Jugoplastika vs. Maccabi
After the success of 1988, FIBA repeated the Final Four formula. Barcelona, Maccabi, Aris and Nashua repeated among the last eight teams. Meanwhile, Scavolini replaced Tracer, Jugoplastika did the same with Partizan, Limoges came instead of Pau-Orthez and CSKA debuted in round before the Final Four. Maccabi finished first (12-2), Barcelona second (11-3), while Jugoplastika and Aris arrived to the FInal Four as the third and fourth qualifiers, both with 8-6. The final tournament was played in Munich, Germany from April 6 to 8. Maccabi beat Aris in the first semifinal with 28 points by Doron Jamchy and 20 each by Kevin Magee and Kenny Barlow. In the second semifinal, Jugoplastika defeated Barca behind 24 points by Toni Kukoc, 21 by Dusko Ivanovic and 18 by Dino Radja. In the big final, and for the second year in a row, favored Maccabi said goodbye to the Final Four without the title. Like Barcelona before, Maccabi surrendered to 24 points from Radja and 18 from Kukoc in the final. The talented youngsters from Split were a revelation.
Interview: Dino Radja of Jugoplastika
Radja as a young gun
Photo: Gigantes del Basket
Dino Radja took a deep breath: Time to consider again, after all these years, the Final Four of '89. That magic year of Jugoplastika, the first of three European club crowns for the team from Split, Croatia. And the most unexpected one. Just to make it to Munich had been something unthinkable. Radja and Toni Kukoc were the stars of that first Jugoplastika team. They would soon become world stars, crossing borders no one expected. It all started in Munich in 1989, at the second Final Four, where they played the games that launched their global careers. "Please don't lose by 20," Radja begins. "I can still hear somebody saying that. Please, don't lose by 20. We had a great season, but making it all the way to Munich was much more than anybody expected. Everyone believed it was the end of the road, so the message was: Don't get embarrassed, don't lose by 20."
Jugoplastika was, by far, the youngest Final Four team, kids in the company of the big boys and European giants.
"Toni Kukoc and myself in our early twenties, with limited European experience. Velimir Perasovic, and Zoran Sretenovic just a few years older. Goran Sobin and Dusko Ivanovic, the seniors on our team, but they never played a big, really big, European game like a Final Four. But being young and full of hope, great things can happen."
Still, Dino had his doubts.
"Just look at the field. Mighty Barcelona, our first oponenent, with Sibilio, Norris, Epi. Maccabi Tel Aviv with four great Americans, Simms, Mercer, Magee, and Barlow. And Doron Jamchy, one of the great European scorers of all time. Aris with the scoring machine, Nikos Galis (only Drazen Petrovic was better), plus Yannakis, Subotic and Wiltjer. Just too much for a team that - let's be honest - just came out of kindergarden."
But, it turned out to be the best story, a journalist's dream, the story to end all stories.
"I remember the meeting in our dressing room, before Barcelona. Coach Bozo Maljkovic calmed us down, we knew what to exepct. And when he was done, it was the professor's turn. Aleksandar Nikolic, the great coach, Bozo's mentor, winner of a European title with Ignis. It was a inspirational speach. One to remember for all times. He told us how proud he was. He told us: 'You are the best thing that happend to me in basketball. Play hard, don't get killed, becouse everybody will say that you made it to Munich by accident.'"
Jugoplastika won by 10. Toni Kukoc 24 points, Dusko Ivanovic 19, Dino Radja 18. And then the big day, the biggest challenge, the final against Maccabi Tel Aviv.
"It was the same story. Bozo Maljkovic, and the professor. 'Don't get emabaresed. This is a great, great team, with four Americans and Jamchy.' Years latter I understood our dear proffesor. He always believed, but he was always talking about the worst case scenario."
The final was a much harder affair, close until the end. Jugoplastika took a five-point lead in minute 37. Three minutes latter, the boys from Split had done the the unthinkable. Kukoc scored 18. Radja torched Maccabi with 24 while limiting Ken Barlow to 13 points and Kevin Magee to 10.
"It's weird. Still now, after so many years, it's weird. European champions? It really hit us upon our return. We got a king's reception at home. Split was burning. Only then did most of us realize that we did something big. Yes, European champions."
Young, talented, good and crazy?
"Yes, you could say that. Combination of all those things. One thing I know. Respect was there, but we had no fear. No fear at all. Our legs were never tied. Never. Bozo Maljkovic was a great motivator. We knew what to exepct. We also knew that we could win it all, if we believed. And we did."