Dusko Ivanovic has earned his right to be called a legend in Vitoria-Gasteiz. He came to that city and the Baskonia club in 2000 and this is his third stint and 12th season as its head coach. Under his guidance, Baskonia has reached two EuroLeague finals, won the Spanish League three times and Spain's Copa del Rey on four occasions. Most of all, he put the Baskonia name at the top-level of European basketball and made the club a continent force.
Born in Bijelo Polje, Montenegro, in 1957, Ivanovic had a successful career as a player. He was a member of the back-to-back EuroLeague-winning squads with the legendary Jugoplastika Split in 1989 and 1990. After that, he also played in Spain, France and Switzerland, where he retired as a player and started a new career as a coach in 1996. After one season in Limoges of France, Ivanovic landed in Vitoria-Gasteiz in the summer of 2000. It was the start of a relationship that is now in its third decade.
"To tell you the truth, I didn't remember Vitoria at all," Ivanovic said. "But I was told that when I was a player in Jugoplastika, I had come around here quite a bit."
"[Adapting to] Vitoria was much easier than in many other places."
Ivanovic had been in the city for some tournaments with the legendary team, but there were so many games and cities during those 20 days that the memory of the city never stuck. That would change dramatically in 2000.
"When I got the call, however, I got interested because of the history and the career of the club," Ivanovic recalled.
Vitoria-Gasteiz is a town that is not among the biggest or most famous cities in Spain. It stands roughly an hour's drive away from Bilbao, the closest most popular city. It's not too small nor too big, and the kind of life it offers can be a challenge sometimes for some people to adapt to. Not for Dusko.
"I adapted to Vitoria quickly, but just because I adapt quickly to all situations. I changed a lot of cities and countries when I played and all of us professionals are forced to adapt quickly to changes," he said. "But to tell you the truth, in Vitoria, it was much easier than in many other places. The club had great organization, took care of everyone who came from outside of the city, and people in Vitoria live for sports, live for basketball, and then everything is much easier."
During his years in Vitoria-Gasteiz, Ivanovic learned about the famous 'Baskonia Character' and then took it to another level when the club start making a name for itself among the European basketball elite in the early 2000s.
"I hope I contributed something to the 'Baskonia Character'," Ivanovic said. "But it is true that long before I came here for the first time, it already existed."
Soon, Ivanovic saw that Baskonia and him were almost a perfect match.
"Baskonia was always a club that was different from the rest because it had this fighting spirit, players that did not respect anyone because they wanted to win and they thought that they could beat anybody. And that was also my philosophy before coming here. So we coincide about many things," he explained.
Ivanovic did not coach Baskonia all those 12 seasons in a row. As usual in this job, there were ups and downs, but during all that time, he has ended up considering Vitoria as a home away from home, something that will probably not surprise anybody.
"Vitoria has a population of about 250,000 and to me, that makes it the perfect size for married people, for sports people that may not have a lot of time to practice it. There are many spots to go practice some sports when you have a day off, many great restaurants, many places to visit," he detailed. "There are many places where you can just go for a walk. Vitoria was the Europe Green Capital and I truly think it deserved it."
Ivanovic still remembers the feeling he got from Vitoria the first time he arrived in the city.
"When I came here, and still to this day, I really like how secure I feel in Vitoria. When we came here for the first time, our kids were little, but we never were afraid when they went out to play and that was a feeling that I have to this day. This city and its people feel safe and discreet," Ivanovic said.
"People here are kind and loving... not only when you win, but also when you lose."
And of course, the people in Vitoria have gotten used to seeing Dusko Ivanovic in the streets of their town. Ivanovic only talks about those people with respect and admiration.
"To tell you the truth, Vitoria is a city that lives for basketball, but people here are very respectful. They know you, they greet you. But they do not stop you on the street." Ivanovic assured. "People here are kind and loving and this is very important for us professionals, not only when you win, but also when you lose."
The quiet kind of life that Vitoria offers might look like a mismatch with the personality of a man who is all energy and electricity on the sidelines during games. However, Ivanovic finds it all pretty elementary.
"I live basketball with intensity because I enjoy it very much. I want to get everything I have inside out, I don't want to keep it inside of me because it's not good for your health. After a game, I am relaxed and calm. I get it all out during the game and I have no problems!"