Remembering an icon: Radivoj Korac

Jun 03, 2009 by Vladimir Stankovic, Belgrade Print
Radivoj KoracExactly 40 years after his tragic death in a car accident, an original icon of European basketball is being remembered this week by friends and former competitors alike in Belgrade, the city where he triumphed as one of the sport's greatest scorers ever. Known in his native Serbia as "the first legend", Radivoj Korac was chosen in 2008 to be among the top 50 contributors to the first half-century of European club basketball. On Tuesday, his friends met at the head of Knez Mihailova, the main pedestrian street in central Belgrade, at a spot known to them back in the 1960s as Korac Corner. Whenever he had free time from training or studies, Korac met at the same spot with friends for conversation or a short walk to Kalemegdan Park, the birthplace of Serbian basketball, where storied clubs Partizan and Red Star still maintain open-air courts as part of their youth programs.

Korac, however, was from a different, more modest local club, OKK Belgrade, which nonetheless became champion of the mighty former Yugoslav League four times and of the Yugoslav Cup twice thanks, in large part, to his incredible scoring capacity. Korac was the league's top scorer an incredible seven times. He also set the record for single-game scoring in Euroleague history - with 99 points in January of 1965 against Alvik of Sweden.

As an international player for Yugoslavia, Korac won five silver medals - at the 1968 Olympics in Mexico City, at the World Championships in 1963 and 1967, and at the European Championships in 1961 and 1965 - as well as a bronze in the 1963 European tournament. In the European Championships, he was top scorer three times and finished a 157-game international career having averaged 20.8 points per game for Yugoslavia. The last two seasons of his career were played outside of Yugoslavia, with Standard of Belgium and Padova of Italy. Then, at just 31 years old, the height of his career, Korac was killed in a car accident on June 2, 1969 while returning to Belgrade from a goodwill game of the Yugoslav national team against Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo.

Radivoj Korac 40th anniversary memorialThe anniversary of his death brought together this week in Belgrade people from throughout the basketball world of the former Yugoslavia - a who's who of legends who were friends, teammates, coaches and opponents of Korac on the great teams of then and now: Olimpija, Zadar, Lokomotiva (now Cibona), Jugoplastika, Partizan, Red Star, Radnicki and more. From Olimpija came Ivo Daneu, with whom Korac formed one of the greatest tandems ever on the national team. From Zadar came Giuseppe "Pino" Giergia, from Split a trio - Petar Skansi, Rato Tvrdic and Damir Solman - and from Zagreb, Nikola Plecas. Among Korac's teammates from OKK were Miodrag Gordic, Zoran Maroevic,Blaz Kotarac, Nemanja Djuric, Zarko Knezevic, Vlade Djurovic, Momcilo Pazman and Milorad Erkic. His former local rivals from Belgrade included Radovan Radovic of Partizan, Vladimir Cvetkovic and Dragan Kapicic, current Serbian Federation president, from Red Star, and Dragoslav Raznatovic from Radnicki. Current local stars Milenko Tepic and Novica Velickovic, this year's Euroleague Rising Star Trophy winner, also attended the commemorative ceremonies. Last but not least were Korac's former coaches Ranko Zeravica and Borislav Stankovic, the future long-time secretary general of FIBA, who trained him at OKK Belgrade.

A series of events held in Belgrade this week to remember Korac included a reception at the Serbian Basketball Federation in which Vlade Divac and Zarko Paspalj, president and vice-president, respectively, of the Serbian Olympic Committee, offered their comments on the Korac legend. A memorial game was held at Kalemegdan Park between his old club, OKK Belgrade, and another small local club named after him, KK Radivoj Korac. There was also a wreath-laying ceremony at the Korac gravesite, a junior streetball tournament and a three-point shooting contest as well as a veterans game and reception.

All were in honor of a lost legend who, 40 years after his untimely passing, once again united a rich assortment of friends and basketball greats: Radivoj Korac, 1938-1969, rest in peace.