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Honoring those who made basketball cross cultures
by: Frank Lawlor, Euroleague.net
European basketball did not begin with the first continental club competition in 1957-58 and it certainly won't end with 50 Years of European Club Basketball Competitions, this season's months-long celebration planned by Euroleague Basketball. In between, however, five magic decades have passed during which professional clubs all over Europe have made unique and lasting contributions to the evolution of world basketball. Those contributions will be recognized in multiple ways during the 2007-08 Euroleague and ULEB Cup seasons. Starting with the opening game in Gdansk, Poland, continuing to major basketball capitals across the Old Continent, and culminating at the Final Four in Madrid next spring, Euroleague Basketball will be honoring the protagonists of the last half-century for a their noble dedication as pioneers in the internationalization of club basketball.
A month after the sport was invented in the United States by a physical education teacher from Canada whose parents were Scottish immigrants, the first official basketball game was played in January, 1892. And because basketball's inventor, James Naismith, worked at the international training center of the Young Mens Christian Assocationin in Springfield, Massachusetts, his new sport spread quickly through YMCA missionaries to all corners of the globe. Within just a year of basketball's invention, in 1893, the first game was played in Europe, at the YMCA in Paris, France. In 1909, the Russian club Mayak and a visiting YMCA team played what is believed to be the first international game of any kind, between clubs or countries. With time, the internationalization of the sport would prove to be a theme of European basketball.
Indeed, seven of eight founding members of the International Basketball Federation (FIBA) in 1932, four years before the sport's Olympics debut, were European countries When local teams flourished across Europe after World War II, the next step became international club competition. That step was taken in 1957 when, at the suggestion of the French sports daily newspaper L'Equipe, the FIBA Secretary General William Jones set up a commission to implement a Europe-wide championship. Commission members Borislav Stankovic of Yugoslavia, Raimundo Saporta of Spain, Robert Busnel of France, Miloslav Kriz of Czechoslovakia. and Nikolai Semasko of Russia invited national federations to send their domestic champions, L'Equipe donated a trophy and in 1958 the European Cup For Men's Champion Clubs started.
From then until now, the sport has changed with the times, but one constant has marked European basketball during half a century - committment to international competition. Every single season since 1957, Europe has held club competitions leading to continental trophies. Those five decades of belief in the importance of crossing borders to play elite-level basketball stands as a shining testament to the basketball bonds forged across great distances by countless European clubs. It is easy to forget now that travel and language barriers at the inception of European club competitions were much greater than today. Indeed, some teams were the first representives of their countries to travel to certain other countries. Those limitations did not dilute the competition at all. On the contrary, European club basketball kept growing and expanding with not just a spirit of inclusion, but the reality of it: over those 50 years, teams from what are currently 12 different countries have stood on podiums to lift trophies as the champions of Europe.
If the clubs helped give the biggest impulse ever to international basketball, the players and coaches were just as committed. Even if they could not be seen outside the arenas they played in for many years - or at best on local television in many cases - the stars who filled those teams and the masters who coached them are among the greatest in the history of basketball. It suffices to point out that almost since the moment European club competition started, no World Championships or Olympic Games has gone by without a national team from Europe, fed by the same club teams, finishing at least first or second in the world. At the same time, almost from the very beginning, European clubs have had open arms for players and coaches from all over the world. If there was internationalization in the form of clubs traveling between countries to play each other, so there was in the form of players and coaches crossing borders and even oceans to join clubs in other countries. Again, the process started almost as soon as European club competitions started, in 1958, and year by year during the half-century that followed, continued at such a pace that literal hundreds of players born outside of Europe have shared those podiums with local teammates and, especially, local fans who adored them as their own stars.
In other words, the global game has always existed here and continues growing from Europe to this day. The celebration of 50 Years of European Club Competition being staged by Euroleague Basketball throughout the 2007-08 season will reflect the contributions made by so many - players, coaches, officials, executives, media and fans - to the beautiful game of European basketball. The first half-century they made possible now opens a window on the world of basketball to come in the next 50 years.