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February 22, 1958: The day it all started
It was the mother of all opening games. Exactly 50 years ago tonight, at 20:45 CET to be exact, the first-ever official tipoff in a European club competition took place in Brussels, where Belgian champion Royal IV SC Anderlechtois defeated Luxembourg champion BBC Etzella 82-43 in the opening preliminary round of the new "European Cup of Club Champions". Thus began a unique and unmatched tradition of international club competition that endures and keeps growing to this day, a half-century later. The many contributions made in the ensuing five decades, which are being recognized during the 50 Years of European Club Basketball celebration this season, all date to that Saturday night in Palais du Midi, a facility still dedicated to sports in the Belgian and European Community capital. Much has changed since that historic event, but the essential spirit behind the start of international club competition lives on. Ever since that historic beginning, 50 years ago tonight, the best teams from across the continent – and sometimes beyond – have met every winter and spring to decide a new annual champion, with tens of millions of fans enjoying the ride.
Among the teams to take part in that historic first season are many of the teams that continue to build up Europe's unparalleled international club tradition. Real Madrid of Spain, which has gone on to become the winningest team in European club basketball with eight Euroleague championships and 14 European titles overall, reached the semifinals that season. Olimpija Milano of Italy, a three-time Euroleague winner, reached the quarterfinals. Five-time continental champ Maccabi Tel Aviv of Israel, Olimpija Ljubljana of Yugoslavia and Fenerbahce Istanbul of Turkey – all current Euroleague competitors – as well as ULEB Cup teams like Asvel Basket of France, Panellínios Athens of Greece, Akademik Sofia of Bulgaria and ASK Riga of the Soviet Union.
The competition structure was quite different to start with, as 22 national champions played in four geographical groups of different sizes and structures, each sending teams through to the semifinals. Riga needed to play only six games to win the championship, while runner-up Sofia played 10. And due to the political and financial climate of the time, a number of games that season were forfeited as well. The original 22 champions participating also came from non-European countries such as Syria. Among other countries were West Germany, Austria, Finland, Hungary, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Switzerland and Czechoslovakia . Originally, Lebanon was to be a 23rd country in the tournament, but its team from Beirut pulled out before the season.
And so, the ball started bouncing on February 22, 1958 - and has not stopped since. Royal IV of Belgium was the first winner. Francois DePaun and Jean Crick scored 23 points apiece and Albert Nicodeme added 20 to chisel their names into the history books as victors in Europe's first-ever international club game. Royal IV went on to win the second game between them and advance to the quarterfinals, losing there to Real Madrid, which then forfeited its semifinal series against ASK Riga, the eventual champions.
Friday, February 22, 2008