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50 Years interview: Sergey Belov, CSKA Moscow
by: Vladimir Stankovic, Barcelona
November 19, 2007
For more than one generation of fans, Sergey Belov needs no introduction. For those not lucky enough to have seen him play, consider that Belov, a shooting guard, is still considered by experts to be the best Russian player of all-time and one of the best in the world when he dominated European basketball in the late 1960s and 1970s. He was an Olympic champion, a two-time World Champion and also lifted four EuroBasket trophies as the star of the Soviet Union national team. He helped CSKA to win two Euroleague titles in 1969 and 1971, as well as lifting 11 Soviet Union trophies. He added four silver medals at Eurobaskets and three Olympic bronzes. He was also the only basketball player ever to light the Olympic flame as the last torchbearer, at the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow. Since his playing days, Belov has coached several clubs and the Russian national team, been president of the Russian federation, and, for the last eight years, worked as president or general manager for Ural Great in Perm, Russia. He has also been inducted into every sports hall of fame imaginable. This autumn, Belov accepted an invitation to join the Euroleague Basketball Experts Committee to help select the 50 most important contributors to the last 50 Years of European Club Basketball. On Thursday in Moscow, Belov will be honored along with several CSKA Moscow legends as part of Euroleague Basketball's season-long 50 Years celebration. In anticipation of the event, Belov spoke with Euroleague.net."The Euroleague had a great initiative, a great idea that deserves all the support we can give," Belov said. "This is a great opportunity to remember those who wrote the history of European club basketball."
Hello, Sergey. First of all, which are your biggest memories of the Euroleague?
"Personally, I have great memories about this competition. It was a great opportunity to test your skills against the best European teams of that era. Our showdowns against Real Madrid, Ignis Varese or Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv were unbelievable. Not only it was something big for our clubs, but also for our countries."
Your Euroleague season debut could not have been better. CSKA won the Euroleague title in 1969, downing Real Madrid 103-99 in double overtime in Barcelona, in an instant classic...
"I will never forget that game in Barcelona. It was my first trip to Spain. The lack of diplomatic relationships between Spain and the Soviet Union forced us to stop in Paris to pick up our visas. The game went to double overtime and we managed to escape with a win. The game hero was our big man Vladimir Andreev, who scored 27 points. I had 19 points but played... all 50 minutes! I remember that some fans in Barcelona supported us and that shocked me a bit. We didn't know about their sports rivalry against Real Madrid."
It only took you and CSKA two years to regain the Euroleague crown.
"Yes, that's right, in the 1971 Euroleague final in Antwerp against Ignis Varese. Aza Nikolic was their head coach. We arrived in Belgium without our coach, the late Aleksandar Gomelskiy, who could not leave the Soviet Union at that time. I was the team captain, the best player on the team and also its head coach. We didn't lose a single road game in the entire competition. We beat Varese very easily in the final by 14 points."
I guess that those moments, along with the Olympic gold medal at Munich 1972, are the most important moments in your professional career...
"It is tough to select a fact and say it is the important one in my life. To me, everything is a process that starts by working hard every day for many years. You sacrifice a lot, but if you work hard and give the best of yourself, God rewards you at some point. That win in Munich against the United States was a gift from God for all my work. Once in a Soviet Union League title tie-break game, against Spartak of what was then Leningard, I hit the game-winner at the buzzer. That was also a reward to all the hard work I did."
Which were your toughest opponents in that era?
"That's a tough question to answer. There were too many good players in that era, but I can't forget Clifford Luyk, Wayne Brabender, Manuel Raga, Kresimir Cosic, Drazen Dalipagic, all the American players at Maccabi... I used to get along very well with Tal Brody. We still maintain a great friendship nowadays."
Do you think you could have played in the NBA?
"No question about it. Not only me, but many other European players of that era."
What do you think about so many European players in the NBA?
"European basketball has improved a lot, but I think that the arrival of so many European players in the NBA is just business. You open a wider market, you sell the TV rights, make people speak about the NBA because of its foreign players... the NBA is doing a great job in that. In my opinion, many players go there just for financial reasons and that is wrong, because they lose their chances to become stars here. Even a genius like Drazen Petrovic, the Mozart of European basketball, had to sit on the bench in the beginning because nobody understood his potential. Cosic, Dalipagic or Kicanovic would have become great NBA players, just like Arvydas Sabonis did at age 31."
Going back to Europe, how do you see the Euroleague nowadays?
"It is a great competition, very well-organized, but it can even be better. I think there are too many teams. With less teams, you could gain in overall quality."
You need talented players to have good teams. Do we have them?
"Of course, there are talented players out there, even when the Bosman law damaged European sports in general and basketball in particular. There are so many foreign players that fans don't indentify with their clubs. I know, people will say that I am nostalgic and that I am getting old, but being realistic, I respect the laws these days, but I don't like them. That's how I see it."
At the same time, you can't deny that Russian basketball is once again successful due to the work of foreign players and coaches...
"I can't deny it, of course, and I am happy for all the success our teams had recently. But at the same time, I think that having too many foreigners closes the door to some Russian players."
What about Sergey Belov nowadays, how would you define yourself?
"Above all, I want to be a winner. That's why I decided to go to Perm when basketball was virtually unknown here. We put together a solid club and I feel comfortable here."