Real Madrid: The return of a giant

Apr 23, 2011 by Vladimir Stankovic - Print
Vladimir Stankovic Veteran sportswriter and 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 new 2010-11 season, he offers a blog that honors the history of European basketball - even while history keeps being made!

The return of Real Madrid to the Final Four after 15 years and one more since its last Euroleague title is a more than apt reason to look back at the European history of the winningest club in the competition with eight crowns. Real Madrid is at the top of the list of 20 teams that have won the title at least once. After Madrid we find CSKA Moscow with six titles; Ignis Varese and Panathinaikos with five each; Maccabi Tel Aviv with 4+1 (counting the SuproLeague triumph in 2000-01); ASK Riga, Olimpia Milano and Jugoplastika with three each; Cibona, Cantu and FC Barcelona with two each, Virtus Bologna at 1+1 (counting the Euroleague title in 2000-01) and the teams with one title each: Dinamo Tbilisi, Bosna Sarajevio, Roma, Partizan, Limoges, Joventut, Olympiacos and Zalgiris.

Four finals in a row

Real Madrid has a special place in the history of the Champions Cup/Euroleague, not only because it has won most titles than anyone else. Madrid was the first team from Western Europe that tried and then managed to break the supremacy of Soviet teams in the first six editions of the competition. Real Madrid had played in the first edition of the competition in 1958, but it took it four years to get to its first final. In the first season, Real Madrid had to withdraw from the competition in the semis because the Francisco Franco regime didn't allow any kind of relationship with the USSR and ASK Riga got to the final without even playing. In the second year, 1959, Madrid was surprised by Etoile Charleville of France (79-65 in the second game after having won 50-39 at home) and in the third year the Spanish representative was Barcelona. In 1961, Real Madrid finally played against the Soviet team. The duels against ASK Riga were played in Paris, where Madrid won 78-75, and Prague, where ASK won 66-45.

In its fourth attempt, Real Madrid finally reached the final overcoming several obstacles in the way including Ignis varese in the quarterfinals and Olimpija Ljubljana in semis. The final was played, for the first time, in a single game on neutral ground. The game took place in Geneva, Switzerland, at the Patinoire des Vernets arena in front of 5,000 fans on June 29, 1962. Dinamo Tbilisi, who had defeated defending champ CSKA Moscow in the semifinals, beat Real Madrid 90-83 (38-36) despite 32 points by Real Madrid's American player Wayne Hightower.

realmadrid74champsFor the new attempt in the 1962-63 season, Pedro Ferrandiz, the legendary Real Madrid coach who that season was sports director of the team while Joaquin Hernandez coached, found the pieces that the team lacked to become European champion, even though they would all have to wait one more year. From the United States had arrived forward Clifford Luyk, a brilliant player from Florida University, who was pursued by several NBA teams, especially the New York Knicks. Another new face was big man Bob Burgess. With Emiliano Rodriguez, Carlos Sevillano and Lolo Sainz, they formed a great starting five that also had solid support from reserves in the bench. Before reaching the semifinals, Real Madrid had to play the tiebreaking game against Honved Budapest. According to the rules of the time, the third game was to be played on the same court as the second, which in this case was Madrid. The Whites made good use of the rule with a 77-65 win after having lost the first game 96-101 and winning the second game 74-69.

After losing by 19 points in Brno against Spartak, the final seemed far away, but the long break between the games – 17 days – allowed Emilano to recover from an injury and the legendary scorer, today the honorary president of the basketball section of the club, scored 18 points in the second game for a historic comeback to win 90-67. Sevillano scored 29 points, Luyk 20, Burgess 16, Lorenzo Alozen 4 and Lolo Sainz 3.

CSKA Moscow was waiting in the final. The date, July 23, 1963, is known as the day that "the Red Army came to Spain" in basketball history and in the relationship between Spain and the USSR. The Moscow team threatened not to play in Madrid, but after FIBA stood its ground, CSKA accepted playing the game. Real Madrid played an excellent game in front of the 5,000 fans that packed the Fronton Fiesta Alegre, and even managed to lead by 30 points at 75-45. In the end the difference settled at 17 points, more than was expected, but less than what could have been.

Eight days later in Moscow, at the Lenin football stadium with 20,000 fans, CSKA Moscow won the second game by exactly the same 17 points, 91-74. With 16 seconds to go, CSKA was winning 91-71, but a personal foul by Armenak Alachachian on Jose Ramon Duran allowed for the miracle: after scoring the first free throw, Duran deliberately missed the second one and Burgess pulled the board and scored to force the third game because the rules back then didn't include overtime. The key to the game was the elimination of Luyk (22 points), who received a standing ovation on his way out from the Moscow fans, among which were famed Cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin and Gherman Titov. The following day, August 1, 1963, CSKA Moscow won easily 99-80 behind the great Genadiy Volnov (26 points). Real Madrid would have to wait again.

The first one, 1964

In the 1963-64 season, Real Madrid finally became European champion by defeating Spartak Brno in the two-game final. On April 27, Spartak won in Brno before 12,000 fans 110-99 with Vladimir Pistalek (28 points) and Jan Bobrovski (21) as an unstoppable duo. Real Madrid went into the history books by having allowed 99 points. The second game was played on May 10 in front of the Spanish princes and future kings, William Jones the FIBA General Secretary and Santiago Bernabeu, the Real Madrid president who always paid more attention to football. Real Madrid won 84-64 to claim its first title. Rodriguez (28 points) and Luyk (25) shined for the Whites.

That first title however had a dark spot, which was in no way Real Madrid's fault. The Russian federation had not registered CSKA Moscow, following the wish of Aleksandar Gomelskiy, the Russian national team head coach, to prepare the team for the Tokyo Olympic Games of 1964. The idea was to beat the United States, but that didn't happen until 1972. Some wondered whether Real Madrid would have won with CSKA in the game. The answer arrived at the end of the 1964-65 season. In a two-game final, CSKA Moscow won 88-81 in Moscow and Real Madrid was better at home 76-62 to win its second straight title. After that, six more titles arrived: 1967 against Milano, 1968 against Spartak Brno, 1974 and 1978 against Varese, 1980 against Maccabi and 1995 against Olympiacos. Several great players have played for Real Madrid, both Spanish and foreigners as well as great coaches leading from the bench. However, the title drought has lasted since 1995. Real Madrid won its last title on Spanish soil at the Zaragoza Final Four and the Whites fans now look for a historic coincidence, this time in Barcelona.