Belgrade, the city with 93 titles

Mar 22, 2018 Print
Belgrade, the city with 93 titles

I cannot guarantee that this is a world record, but I do think that the figure is kind of impressive. Belgrade basketball clubs combine for, if I am not mistaken, 93 titles between national and international competitions! Four different clubs have won the national league and up to seven triumphed in the national cup. These numbers put the Serbian capital in a privileged spot as a true basketball city.

These are the facts:

- Partizan (21), Crvena Zvezda (18), OKK Belgrade (4) and Radnicki (1) combine for 44 league titles between Yugoslavia and Serbia.
- In national cups the number is 33: Partizan 14, Zvezda 9, FMP Zeleznik 4, OKK 3, Radnicki 1, IMT 1 and Mega 1.
- Partizan has won the Adriatic League 6 times, Zvezda 3, FMP Zeleznik 2, combining for 11 titles. It is a regional competition that, since 2000, gathers the best clubs from the six former Yugoslav republics.
- There are 4 more titles to add from European competitions. Partizan was EuroLeague champ in 1992, while it won the Korac Cup three times: 1978, 1979 and 1987. Zvezda won the Cup Winners Cup (which later was called the Saporta Cup) in 1974.

There were some more European finals, like the 1972 Saporta Cup for Zvezda against Milan, a Korac against Verona in 1988 or Radnicki's Cup Winners Cup final in 1977 against Cantu. Partizan played in the Final Four four times: 1987, 1992, 1998 and 2010.

The biggest domination was by Partizan, which won 13 titles in a row between 2002 and 2014. The first such dominator was Crvena Zvezda, winner of 10 straight Yugoslav leagues from 1946 and 1955. The first title was won by the team with Nebojsa Popovic and Bora Stankovic, two of the future "Four Saints" of Serbian basketball. Popovic was a player-coach and he did the same in 1950, after which he just coached. All those 10 straight titles were won with Popovic on the bench. Some important players from that era in Zvezda were Aleksandar Gec, Srdjan Kalember, Djordje Andrijasevic, Milan Bjegojevic, Borislav Curcic, Ladislav Demsar...

The first team to snap the streak of Zvezda was Prolter Zrenjanin (1956) and then Olimpija Ljubljana (1957). The title returned to Belgrade in 1958, not inside the Kalemegdan fortress walls, but rather on Zdravka Celara Street, where OKK formed an excellent generation. The coach was "Saint" Stabkovic, and the team was led by Radivoj Korac andSlobodan Gordic (who were classmates at school), as well as Miodrag Nikolic, Milorad Erkic... They lost just two games in 18 rounds and averaged 84 points per game, a high number for the time and for the fact that games were played outdoors, sometimes under the rain. Korac was already the top scorer in 1957 with 29.1 points, which he repeated in 1958 with 35.2 per game.

Two years later, OKK was champ again with virtually the same team plus big man Trajko Rajkovic. The coach was also Bora Stankovic. Korac increased his numbers to 37 points per game. After two Olimpija titles in '61 and '62, OKK was back to the throne in '63, with the same generation but a different coach, in this case, the third "Saint", Aca Nikolic. Only the "Fourth Saint", Radomir Saper, was never a coach, but he was an excellent president of the federation for eight years and then secretary general for eight more. Korac "lowered" his average to 34.5 points. It was in 1964 that OKK, again with Stankovic on the bench, won its fourth (and currently last) league.

The title would return to Belgrade in 1969. Zadar won the title three times and Olimpija once more before Belgrade could celebrate again. Starting in 1967-68, the games were played in gyms. Zadar, with a great duo of Djerdja and Cosic, was the first 'indoors' champ. Zvezda brought the title back in 69 with a mix of experienced players like scoring ace Vladimir Cvetkovic (top scorer in '66 and '67 with 34.3 and 30.8 points, respectively), Tihomir Pavlovic and Dragiss Vucinic, plus "young lions" like Dragan Kapicic, Zoran Slavnic, Ivan Sarjanovic (from the junior teams) or Ljubodrag Simonovic from Sloga Kraljevo. The coach was a former player from the Golden Age, Milan Bjegojevic, who made his living as a sculptor! Simonovic and Kapicic, at 21 and 22, were world champs in 1970 in Ljubljana. Together with Slavnic, Goran Rakocevic (father of Igor) and the veteran Cvetkovic, they brought the title back to Zvezda in 1972. The coach was Bratislav Djordjevic, father of Sasha. They had to play a tie-breaking game against Jugoplastika in Ljubljana and won after overtime, 75-70.

The title stayed in Belgrade in 1973, thanks to an unforgettable generation at Radnicki formed by Slobodan-Piva Ivkovic, the big brother of Dusan Ivkovic. We must go a bit back in time for this one. In 1969-70, Radnicki was demoted to the second division despite having a +5 point differential. It was a unique case in the history of Yugoslav basketball. Those youngsters, still acquiring experience, lost seven games by 1 or 2 points, some of which they were leading by 7 with a minute to go.

As the second division was played in the summer, that team soon earned its way back to the top division. In 1970-71 they finished eighth, the next one they were fourth, and in 1973 they were the champs, ahead of Zvezda and Partizan, their local rivals. That golden generation was formed by Srecko Jaric (father of Marko Jaric) at point, Dragan “Twigi” Ivkovic at guard, Miroljub-Dugi Damjanovic at small forward, Milun Mek Marovic at center, plus Dragan Vucinic, Miroslav Djordjevic and veteran Dragoslav Raznatovic, one of the best players ever at Radnicki. In the European season, they reached the semifinals of the forerunner to the EuroLeague. Due to their attractive basketball they were nicknamed "The Romantics of the Red Cross" (the neighborhood where their arena is).

After two new Zadar titles ('74 and '75), Partizan finally won the title. The title of 1976 was the culmination of a long process that started with the arrival of coach Ranko Zeravica, national coach until 1972. Zeravica started building a team by signing talent from all oaver the country. The two key pieces were Drazen Dalipagic from Lokomotiva Mostar, who signed in 1971, and Dragan Kicanovic from Borac Cacak in 1973. Dragan Todoric arrived from Sloga Kraljevio, Dusan Kerkez from Vrsac, Dragan Djukic from Borac Cacak, Miodrag Maric from Uzice...

Zeravica could not finish off his work because he signed for FC Barcelona, but his heir on the bench, Borislav Corkovic, knew how to make use of the previous work. Partizan won with a 22-4 record, and Kicanovic was the best scorer with an average of 29.9 points. It was the fourth Yugoslav champ from Belgrade.

Three years later, with Dusan Ivkovic on the bench, Partizan repeated the title without Dalipagic, who was doing his military service. Kicanovic played one of his most brilliant seasons, averaging 33.8 points. Also, Partizan repeated a title in the Korac Cup, which it had also won the previous year in Banja Luka against Bosna Sarajevo. This time the victim was Arigoni Rieti, 108-98, with Kicanovic netting 41 points.

After the Bosna title in 1980, Partizan had its third crown in 1981, Kicanovic was still the leader, helped by Dragan Todoric, Dusan Kerkez, Danko Cvjeticanin, Arsenije Pesic, Miodrag Maric, Milenko Savovic... The coach was, again, Borislav Corkovic, after he had been coach of the women’s national team.

The 1981-82 season brought in the playoffs format. Partizan finished first in the regular season, but lost the final to Cibona after an unforgettable Game 1 in Belgrade. Cibona won after three overtimes, 108-112. In the early 80s, Croatian teams like Cibona, Zadar, Jugoplastika or even Sibenka were dominant teams in the Yugoslav League.

Partizan took the title back to Belgrade in 1987, thanks to... Crvena Zvezda. In the third game of semis, Zvezda surprised Cibona, who had finished the regular season 22-0, in Zagreb, and had Drazen Petrovic. In the final, Partizan defeated Zvezda 2-0 (78-73, 89-88) with its new golden generation: Sasha Djordjevic, Vlade Divac, Zarko Paspalj, Goran Grbovic, Ivo Nakic, Slavisa Koprivica, Zeljko Obradovic (yes, the winningest coach in European basketball)...Vladislav Lucic had started the season on the bench, but Dusko Vujosevic finished it.

It was the last title of a Belgrade team in the old Yugoslavia. The four following years, Boza Maljkovic's Jugoplastika (a coach from Belgrade), became Partizan's nemesis and won four straight league titles, the last one in 1991, defeating Partizan 3-0 in the final.

After the break-up of the old Yugoslavia, Partizan dominated the new national league and Crvena Zvezda lived through a deep crisis, while OKK and Radnicki lost some of its leading role and fell to inferior divisions. In the last years, the situation has changed. Partizan has problems now while Zvezda wins both the Adriatic League and national titles, while maintaining an important role in the EuroLeague.

Welcome to Belgrade, the city with 93 club titles.