second attempt). Paspalj missed, but Olympiakos's offensive rebound allowed time for another shot. Then, one of those irregularities from the scoring table that affect basketball so much, happened: instead of the remaining 4 seconds, many more seconds were played without the clock moving allowing the Reds to shoot as many as three times. However, no shot went in and fate decided to give Joventut back the title it had stolen from the Badalona team on Djordjevic's perfectly legal shot in '92. If that was not enough, Zeljko Obradovic, the Partizan coach two years earlier, was the Joventut boss in Tel Aviv for his second European crown.
1995: A title for Sabas
Real Madrid has not played a Final Four since 1996 but in 1995, in the Final Four played in Zaragoza, Spain, the Whites and Arvydas Sabonis defeated Olympiakos on April 13, 1995 by 73-61. The Tzar, Sabonis, led the way with 23 points, Joe Arlauckas added 16 and Jose Antonio Antunez contributed 12. The bench of Real Madrid was commanded by, you guessed it, Zeljko Obradovic who won his third title in as many clubs in only four years as a head coach. Real Madrid is now only one win away from being back to a Final Four after 15 years.
1996: The most controversial final
What happened in Tel Aviv in 1994 was only the prelude to the scandal of Paris 1996. In the final, played on April 11, Panathinaikos (coached by Boza Maljkovic) was trying to become the first Greek team to win the Euroleague, while FC Barcelona was trying to defeat its curse in the finals. In a rather close game, the Greens were ahead most of the time, but never enough to breathe easily. It all came down to the last 10 seconds with a 67-66 lead for the Greek team and possession of the ball. Veteran guard Panagiotis Giannakis was trying to kill some seconds, but Jose Luis Galilea put his hand in at the precise moment and the ball ricocheted around the court before reaching Jose Antonio Montero near the other basket. Drama started here. Due to reasons that still remain unexplained today, the closk stopped at 4.9 seconds, but hardly anybody looked at the clock. Montero ran to the basket, according to some travelling along the way, but the referees (Virovnik of Israel and Dorizon of France) didn't call anything. The basket and the title for Barcelona seemed like a sure thing, as Montero stood alone next to a teammate not one meter from the basket. But that's not what Stojko Vrankovic thought. The Croatian big man of the Greeks and his 2.17 meters took a few "seven-mile steps" to reach Montero and manage to block his shot, even if in an irregular manner: the ball had clearly touched the backboard first. Again, the referees didn't call for anything and the title fell on Panathinaikos' side with Dominique Wilkins (16 points) as the man of the game. Barcelona presented an official complaint that FIBA's technical committee studied until three in the morning to make public later that the appeal had been refused. The Spanish press, especially the Barcelona media, talked about "robbery in Paris" even though it was all a succession of mistakes that doesn't let us know how the thing would have ended without the clock stopping in the first place...
1997: A one-man show
The title stayed in Greece that season, but in Piraeus, the home of Olympiakos, rather than Athens. Barcelona was in the final again, and lost again by 73-58 against an inspired Olympiakos team led by genius guard David Rivers, who scored 26 points, and Dragan Tarlac (11 points, 14 boards). Two of the protagonists of that Final Four were back in the Reds' roster this season: Dusan Ivkovic as head coach, again, while Rasho Nesterovic was with Olimpija Ljubljana in 1997 and plays for Olympiacos now. Their dream of returning to the Final Four ended Thursday, however, with a loss to Montepaschi Siena.
1998: The lowest score
The 114 points combined of the 1993 final between Limoges and Benetton (59-55) didn't last long as the record for the lowest scoring final ever. In the first Final Four played in Barcelona's Palau Sant Jordi, the same venue as this year's event, Kinder Bologna won the title against AEK Athens by 58-44 after a first half that ended 28-20. Those 102 total points between both teams remains a low for a Euroleague title game. Kinder, with Ettore Messina at the helm, had a super team with Antoine Rigaudeau (14 points), Predrag Danilovic (13), Hugo Sconochini (10), Zoran Savic (7), Rasho Nesterovic (6), Alesandro Abbio (6) and Gus Binelli (2)... AEK, coached by Giannis Ioannidis, had a solid team: Victor Aleksander, Branislav Prelevic, Claudio Coldebella, Michalis Kakiouzis, Jose Lasa... but none of them could score more than 10 points that night.
1999: The Lithuanian talent
Basketball finally paid justice to Zalgiris Kaunas, the team with whichArvydas Sabonis grew up, as did many other Lithanian talents. The team, coached by Jonas Kazlauskas, showed its great shape throughout the season, and reached the Final Four with authority. The tourneament was played in Munich from April 20 to 22 and Zalgiris beat its two rivals, the previous two European champs, with no problems. In the semifinals, Zalgiris beat Olympiakos by 87-71 while in the final the victim was defending champ Kinder Bologna, by 82-74 (45-30). The duo formed by Antonhy Bowie (17) and Tyus Edney (14) was lethal together with Saulius Stombergas (12), Jiri Zidek (my colleague blogger on Euroleague.net, who also scored 12), Mindaugas Zukauskas (11) Eurelijus Zukauskas (4)... The 27 points by Rigaudeau were not enough for Kinder to repeat the title, but one year after Kinder had won, offensive basketball was back and on the winner's platform.
2000: Panathinaikos again
In Thessaloniki on April 20, Panathinaikos opened its Golden Decade in which it would win four titles: 2000, 2002, 2007 and 2009. Zeljko Obradovic had just arrived from Benetton Treviso and it would be in Athens, with the Greens, that he would up his record title total to seven. In the 2000 final against Maccabi Tel Aviv, a very international Panathinaikos won by 73-66 thanks to the points by Zeljko Rebraca of Serbia (20), Oded Kattash of Israel (17), Dejan Bodiroga (9) of Serbia, Antonis Fotsis (9) of Greece, Pat Burke (7) of Ireland, Fragiskos Alvertis (4) of Greece, and Nando Gentile (3) of Italy, while Michael Koch of Germany and Johnny Rogers of the United Stated with a Spanish passport didn't score. Maccabi was led by Nate Huffman (26 points). Derrick Sharp, who is still in the Tel Aviv team, also played with 5 points, but Panathinaikos was simply a better team that night. The Greens would win three more titles in the decade that was beginning, and now will have another shot at the 2011 Final Four in Barcelona.
Starting on 2001, with the new Euroleague, a whole new thing started as well: May Madness!
Vladimir Stankovic - Euroleague.net
Saturday, April 02, 2011
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