Local rivals Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade and Partizan NIS Belgrade came together on Saturday in the name of One Team, Euroleague Basketball's hugely successful social responsibility program, to present the refurbishment of historical basketball courts at the iconic Kalemegdan Fortress in Belgrade ahead of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four, coming to the city from May 17 to 20.
With this project, Euroleague Basketball has worked with Crvena Zvezda to refurbish two full tartan courts and with Partizan to redevelop the court's main stone tribune.
This weekend's event saw children who are participating in One Team activities this season with Partizan and Zvezda enjoy the newly refurbished courts under the guidance of One Team coaches from both clubs in a demonstration of unified community objectives under the One Team umbrella.
Also in attendance were an array of special guests, led by Zoran Jovanovic, City of Belgrade Secretary for Sports and Youth; Turkish Airlines representative Mehmet Alagoz; Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade President Nebojsa Covic; and Partizan NIS Belgrade General Manager Dejan Kijanovic and Team Manager Dusan Kecman. Other special guests were Euroleague Basketball Legend Dusan Ivkovic, Final Four Ambassador Dusko Savanovic, One Team Ambassadors Branko Lazic and Ognjen Dobric of Crvena Zvezda, their teammate Nemanja Dangubic, and Mihajlo Andric of Partizan.
The refurbishment is the first of a number of One Team activities that will take place in Belgrade throughout the Final Four.
"It is a great pleasure to start the countdown to the 2018 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four Belgrade with the refurbishment of these historical courts for Serbian basketball," Abigail Martin, Euroleague Basketball's Director of Corporate Social Responsibility and Development Projects, said. "Kalemegdan is one of the most recognized places in Belgrade and will also be the meeting point of all our fans during the Final Four with the FanZone. The refurbishment of these courts through our CSR program One Team will allow us to help have a long-lasting positive impact in the community and leave a legacy for the city of Belgrade beyond the Final Four event. I want to thank the two historic teams of Belgrade, Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade and Partizan NIS Belgrade, for supporting us in this initiative."
Zoran Jovanovic, City of Belgrade Secretary for Sports and Youth, said: "I want to thank Euroleague Basketball, the Final Four organizers, for this truly wonderful gift. It is a big thing to be at this basketball court, and this place. Belgrade Fortress has huge meaning for basketball in this city and in this country. I have to be emotional because on these specific courts, I made my first steps in basketball, and it is a great honor to be here. The city of Belgrade has done a lot, and is doing a lot, to organize the Final Four and to prove that it is a great host for such big events, as it has always been."
Euroleague Basketball Legend Dusan Ivkovic said: "I followed and took part in One Team events before, and we all have to be very pleased with the choice Euroleague Basketball has made to refurbish these courts. They don't only have a historic but a cultural meaning, too. This is where Yugoslav and Serbian basketball was born. The Euroleague's choice to refurbish these courts is wonderful, and I want to thank Euroleague Basketball on behalf of my hometown of Belgrade. I have no doubts that the city of Belgrade will organize the Final Four in the best possible way, and make it a memorable event. And to have the Fan Zone here at these courts, to have them in focus during the Final Four, is a correct and a great choice."
Final Four Ambassador Dusko Savanovic said: "I participated in One Team events as a player and now as an ambassador, and we are witnesses to how much this means to the kids and young people in need. This is probably one of the best days for them. Socialization is a huge factor in development, Euroleague Basketball is stressing its importance, and Zvezda and Partizan and city of Belgrade have recognized it. It is the same way in the rest of Europe. It is a wonderful project."
This season Crvena Zvezda has continued to develop its One Team program with Special Olympics, one of the club's most important strategic partners during the last five years. A program called "Win For Smile" has been created to promote inclusion in the community by using creative expression. The program brings together six Special Olympics athletes with six high school students aged 12 to 18 and uses art exercises and basketball drills to focus on improving the participants' self-confidence.
Nebojsa Covic, Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade President, said: "The refurbishment of these courts make this a great day and a great honor for us. This place is so important to the history of Serbian and Yugoslav basketball, where the story started. Also, thanks to the patriarchs of Serbian basketball Radoslav Saper, Nebojsa Popovic, Borislav Stankovic and Aleksandar Nikolic. This is a place where they said we will be the world champions, and we became the world champions, so our basketball has made an indelible mark on European and world basketball history. The fact that the Final Four is in Belgrade, and that the FanZone will be in these courts, is an incentive to keep working."
Branko Lazic, Crvena Zvezda's One Team Ambassador, said: "You can see how happy these kids are to participate in this event, and to hang out with us and to learn something new. I think this event, and the basketball exercises we did, make them understand they are an equal part, included in our society. Personally, I am very happy to do these One Team sessions. Every time we learn something new, and I see how happy the kids are to see us and how familiar faces keep asking when are we going to do it again. They are glad to do it, and it makes me even happier than them."
Partizan NIS Belgrade is running its One Team program in cooperation with Zvecanska, a center for the protection of infants, children and youth without family care. The program aims to encourage, through the power of basketball, social abilities and community inclusion. About 25 participants aged 8 to 18 from three different Zvecanska foster homes have participated during an eight-week period in One Team sessions at the team's Stark Arena, which is the venue for the upcoming Final Four.
Dusan Kecman, Partizan NTS Belgrade team manager and former EuroLeague champion, said: "I want to thank Euroleague Basketball for this initiative. We all cannot wait for the Final Four to start. We know that during the Final Four the city will live and breathe basketball, and it will be a motivation for the new kids to start playing basketball. I want to use this opportunity to greet the participants of the One Team program, which is already part of EuroLeague's tradition, and all the clubs are involved and support it. I hope they will continue to do so."
Mihajlo Andric, Partizan's One Team Ambassador, said: "It is a wonderful feeling to see young people participate in a program like One Team. It is already a tradition for so many years, and for me as a One Team Ambassador, it was a privilege to take part in practices and training with these kids, and to implement certain things. To bring them closer to sports, and to basketball, and then to bring them to a beautiful event like this, this introduction to the Final Four – I think it means a world to them. You can see them smiling and happy, you can see they are enjoying it."
One Team, supported by Turkish Airlines as the One Team Founding Patron and with the collaboration of Special Olympics as Proud Partner, uses basketball to achieve meaningful social impact in communities across Europe and is supported by every club in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague and 7DAYS EuroCup. Since its founding in 2012, the One Team program has already helped more than 14,000 participants through its various team-focused projects.