Jugoplastika 1990 team photo
With a consolidated competition system, some familiar faces were among the eight teams battling to reach the Final Four in 1990. Aris, Maccabi and Barcelona were in there, Milan was back among the candidates, as was Jugoplastika, trying to defend its title. Limoges took part for a second consecutive season, while debuts were made by Den Helder of Holland and Lech Poznan of Poland. Barcelona ended first with a 12-2, Jugoplastika was second (11-3), Limoges was third (10-4) and Aris fourth (8-6). The Final Four took place in Zaragoza, Spain from April 17 to 19. In the first semifinal, Barca rolled over Aris, 104-83, while Jugoplastika had nearly an identical win against Limoges, 101-83. In the final game, Jugoplastika coach Boza Maljkovic started without Toni Kukoc, but when he stepped on court in minute 9, he immediately nailed a three-pointer. He would finish with 20 points. Seconds before halftime, Velimir Perasovic nailed a triple from the midcourt for a 40-36 Jugoplastika lead, giving a psychological advantage that would lead the team from Split to its second consecutive title.
Interview: Toni Kukoc of Jugoplastika
Kukoc with the cup
Photo: Gigantes del Basket
Toni Kukoc is driving home, Milwaukee to Chicago. Yes, he says, he would love to talk about the great times, the best of his life, leaving aside the Chicago Bulls for a moment. He thinks back to the Final Four of 1990 in Zaragoza, Spain. Jugoplastika went as defending champs, the team that surprised the continent, and maybe themselves, a year earlier in Munich. Now, the traditional European powers looked for revenge. But this was Toni's team. Young though he was, Kukoc was the leader, the man who made everything possible. Even coming off the bench in the 1990 final against Barcelona, he was named MVP. He would repeat the next year as MVP and, despite losing with Benetton in 1993, win the award for a third time. Kukoc was good. That good. "We had a game plan, and nothing could take that away," Kukoc recalled. "Nothing and nobody. No matter who was on the other side, I just knew it was for us."
Zaragoza was not Munich. Now Jugoplastika was the titleholder and others wanted to take the trophy away.
"Munich was a suprise, a sensation. Young guys taking the final prize. The year after was a new year. We had something to prove. And we knew it was a good, great team. Zoran Savic came on board. Dino Radja was going to Boston, but it did not happen that year, and him not going was the best thing that happened to us. We needed Dino. Making the Final Four was a must. When you get there, anything can happen."
Limoges was first, in the semis, and Limoges was the easy part. Jugoplastika won 101-83: Velimir Perasovic scored 24, Dusko Ivanovic 20, Kukoc and Savic 16, Radja 10.
"Never in doubt, we knew that was the easy part. But we also knew that Barcelona would prevail over Aris. We knew Barcelona would be our biggest challenge. The only challenge."
In Spain, against Barcelona, Toni Kukoc was not scared.
"Great team, Barcelona had a great team, but somehow, I knew there was no way we could lose that game."
Logical question. Why?
"I have no idea, but I knew we could not lose that game. Because of Munich? I don't think so. I just thought that Jugoplastika cannot lose an important game to Barcelona. We had a game plan, and nothing could take that away. Nothing and nobody. No matter who was on the other side, I just knew it was for us. Barcelona? No way. Barcelona was never a threat in big games."
Jugoplastika won 72-67. Toni once again torched Barcelona, 24 points in the semifinals in Munich, now 20 in the final at Zaragoza. Radja, Perasovic and Ivanovic scored 12 each. Perasovic conected on a huge three-point shot when Barcelona got close in second half.
"It was our night, and we knew that was our night. We had a game plan, Barcelona could not stop us. Barcelona or any other team, it did not matter. We just knew it was our year. Why? I don't know why, just a feeling. We just felt our team was the best. And it was."
Toni Kukoc was the star on all three Split championship seasons. Three-time European champions. Which was the best?
"It's hard to say. The first one you always remember, the first one was the most impossible, but nothing is impossible if you believe. So, Munich is the one to remember. Zaragoza? That was great also, because we proved the point. We proved that the first one was not a fluke. But if I have to choose, Paris is the best for me. The final award. The third crown. Bozo Maljkovic had left to Barcelona, and we beat Barcelona once again, in the final. Dino Radja was not on the team, neither Dusko Ivanovic nor Goran Sobin. That was a great year, best year of my life. We won everything: European champions, we won the Yougoslav championship, cup also. But all three are special."