Turkish Airlines Euroleague
May 18, 2013
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Tel Aviv 2004
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THE EUROLEAGUE HISTORY ARCHIVE
THE SEVENTIES: VARESE DOMINATES A DECADE
ASK Riga of the USSR (now Latvia) and Jugoplastika of Yugoslavia (now Croatia) are the only teams that were European champions in three consecutive seasons, but the achievements of Ignis Varese of Italy between 1970 and 1980 - 10 consecutive finals and 5 titles - is unlikely to ever be repeated. The legendary Dino Meneghin took part in all of those finals, which makes him the best person to tell about them. "The main feature of those days was that we, the players, were like property of the clubs," Meneghin said in a recent Euroleague.net interview. "Changing teams was something almost impossible, and that's why the players identified themselves with their teams so much. We were like th copyright of the clubs. That philosophy was also reflected in the rivalries among teams, which was also translated into player rivalries. But of course, off the court, we were also friends."
How did you manage to play 10 straight finals?
"I simply believe that we were a great team which was built by a great coach, the famous Aleksandar Nikolic. His arrival in Varese took place in the key moment, and he knew how to get the maximum from each player. His philosophy was that the coach had to adapt to the players he had, not the other way round, which is the usual concept, to ask players who may or may not have the physical and technical abilities to adapt to the system put into practice by the coach."
Was your main rival Real Madrid, CSKA Moscow or both?
"It is true that in those years, Real Madrid, CSKA and ourselves were the best teams in Europe. Late in the decade Maccabi Tel Aviv joined in by beating us in the 1977 final played in Belgarde, but during the most part of the decade it was the three of us."
Of those 10 finals, do you keep special memories from any of them in particular?
"Well, you always remember those titles forever, but of the 5 titles we won, the top spot is for the first we won in Sarajevo back in 1970. I really liked the city, which was a mixture of three religions with all the monuments, with happy and open-minded people. I never imagined that something like the war that took place two decades later in that same city could ever happen. I remember watching the images of Sarajevo under the bombs and feeling a deep sadness."
As an anecdote that confirms Meneghin's words, there is the story of Mexican Manuel Raga, one of the main scorers of Ignis at the time those years, who fell in love with a young Yugoslav Muslim girl. They were married and their son, Manuel Jr., who lives in Switzerland, even played the 2000-01 Euroleague season with the Lugano Snakes.
Back in 1970, a team from the host city, Bosna of Sarajevo, was in the Yugoslav second division. A young coach, Bogdan Tanjevic was just starting a great job that nine years later would take him and his team to the European title after a great final played in Grenoble against, of course, the team of Varese.
"We were the favorite since it was our 10th final, and our experience was supposed to be decisive against the young team of Sarajevo," Meneghin recalled. "But they beat us thanks to their talent and a huge performance by Zarko Varajic, who sank 45 points. In addition, they had a fantastic Mirza Delibasic, who added 30 points and many of his genius-like assists. It was the end of our European domination, but the memories of that time are very good."
About the skill levels of the players of the Seventies, Meneghin says: "Comparing them to the players we can see today on the courts, many of the players of the Seventies weren't so well-prepared, neither technically nor physically. They had talent, a sense for improvisation and a common spirit. I'm sorry to say it, but I also think that then players felt the colors of their club with more intensity than nowadays. I don't doubt that most of the players now are great professionals who do their job, but playing on a team for only one or two seasons, they don't become part of it."
In the decade between 1970 and 1980, Ignis won 5 titles, Real Madrid 2, CSKA 2 and Maccabi and Bosna 1 each. Apart from these 5 teams, the only other name to appear in the 11 finals is that of Jugoplastika, against whom Ignis won its second title in Tel Aviv in a very tight final decided in the last minute. As a curiostity, the three Tvrdic brothers were playing for the team of Split: Rato, Lovro and Drazen, marking the only time that three brothers have taken part in a Europe cup final. On the other hand, the surname Meneghin has reappeared in the Euroleague with Fortitudo Bologna.
Champions: 1958 to 2011
See a list of all the champs
List of teams, players, coaches
50 Years of European Basketball
Through the decades
Interview: Aleksandar Gomelsky
Interview: Emiliano Rodriguez
Interview: Dino Meneghin
Interview: Mickey Berkowitz
Interview: Zeljko Obradovic
The best of the 2000s
All the Final Fours
Interview: Mike DAntoni
Interview: Dino Radja
Interview: Toni Kukoc
Interview: Zoran Savic
Interview: Predrag Danilovic
Interview: Richard Dacoury
Interview: Jordi Villacampa
Interview: Arvydas Sabonis
Interview: Panagiotis Giannakis
Interview: David Rivers
Interview: Antoine Rigaudeau
Interview: Saulius Stombergas
Interview: Oded Kattash
Interview: Manu Ginobili
Interview: Ibrahim Kutluay
Interview: Dejan Bodiroga
Interview: Sarunas Jasikevicius
Interview: Nikola Vujcic
Interview: Theo Papaloukas
Interview: Dimitris Diamantidis
Interview: Trajan Langdon
Interview: Vassilis Spanoulis
Interview: Gianluca Basile
Interview: Dimitris Diamantidis