Istanbul Icons: Aleksandar Djordjevic, 1992

Mar 16, 2017 by Print
Istanbul Icons: Aleksandar Djordjevic, 1992

During his playing days, an illustrious career that lasted more than 20 years, Aleksandar Djordjevic made a name for himself with clutch performances in the very biggest of games. His basketball journey started in his hometown of Belgrade, Serbia, but Djordjevic went on to win numerous titles with the clubs he played for, including Korac Cup titles with three different teams – Partizan Belgrade, Olimpia Milano and FC Barcelona – plus lifting Spanish League titles with two of the biggest clubs in sports, arch-rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid. His brilliant career with the Yugoslav national teams produced an Olympics silver medal, a World Championship title and three EuroBasket golds, among others, all during the dominant 1990s.

Leading teams to winning trophies has made Djordjevic, during his playing years, a hero to many basketball fans around the continent, and among people in general in his native Serbia. However, no one worships him more than the fans of the club where he started his professional career, Partizan, which he lifted to its lone EuroLeague title with a game-winning three-pointer in Istanbul's Abdi Ipekci Arena in 1992.

Just couple of weeks before that legendary April 16, 1992 night, Djordjevic went on record to tell the EuroLeague's own Vladimir Stankovic: "I am dreaming Istanbul. Slowly, I am catching a dream: I am getting out of the plane in Belgrade with the trophy in my hands, the first one as a captain of the European champion. I don't know if I would ever feel better in my life."

That was the second of four Final Four appearances for Partizan, and the second of three that Djordjevic played in his career. And it finished in the most dramatic fashion. With Joventut Badalona taking 68-70 lead with 9 seconds to go, Djordjevic received an inbounds pass, took the ball the length of the court and fired an off-balanced three-pointer that hit nothing but a bottom of the net with only couple ticks remaining on the clock. Joventut's Harold Pressley attempted a half-court heave at the buzzer, but missed, prompting wild celebrations from mid-court in Istanbul all the way to the Serbian capital.

"To me, it happened that all I dreamed of as a child came through," Djordjevic said in the Serbian media, recalling his famous shot. "In those daydreams at our neighborhood court when I was starting to play basketball, we imagined countless times those kinds of games – time is running out and we need to make the final shot, everybody on their feet, craziness all around. I was lucky enough to make those dreams come true, and when it comes to playing for clubs, I have never felt anything better."

Djordjevic admitted that the game, and that shot, not only changed his career, but also changed his life. Partizan, to this day, is the youngest ever team to lift the EuroLeague title.

"At 25 years of age, I was already an experienced player at the time, I won titles with clubs and the national team, both before and after Istanbul. But that shot marked my career and gave me additional assurance," Djordjevic has said. "During my career, I always felt myself capable of accepting the responsibility and accountability of taking the final shot. Some balls did not go in, but there was a lot more joy than disappointments."

The trophies that Djordjevic has won, and his performances on the basketball floor during the more than two decades of his pro career, have made him one of the great European point guards of the 20th century. His shot was the only game-winner made within last seconds of the title game until Olympiacos Piraeus forward Georgios Printezis hit a baseline floater exactly 20 years later in the same city.

But the three-point shot that Djordjevic made at the end of that 1992 championship game not only launched Djordjevic from Istanbul to basketball stardom, but it also helped shape the EuroLeague Final Four into an event that fans around the world watch every year for its drama, as they will again when this season's champion is crowned in the same city on May 21.