Pop 84, but still Split
In most places, one can find that the European champs in 1991 were called Pop 84, but that was just the name of the sponsor under which the talented players of Jugoplastika were playing that season. Despite being without Dino Radja and Dusko Ivanovic, the team from Split was led by a great Toni Kukoc and a genius-like Zoran Savic to their third consecutive title. Since the times when ASK Riga of Russia won European titles between 1958 and 1960, no other team had won three in a row. And in the Final Four era, no team besides Jugoplastika has been able to win even two consecutively. In 1991, the the competition provided some big surprises leading up to Paris. Kingston of England eliminated CSKA Moscow, and what's more, with a double victory, 93-77 at home and 72-74 in Moscow. Bayer Leverkusen of Germany made its debut in the third round, but the other faces were well-known to everyone: Barcelona ended first in that phase (11-3), Pop 84 was second (9-5), and the other two Final Four teams would be Scavolini and Maccabi, tied at 8-6. Once again, the first team of the previous round didn't get the title. In a rematch of the previous year's final - another occurrence that has not been repeated since - the team from Split won 70-65, almost identical to the 1990 score (72-67). Thanks to a great performance by Savic, who scored 27 points, Jugoplastika had an historic three-peat.
Interview: Zoran Savic of Jugoplastika
Savic celebrates again
Three Three Euroleague titles with two different teams, a scoring record and an MVP trophy just begin to tell the story of Zoran Savic's influence on the Final Four era. Until he retired last year, Savic had collected more trophies, on the club and international level, than any player of his generation. He may be the only player to have won national titles in four different countries. His collection started in Split, Croatia during the Jugoplastika three-peat from 1989 to 1991. No team has won twice in a row since. Savic arrived in Split for the second title, and in 1991, became the key contributor with 27 points in the title game, another record that has not been topped in a final game. Paradoxically, Savic won the MVP award years later, in 1998, with the fewest points of any player to take that award. Since retiring, Savic works as general manager for Skipper Bologna. "But when important games come up, I still feel the desire to play," Savic told Euroleague.net recently. "My wife always says, 'Why don't you come back and play? You're too nervous.'"
So your wife says you look too nervous when important games arrive?
"She always says that I should try to be less nervous. My hands sweat when games are important. I cannot imagine if my team goes to the Final Four, which is the event I like best. Apart from the atmosphere, I think that two days of finals can involve more people. When Virtus played the finals against Tau Vitoria in 2001, everybody followed them in Vitoria and Bologna, but the playoff system was not able to involve fans outside those cities."
Let's go back to 1990, when you went to Split.
"I remember we won in Zaragoza, with the arena was full of fans from Barcelona. I remember the image of the crowd at Split airport when we came back with the charter flight. 150,000 people waiting for us, it was amazing. I averaged 25 minutes during that Final Four, but the event that made my name famous came the year after."
In 1991, Jugoplastika was not the favored to win the Final Four in Paris.
"Definitely. We reached the finals with many difficulties, because three player had left at the end of the previous season: Ivanovic, Sobin and Radja. That year there was less quality in our team, but we defeated Scavolini and Barcelona again. It was the third Euroleague title for Jugoplastika, but I remember that 1991 marked the end of an era. Even if some good players had quit, there was great confidence in our team. I was a different player from the one people saw at the end of my career, because I used to play next to the basket. I had to work on my outside playing the following years. Those wins were a wonderful thing, the right award for a club that planned well. You cannot imagine what it means to win a Euroleague title. You start thinking of all the sacrifices you did reached the goal. From half an hour after the game, the best days of your life begin."
You had a great impact on a team that was already European champion. Were you surprised?
"Not at all. I knew how to play, because when I played in Zenica I was with coach Bozidar Maljkovic and his assistant, Kosta Janko. Our teams were good, because the games for us were easier than any practice. We had a great system, and we were very well prepared from a physical point of view. My favorite teammate? I liked all my teammates, but I had a great relationship with Aramis Naglic. We used to play two hours one-on-one before every practice, until Maljkovic forbade it because after those exhausting one-on-ones, we were too tired."
Is the Final Four really a different world?
"Yes, it is. No question about that. Coaches have a relative influence on those games. That's the reason why I think reaching the Final Four is more difficult than winning it. Players make Final Four games, because there's a lot of pressure, more than playoff finals, more than any other event. What you had done before has no importance. From the tactical point of view, in a Final Four there's nothing much to learn about opponents. Everybody know all about each other. The emotional aspect is clearly different. I liked those games with heavy pressure, and I was lucky because I played with great players. With no pressure you play at the playground with your friends. The ones who don't like pressure finish their season in April."