One of the few advantages of having been in this profession so long is owning many memories of great events, fantastic games, superstar players, smart coaches and long-lasting friendships with some players, coaches, administrators and, most of all, fellow sportswriters. It's a privilege to have a good friend in almost every country to ask for information, photos, testimony or help of any kind when you need it.
I can't say for sure that among journalists at this year's edition I will have covered the most EuroBaskets, but since my rookie year in Belgrade 1975 until the last one in Germany and France, I have worked at 16 such continental tournaments, making this year my 17th. If I have to summarize my experience in just a few words, I'd say that it has been a privilege to see so many amazing players live. Here are – summarized, of course – my memories of the EuroBaskets I have been to.
My first EuroBasket, and in my hometown, too. I had worked previously at world and European championships in other sports (handball, swimming, boxing, the 1973 football European final between Ajax and Juventus), but that EuroBasket – 42 years ago! – was my first big basketball event. Yugoslavia, with its golden generation, repeated the success of the first such title in the history of the country, which it had won two years earlier in Barcelona. What I remember most is Dragan Kicanovic's basket in the final minutes of the decisive duel against the USSR. With Yugoslavia ahead 86-84, Kicanovic went one-on-one against Valery Miloserdov and hit the decisive bucket from the mid-range. Aside from Kicanovic, Yugoslavia had Kresimir Cosic, Drazen Dalipagic, Zoran Slavnic, Mirza Delibasic, Dragan Kapicic, Vinko Jelovac, Zeljko Jerkov, Damir Solman, Nikola Plecas and Rajko Zizic. The USSR had names like Sergei and Aleksandar Belov, Ivan Yedesko and Alzhan Zarmuhamedov. Czechoslovakia featured Jiri Zidek senior, Kamil Brabenec and Jiri Posipisil. Bulgaria had Atanas Golomeev (top scorer in the tournament), Spain brought Wayne Brabender, Clifford Luyk, Juan Antonio Corbalan and Manolo Flores. The Netherlands featured Kess Akerboom, Israel had Tal Brody and Italy featured a nice roster with Dino Meneghin, Renzo Bariviera, Giulio Iellini and Carlo Recalcati, among others.
Yugoslavia's three-peat. A great semifinal against Italy (88-69) and an equally strong title game against the USSR (74-61) allowed the same generation to repeat success. There were some new names in the team, but the aces carried most of the burden. The unforgettable moment was with 30 seconds to go in the final, when Kicanovic and Slavnic passed the ball one to another mimicking volleyball style, with the fingers. Yugoslav head coach Aleksandar Nikolic was furious because he saw that as humiliating toward a great rival. Maybe that had some truth to it, but I think that was a gesture of joy more than anything. There were also many great players in Liege: Sergei Belov, Vladimir Zigili, Anatoliy Mishkin, Vladimir Tkachenko, Aleksandar Belosteny (USSR), Miki Berkowitz (Israel), Luis Miguel Santillana, Josep Maria Margall, Wayne Brabender (Spain), Pierluigi Marzorati (Italy)...
I will never forget some great moments. First of all, the huge brawl that ensued in Limoges in the game between Italy and Yugoslavia, including Goran Grbovic's court invasion with scissors from the medical assistant's bag. Luckily, he didn't get to use them. Second, the great triumph of Italy in the final against Spain after Spain's historic win over the USSR in the semifinals, 95-94, with 26 points by Chicho Sibilio and 25 by "Epi" – Juan Antonio San Epifanio. Third, it was the debut in a big competition of one Drazen Petrovic, who showed great talent despite Yugoslavia's seventh-place finish. France had Richard Dacoury while Greece and Italy had great shooters like Nikos Galis and Antonello Riva, respectively. The USSR had Sergei Ttarakanov, Valdis Valters, Valdemaras Chomicius and young big man Arvydas Sabonis – my first interview with him was done in a shopping mall.
That was a tournament with only eight teams, and it was marked by the undisputed domination of Yugoslavia, conducted by Drazen Petrovic, leading a new golden generation: Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja, Zoran Cutura, Zarko Paspalj, a young Predrag Danilovic (19 years old)... Some other great players in Zagreb were: Sabonis, Sarunas Marciulionis, Aleksandar Volkov, Valery Tikhonenko, Rimas Kurtinaitis (USSR); Galis, Panagiotis Giannakis (Greece); Chechu Biriukov, Andres Jímenez, Ferran Martínez (Spain); Mike D'Antoni, Roberto Brunamonti (Italy); Jim Bilba, Stephane Ostrowski (France)... Petrovic was named MVP thanks to his 70% shooting (16 of 23) from the three-point line!
I have mixed feelings about this one. On one hand, joy for the new gold medal of Yugoslavia, but on the other hand sadness for the feeling of Yugoslavia's dismantling having begun. On June 26, 1991, Yugoslavia played its last game as a whole country, against Bulgaria. On the eve of the semifinals against France, Jure Zdovc was ordered by the Slovenian government to leave the team since the country had just declared independence from Yugoslavia. Even with one less player, Yugoslavia was far superior than France and even Italy in the final (88-73). Kukoc was the MVP, but other important names in the tournament were Jordi Villacampa, Antonio Martin (Spain), Nando Gentile, Ricardo Pittis (Italy), Vlade Divac, Aleksandar Djordjevic, Velimir Perasovic, Zarko Paspalj (Yugoslavia)...
For sure, that was the most emotional tournament. Yugoslavia, or what was left of it (Serbia and Montenegro) was back to the big competitions after three years of international sanctions because of the war. A great generation missed the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona, the 1993 EuroBasket in Germany and the 1994 World Championships in Toronto. The team was back with a triumph. The final against Lithuania (96-90) was the best one I have seen. Sasha Djordjevic was the Yugoslav hero, with 41 points, 9 of 12 three-pointers included. The all-tournament team was formed by Marciulionis, Kukoc, Fanis Christodoulou, Divac and Sabonis, but there were many other stars: Dejan Bodiroga, Zoran Savic, Zarko Paspalj (Yugoslavia), Dino Radja, Arijan Komazec, Stojan Vrankovic (Croatia), Jure Zdovc, Teoman Alibegovic (Slovenia), Ibrahim Kutluay (Turkey), Rimas Kurtinaitis, Arturas Karnishovas, Saulius Stombergas (Lithuania), Vasily Karasev, Sergei Bazarevic (Russia), Alberto Herreros, Pablo Laso, Alfonso Reyes (Spain), Gregor Fucka (Italy)...
A new title for Yugoslavia, with Sasha Djordjevic as the MVP. It wasn't a decisive game, but in the first duel between Yugoslavia and Croatia after their bloody separation, Slaven Rimac hit 3 free throws for Croatia with less than 5 seconds to go and made it 62-61 for Croatia. Djordjevic crossed the whole court and hit a three at the buzzer to give a two-point win to his team. But he wasn't MVP only because of that. In the final against Italy (61-49), Yugoslavia played amazing defense. Again, there were many players starring in the tournament.
From this one I mainly remember two things: the great triumph of Italy and the Yugoslav bronze in difficult circumstances. From late March until early June that year, NATO forces bombed Serbia and Montenegro because of the Kosovo conflict. The players, gathered in Greece, were at the telephone booths more than in the arena. On a sports level, Italy's Gregor Fucka was MVP, Spain's Alberto Herreros, the top scorer. Andrea Meneghin, Dino's son, repeated the title that his father had won 16 years earlier in Nantes. We also got to know one Dirk Nowitzki (Germany) and other names like Antoine Rigaudeu (France), Nikola Vujcic (Croatia), Alessandro Abbio (Italy), Petar Naumoski (Macedonia), Matjaz Smodis, Sani Becirovic and Marko Milic (Slovenia), Dragan Tarlac, Dejan Tomasevic, Predrag Danilovic, Sasa Obradovic (Yugoslavia), Mirsad Turkcan, Hedo Turkoglu, Mehmet Okur, Kerem Tunceri (Turkey), Roberto Dueñas (Spain)... The EuroLeague would be born the following year, so many future champs were already there, but the process of a historic step in European basketball to create a true elite competition was already in the works.
The return of Yugoslavia to the top of the podium. Great domination by a great team with Peja Stojakovic (MVP), Dejan Bodiroga, Dejan Tomasevic, Marko Jaric, Milan Gurovic... Svetislav Pesic, after having celebrated with Germany in 1993, became the first coach to win the trophy with two different countries. His son Marko played for Germany that year. I remember a detail: in a game against Latvia in quarterfinals (114-78), Yugoslavia hit the first 12 threes it attempted! At the end, its percentage had dropped to 58.6% (17 of 29) but those 12 threes were an avalanche! Spain introduced its new generation to the world, with Pau Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro, Raul Lopez and Felipe Reyes, champs at the 1999 Junior World Championships in Lisbon. Russia had Andrei Kirilenko, Slovenia had Jaka Lakovic, Rasho Nesterovic and Beno Udrih, Italia had Gianluca Basile, Greece featured Theo Papaloukas, Antonis Fotsis, Fragiskos Alvertis, and Lazaros Papadopoulos. France was led by one Tony Parker while Lithuania, led by Saras Jasikevicius, presented its candidature for the gold in a not-so-distant future.
The triumph of Lithuanian basketball. After 66 years, Lithuania won the gold again in a EuroBasket. On top of that, it did so in style, with great basketball. The lovers of the game had a great time with that Lithuania team. Jasikevicius's genius earned him the MVP, while the world met deadly shooter Arvydas Macijauskas and super-effective Ramunas Siskauskas. Saulius Stombergas brought in the experience and Ksistof Lavrinovic and Darius Songaila had the versatility. Spain made it to the final, and Pau Gasol was the best scorer of the tournament (25.8 points per game). Aside from Kirilenko, Russia had Sergei Monya and Victor Khryapa and Germany had some solid help for Nowitzki in Patrick Femerling and Ademola Okulaja. Other interesting names were Mirza Teletovic (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Gordan Giricek, Zoran Planinic, Andrija Zizic and Dalibor Bagaric (Croatia), Parker, Boris Diaw and Alain Digbeu (France).
The big surprise was that the main favorite for the gold, Serbia and Montenegro, was eliminated in the first phase by losing to France (71-74) in Novi Sad. What I remember the most is coach Zeljko Obradovic's press conference around midnight. He charged hard against his players in a way I had not seen until then or since. He accused his players of anything one can think of: selfishness, envy, going out at night... From the final between Greece and Germany (78-62), I remember two things: a great game by Greece led by Theo Papaloukas (22 points) plus Nikos Zisis, Vassilis Spanoulis, Dimitris Diamantidis, Ioannis Bourousis and Antonis Fotsis, with Panagiotis Giannakis on the bench. The other thing, a standing ovation from 20,000 spectators to Dirk Nowitzki, MVP of the tournament, when he left the court some minutes before the end of the final. France won its first medal, a bronze, since 1959 with a great generation (Parker, Boris Diaw, Michael Gelebale, Rigaudeau, Florent Pietrus...) but it would take it eight more years to win the gold.
One of the biggest upsets in the history of the competition, as Russia defeated host Spain in the final played in Madrid. A last-second basket by JR Holden, an American guard with a Russian passport, decided the outcome. I remember the detail of tournament volunteers giving away invitations to the press for the Spanish celebration of the title. Just more proof that you cannot celebrate until you know for sure. Another unforgettable detail was the insult shower suffered by the referee from Darko Milicic, a Serbian player, after his team's defeat against Greece. Everybody asked me for a "transcription" of Milicic's words, but it was impossible because no language in this world had such vulgar vocabulary as the one he used that day. Andrei Kirilenko was the MVP, sharing an all-tournament team spot with Jose Manuel Calderon, Ramunas Siskauskas, Dirk Nowitzki and Pau Gasol. What a team! Italy introduced Andrea Bargnani, while Serbia did the same with Milos Teodosic and Novica Velickovic. Lithuania had Linas Kleiza and Jonas Maciulis, while Slovenia featured Goran Dragic and Erzaem Lorbek. Turkey also had Kaya Peker and Ersan Ilyasova and Spain also introduced Marc Gasol and Sergio Rodriguez. An already consolidated EuroLeague had massive presence in the tournament.
At last, Spain. A well-deserved triumph from a great generation that made it to the top step by step. The team showed great domination in the final against Serbia (85-63), which returned to a podium after eight years, coached by Dusan Ivkovic. Pau Gasol was the MVP and top scorer (18.7 points) of the tournament, and he was in the all-tournament team together with Vassilis Spanoulis, Milos Teodosic, Rudy Fernandez and Erazem Lorbek. Names that deserve a nod: Nicolas Batum, Nando de Colo (France), Tibor Pleiss (Germany), Andrei Vorontsevich (Russia), Marcin Gortat (Poland), Nemanja Bjelica (Serbia), Sergio Llull (Spain)... There were 18 players from the NBA, while this year we will have more than 30 with a good dozen missing for different reasons.
A Spain repeat, with authority. Juan Carlos Navarro was named MVP with 27 points against France in the title game (98-85). There was a great atmosphere in the new Kaunas arena. The all-tournament team was comprised of Bo McCalebb (American with Bosnian passport), Tony Parker, Navarro, Andrei Kirilenko and Pau Gasol. Croatia introduced new talents Bojan Bogdanovic, Ante Tomic and Krunoslav Simon, while Georgia did the same with Giorgi Shermadini and Tornike Shengelia. Great Britain had Luol Deng, Greece featured Kostas Koufos and Lithuania showcased Jonas Valanciunas. More names: Nikola Vucevic and Nikola Pekovic (Montenegro), Timofey Mozgov (Russia), Ricky Rubio (Spain)... A great year!
The great moment of French basketball. After two silvers and five bronzes, France finally won the gold. Tony Parker, MVP, shined and was also the top scorer with 19.0 points. In the final against Lithuania, France was way superior, 80-66. Together with Parker, the all-tournament team was formed by Goran Dragic, Bojan Bogdanovic, Linas Kleiza and Pau Gasol. Serbia introduced Bogdan Bogdanovic and Nikola Kalinic, Croatia did the same with Dario Saric and the Czech Republic with Tomas Satoransky and Jan Vesely. More new faces came up with Maik Zirbes (Germany), Kostas Sloukas (Greece), Alessandro Gentile and Nicolo Melli (Italy), Bojan Dubljevic (Montenegro), Alexey Shved and Sergei Karasev (Russia) and Victor Claver (Spain).
Two historic things happened: for the first time, the tournament was organized by four countries at once and the final phase took place in Lille in a ... football stadium! It was strange, but it worked. The final between Spain and Lithuania (80-63) was seen by 27,372 spectators. It was the most-seen tournament in EuroBasket history and the co-organization was liked by everyone, and so has been repeated for 2017. Spain was back to the throne with a huge Pau Gasol (MVP). Some names standing out were Dennis Shroeder (Germany), Jan Vesely (Czech Republic), Danilo Gallinari (Italy), Omri Casspi (Israel), Giannis Antetokounmpo (Greece), Nikola Mirotic (Spain)...
As for this year, there are many stars to watch, from the EuroLeague, the EuroCup and the NBA, the best competitions at the club level. Stay tuned and follow the EuroBasket on Euroleague.net!