Radivoj Korac's 99 points

Sport newspaper cover after Korac 99 pointsVeteran sportswriter and Euroleague.net collaborator Vladimir Stankovic has been following the best basketball on the continent longer than almost anyone journalist, writing for decades about the sport in major publications in both Serbia and Spain. For the 2010-11 season, he offers a blog that honors the history of European basketball - even while history keeps being made!

Some records are simply not meant to be broken. One such record, whose anniversary is this week, belongs to the late Radivoj Korac, the Serbian super scorer who died in a car crash on June 2, 1969 close to Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina. He was only 31. Four years before that, playing for the club he grew up with, OKK Belgrade, Korac set an incredible scoring mark that still stands as the most points scored in the history of the Euroleague and its predecessor, the European Cup. In an eighthfinals game against Alvik BK Stockholm of Sweden, played in Belgrade on January 14, 1965, he scored an incredible 99 points - in 40 minutes, with no three-point shot or shot clock, and without knowing his point total as the game progressed. OKK won by 155-57 (after having led by 60-17 at the break). The game was the stage for several other records apart from Korac's 99 points: in the second half OKK scored 95 points; the team's total of 155 points was also a new record, as was the final margin of 98 points. Amazingly enough, in the first game between the teams, played exactly one week earlier, on January 7, 1965 in Sweden, OKK Belgrade had won by 90-136 as Korac scores 71 points. Combining them, the legendary left-hander scored an incredible 170 points in a single two-game series!

A night to remember

The game in Belgrade between OKK and Alvik was played in the halls of the Belgrade convention center because the Yugoslav capital had no sports arenas at the time. With 3,000 spectators in attendance, Korac himself opened the scoring with 2 free throws shot in an old-fashioned underhanded style that even then, 40 years ago, was disappearing such that it was thought to be a bit peculiar. However, the important thing was to score the points, and Korac missed very few free throws. Later in his career, while in Belgium playing for Standard Liege, he was suprised at a television show when he was asked how many free throws he thought he could score out of 100 attempts. Korac answered, after thinking about it for a while: "Between 70 and 80." Then, in what was as surprise to Korac, a curtain was pulled to reveal a basket on the TV set. Korac took the challenge and, in street clothes, made all 100 free throws!

Scoresheet: OKK Belgrade  vs. AlvikIn the first half against Alvik, Korac scored "only" 34 points, a high figure, but still far from hinting at the decades-long record to come. His one-man show, even if greatly helped by his teammates, started in the second half. Korac was scoring from everywhere and in every manner possible. The team was playing for him and they were generous, especially Miodrag "Sija" Nikolic, who finished the game with 32 points but who gave a lot more to Korac.

Borislav Stankovic, FIBA's general secretary emeritus, was the OKK Belgrade head coach for this game. "We were superior, and the game was a golden chance to set some records," Stankovic told me. "But during the game, nobody knew that Korac was that close to scoring 100 points and matching, or even surpassing, Wilt Chamberlain's record of 100 points in an NBA game. On our bench, nobody was taking notes of the scoring. We all knew Korac had scored a lot of points, but nobody suspected he was only one point short of 100. It was a shame, because he could have surely scored a few more."

Of his 99 points, Korac scored 65 in the second half. He shot 14 free throws, making 11. Taking into account that the three-point shot did not exist, it's clear that to score his other 88 points he had to make 44 baskets. There are no stats to show how many shots he missed, however. Humble as always, Korac thanked his teammates in the lockerroom and in all comments to the media. He always said that the record not only belonged to him, but to "of all the team". The Sport newspaper of Belgrade opened the following day with a big headline that read "Thank you, partners", quoting Korac as he credited the generosity of his teammates. Other OKK scorers in the historic game were Nikolic (32 points), Trajko Rajkovic (14), Tosic (6), Bojkic (2), Momcilo Pazmanj (1) and Ivackovic (1). That season, OKK eliminated AEK Athens in the European Cup quarterfinals, but was stopped in semis by the eventual champ, Real Madrid in a second game, played in Belgrade, that was also historic, but for other reasons which we will surely revisit in a future blog entry.

A man of many interests

Radivoj KoracKorac was an intelligent man, also kind and humble. He was a good electronics student. He was a prolific reader and he liked music - he owned an impressive record collection. He was also a fine chess player, loved sports clothing, frequented the theater and had many interests outside of basketball. He was born on November 5, 1938 in Sombor, in the Vojvodina region of present-day Serbia. After his family moved to Belgrade, his brother Djordje - who became a sculptor and made the famous left wrist of the Korac Cup trophy named after his brother - started playing football as goalkeeper at Radnicki Belgrade. Radivoj chose basketball and made his debut at OKK Belgrade at only 17 under Coach Stankovic. During the military service, Korac recorded a high jump record of 1.99 metres. With OKK he won four Yugoslav League titles and he was the competition's top scorer seven times, totaling 5,281 points. On the Yugoslav national team, he played 157 games an scored 3,153 points (averaging 20.8). He was also the top scorer in the 1968 Mexico Olympics, where Yugoslavia won the silver medal. He was top scorer in three Eurobaskets (1961, 1963, 1965) and was also the best scorer in the Italian League while playing with Padova (581 points) although his team was rather weak and was demoted to the second division. That's when Korac joined Standard Liege and became Belgium champ with the team in 1968-69, the last of his brilliant career. With Yugoslavia, he was also finalist in the World Championships of 1963 and 1967. At the 2007 opening of the FIBA Hall of Fame in Madrid, Korac was inducted with the very first class of honorees. The next year, Euroleague Basketball chose him as one of the 50 Top Contributors to European Basketball to celebrate the 50th anniversary of European competitions. The trophy was presented to his nephew, Marko, son of his brother Djordje. In his honor, FIBA started the Korac Cup in 1972, and when that competition was discontinued in 2002, the Serbian Federation gave his name to its national cup.

A few weeks ago, a movie about Radivoj Korac's life opened in Belgrade. It is a mixture of documentary, featuring comments by several people who knew Korac, together with cinematic re-enactments by professional actors in the roles of Korac and his friends. His life and passion to score baskets will be always remembered, as will the 99 points he scored against Alvik 46 years ago this week.