Turkish Airlines Euroleague
May 18, 2013
bwin Euroleague Fantasy Challenge
Tel Aviv 2004
Qualifying Rounds 2012
NIKE International Junior Tournament
Interview: Bozidar Maljkovic
When it comes to elite club competition in Paris, the host city of the 2010 Final Four, one man perhaps more than any has been in the middle of many unforgettable basketball events in the French capital. For legendary coach Bozidar Maljkovic, some of the major moments in his outstanding coaching career are linked to France and Paris. At the 1991 Final Four, as head coach of Barcelona, Maljkovic faced his former team, Split, to see which of them would win three consecutive titles. Maljkovic lost that night to the team he had built, but in 1996 he was back in Paris, leading Panathinaikos to the first of its five Euroleague titles in a controversial finish against Barcelona, another of his former teams. In between, Maljkovic had engineered - against all odds - the first European crown by a French team in any major sport as Limoges lifted the Euroleague trophy in 1993. Maljkovic later coached the top pro team in Paris and to this day maintains a home in the French capital. With the Euroleague returning to Paris for the Final Four from May 7 to 9, 2009, Maljkovic agreed to share his favorite basketball moments and his love for an incredible city. "There is never any ending to Paris, as Ernest Hemingway said once," Maljkovic told Euroleague.net. "In fact, there are other cities in the world, and then Paris stands out."
First of all, let's start with the 1991 Euroleague final in the French capital. You coached Barcelona and faced your former team, Split, that won its third consecutive title. What do you remember from that night in Paris?
"Well, I knew it would be a tough game because Split had a lot of talented players like Toni Kukoc, Velimir Perasovic and Zoran Savic. I knew it would be tough, but days before the game and right before gametime, I told my players that I was worried about Savic because I expected that Kukoc and Perasovic would not have a great final. Unfortunately, I was right because Savic was the MVP, even when Kukoc was chosen as the best player. I remember that George Eddy stood up during the press conference and asked Kukoc if Savic was the MVP - and he agreed, of course. Zoran played a really good one, but they also got a great contribution from Avy Lester. He only played well in one game - the 1991 final. We had a very veteran team, with players like Epi, Steve Trumbo, Audie Norris and Nacho Solozabal. We had a lot of physical problems before the game. I tried to to sit out players the month before the final to avoid being very hurt that day. Truth to be told, we were not physically 100-percent in the game. It is not an excuse, but that's the way it was. My goal as a coach is not playing well every game but giving our best in the key moments, in the Final Four. Split won by five points and deserved to win."
That was also Split's last Euroleague title out of three consecutive it won. You, as a coach, put together that legendary team and turned into arguably one of the best squads in European basketball history. How proud are you of such an achievement?
"Not long ago, Jugoplastika was chosen as the best European team of all-time, but it wasn't like that in the beginning, when I started to work for the club. Dusko Ivanovic, Petar Naumoski and Savic were not in the team at the time, plus we had always played without any foreigner. We invested a lot in our youngsters and it paid off. I believe that no other team in sports worked the way Jugoplastika did at that time. We didn't have a single day off, practicing hard every day despite being a young team. My players loved basketball and were great professionals, with incredible will to get better every single day. I think we played around 324 games in over the four years that I coached the team and you have to give credit to Spanish basketball for the development of this team. Every week off in summer, we went to Spain and played a lot of friendly games there. Players like Zan Tabak, Perasovic, Ivanovic and Savic, who joined Spanish teams after Split, already knew Spain better than some of the local players (laughs). When I coached Barcelona, sometimes we arrived to a city to play a friendly games and I had to tell the bus driver where to find the arena. Jugoplastika played a lot of games in Spain because of its many summer tournaments, with the chance to play tough, competitive games. That helped my young players like Radja, Kukoc and Tabak to get better and make the team better."
Speaking a little bit about Barcelona, the team you coached in 1991, they made it to several Final Fours and lost five title games from 1984 to 1997. Do you think that European basketball history has been a bit unfair with the club?
"Barcelona was the best team in Europe for an entire decade. Sometimes I spoke to Bogdan Tanjevic about Barcelona back in the eighties and we agreed about that. In the end, a final is always a one-game situation and you never know what to expect. To be honest, Barcelona should have been more successful in those days. They had a great team, with two players in each position, like Solozabal and Joaquin Costa at point guard, Epi, Xavi Crespo, Chicho Sibilio and even Andres Jimenez at both wings, and of course Audie Norris inside, the best American that played in Europe for a long time."
Let's move on to some of your best memories, the 1996 Final Four, in which you helped Panathinaikos to start a new era in European basketball and win its first Euroleague title. What did that mean in your career?
"Well, I have been really lucky in my life, because I can say I led a French team and a Greek team to win their first top continental title in both countries' sports history. No other French or Greek teams had won a Euroleague, not in the Champions League, handball, basketball...never. It was a holiday when Panathinaikos won the title. We got back to Athens in a big plane and there were a lot of people waiting for us. I was really happy to be back with the Euroleague trophy, managing such an international team. We spoke four or five languages in the locker room: English, Greek, Russian with Aivar Kuusmaa and Titt Sokk, Serbocroat with Stojan Vrankovic... It was not easy to put together a team with people coming from such different places and cultural. We did a great job together and deserved to win the title despite all the talks about Vrankovic's illegal block. Before that, referees allowed too much in the previous two minutes and Barcelona played very physical, collecting a lot of steals. Besides, Jose Montero travelled right before Vrankovic's block. I remember that Spanish basketball magazine Gigantes also said so on its front cover: he travelled."
The two key pieces for you in that final were Dominique Wilkins, born in Paris and in his first season in Europe, and Stojan Vrankovic. How important were these two players for you in that game and that season?
"I had problems with Wilkins early in that season, but it was understandable. He had never started to work that hard in August, plus he didn't know European basketball when he got to Athens. He always carried a small asthma inhaler with him, but I don't think he had asthma at all. He used it as an excuse to avoid suffering and stop practice for a little while (laughs). It was the golden inhaler for him. I once told him: 'Nique, you are earning 3.5 millions dollars, you don't have the right to complain. If you have asthma, it should fade away with all that money'. He made a critical phone call to Dino Radja. They played together in Boston and someone had told him I would give him a hard time in Panathinaikos, so Nique decided to call Dino. Radja told him that I am a correct guy that respects anyone who works hard. 'He never gives anything for free and if you didn't practice hard, no matter who he was, he wouldn't play much.' Radja gave him golden advice: work hard. With such a great player as Wilkins, we lifted the Greek Cup trophy. It is hard for me to say it, but he won the title on his own, playing outstanding basketball. It was easy to work with him. He excelled in collecting steals off double-team situations. He picked off every extra pass off a failed pick-and-roll and raced downcourt for a dunk. We didn't have a single bad word for each other. He was smart, changed his behavior and helped us to win the Euroleague title. As for Vrankovic, he wasn't a great scorer because he wasn't interested in that. I changed his position on the court on offense, taking him away from the basket to create more space. Stojko was not an easy player to coach, but knew me well because he is a good friend of Radja and Kukoc. He is a very dear person, apart from being a great player and the best shot blocker. Stojko looks arrogant but I don't know any other player with better human values than him. I remember a win in Bologna in which nobody could even shoot! He had like 20 blocks, it was outstanding."
You arrived to Panathinaikos knowing that the team had already lost two consecutive Euroleague semifinals against archrivals Olympiacos in 1994 and 1995. Was that an extra pressure or added responsibilities for you, as a coach?
"No, not at all. We never think about the money spent. When you get to a final, money is not even important, being in a must-win situation. Everybody thinks about tactics and skills, not about anything else. I must say that a coach was born that season. He started it still being a player, none other than Panagiotis Giannakis. He understood my basketball philosophy a lot, both on offense and defense. He helped me a lot and was like an on-court coach. He has shown his coaching skills in Olympiacos and the Greek national team. These three players were crucial for me. I liked Frankie Alvertis a lot, too. He was not that well known back then but I always gave him credit from the very beginning. He was very brave for his age, just as Nikos Economou."
Knowing that the Final Four is in Paris, we cannot forget to ask you about the Euroleague title you won with Limoges against all odds. It was the highest point ever in French club basketball. How difficult was that?
"I will never forget that, of course. We arrived in Athens with 150 people, not all young fans, but people who wanted to see the Acropolis and visit a nice, beautiful city. Greek journalists joked about us, saying we had a really old team, as if we were a geriatric team full of 80-year-old players! The team had prepared really well for the event and it had two outstanding players, Michael Young and Jure Zdovc. We also had two of the best French players ever in Richard Dacoury and Jim Bilba. We played most of the season with two undersized centers, Bilba and Marc M'Bahia, both less than two meters tall. We did a lot of good work in my four years at Limoges, almost as much as we did in Split. Among many other things, we practiced a lot because there was nothing else to do. It rained a lot outside, there were not shows in town, no place to go, no concerts, nothing. Knowing that it is always raining and that there is nothing better to do, everybody practiced! Our working conditions were fantastic and it was a tough team to beat. You had to play really good basketball to beat Limoges. We beat all the big teams in Europe. Our arena was always packed and even now, when the team is in the French second division, you still have 5,000 fans at each and every game. In that Final Four we managed to beat Real Madrid with Arvydas Sabonis and Benetton with Toni Kukoc. One thing is for certain: Kukoc wanted to leave European basketball without losing at the club level ever since his cadet years. He was optimistic before the game but things didn't go as planned for Benetton. He was crying for a long time and gave his jersey to my children. He kept crying even in the airport."
You even had the chance to coach in the French capital in the late nineties. What do you remember from that experience?
"I signed a three-year deal with Paris, that belonged to Canal Plus. Vivendi bought Canal Plus and decided that it didn't want to stay in basketball. He wanted to invest in football and Formula 1, so I left after one year in which we played well and had a good fan base. It was an unforgottable season, but also a shame."
Last but not least, and knowing that you own a house in Paris, we have to ask you for advice. A lot of Euroleague fans from all over the world will come to Paris not only to attend a great event like the Final Four, but also to see one of the best cities in the world. What would you recommend them to do?
"Aside from basketball... well, it is a great city. Walk around a lot, I would say. Try to wear a hat, it is always useful. It changes a lot from sunny to rainy weather, so it is good to carry sunglasses and an umbrella. You have to walk around a lot because Paris in an unique city. There is never any ending to Paris, as Ernest Hemingway said once. There is a restaurant where Hemingway used to write called Closerie des Lilas which is really good. There are just too many good restaurants, especially around Champs Elysees. It is a beautiful city. In fact, there are other cities in the world, and then Paris stands out. Barcelona is really close, but Paris is incredible, with its great architecture."
Monday, December 28, 2009
Javier Gancedo, Euroleague.net
Regal FC Barcelona
NIKE International Junior Tournament
FINAL FOUR TEAMS
REGAL FC BARCELONA
FINAL FOUR SCHEDULE
SEMIFINALS - FRIDAY, MAY 7, 2010
Regal FCB 64-54 CSKA Moscow
Partizan 80-83 OT Olympiacos
3RD PLACE - SUNDAY, MAY 9, 2010
CSKA Moscow 90-88 OT Partizan
FINAL - SUNDAY, MAY 9, 2010
Regal FC Barcelona 86-68 Olympiacos
Final Four Slides
PAST FINAL FOURS
TEL AVIV 2004