Jiri Zidek - A Czech legend

Jun 09, 2012 by Vladimir Stankovic, Euroleague.net Print

Vladimir StankovicVeteran 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. Once again this season, he offers a blog that honors the history of European basketball - even while history keeps being made!

The name surely sounds familiar. Jiri Zidek is a colleague; he writes a weekly column during the season on Euroleague.net and works as a color commentator on Euroleague.TV. He is also one of only four men to have won both the NCAA Tournament and the Euroleague championship, with UCLA in 1995 and Zalgiris in 1999, respectively. That Zidek certainly deserves his own blog entry due to his great career. But today I will write about another Jiri Zidek, his father. Exactly 30 years before Jiri Zidek Jr.'s success with Zalgiris in Munich back in 1999, Jiri Zidek Sr won the Cup Winners' Cup title with his team, Slavia Prague. Dinamo Tblisi, representing the Soviet Union, and Slavia, representing Czechoslovakia, played the title game on April 17, 1969. Slavia won 80-74. As far as I know, they are the only case in which a father and son have won a title in European club competitions. A year before that, Zidek Sr. was the star of a historic game - the 1968 Cup Winners' Cup final in Athens, Grecee on April 4, 1968. Slavia faced AEK at Panathinaiko stadium. Officially, it was a sellout of 52,880, but most reports claim there were between 60,000 and 80,000 fans on hand if you count those who couldn't make it to the stadium, but cheered from outside. AEK beat Slavia 89-82 to win the first European title for a Greek basketball club, but the star of the game was Zidek Sr., who scored 31 points.

Slavia, a team full of Jiris

Karel Baroch, Jiri Ruzicka, Robert Mifka, Jiri Zidek and Jiri Ammer (left to right) made up the starting five of the Slavia Prague team. Born in Prague, Czechoslovakia on February 8, 1944, Zidek Sr. spend the best and biggest part of his career with Slavia, a team that had a great sporting rivalry with Spartak Brno to be the best in the country throughout the 1960s and the 1970s. Slavia was knows as the "Jiris' team," because many times its starting five featured Jiri Ruzicka, Jiri Stasny, Jiri Ammer, Jiri Zednicek and Jiri Zidek, with Jiri Konopasek coming off the bench. Spartak was represented by Kamil Brabenec, Zdenek and Jan Bobrovski, Vladimir Pistalek, Frantisek Konvicka, Frantisek Pokorni and Zdenek Konecny. All of them played together on a strong Czechoslovakian national team that won the silver medal at EuroBasket 1967 in Helsinki, Finland. Czechoslovakia was defeated by the Soviet Union, 79-87, in the title game, but Zidek had 23 points against giants like Vladimir Andreev and Alzhan Zarmuhamedov. He averaged 13.8 points in that tournament. Two years later, Czechoslovakia won the bronze medal at EuroBasket 1969 in Naples, Italy, with Zidek averaging 12.6 points.

Zidek was the top scorer (18.6 ppg.) at the 1970 World Championship in Ljubljana, Yugoslavia. He scored even more (20.4 ppg.) at EuroBasket 1971 in Essen, West Germany, and enjoyed a strong performance (12.7 ppg., 4.8 rebounds) at the 1972 Olympic Games in Munich. Overall, Zidek played 257 games with the Czechoslovakian national team. There is no evidence of how many points he scored with his national team, but in a phone conversation, Zidek Sr. gave me rough numbers of his great career:

  • - Played professional basketball for 18 years.
  • - Scored an estimated 13,000 points.
  • - Won six league titles with Slavia.
  • - Was the Czechoslovakian League's scoring champion 10 times and averaged around 30 points.
  • - His single-best scoring game was 68 points against Olomuc.

Jiri Zidek Sr.That Slavia squad boasted a powerful team able to beat anyone. For instance, Zidek Sr. scored 35 points against Real Madrid in the 1965-66 season, 36 against Simmenthal Milano and did even better against Belgian side Racing - 40 points in Belgium and 48 at home! He tallied 54 points in another game against Madrid. That season, Zidek led Slavia to the first-ever Final Four, host by FIBA in Bologna, Italy. Slavia suffered a 72-77 loss against Simmenthal despite 20 points by Zidek. At the end of the season, Zidek was named a member of the European continental team for 1966. In another Final Four played in Madrid, Spain, in 1967, Slavia once again lost against Simmenthal Milano, 97-103, in the semifinals. Slavia managed to beat Olimpija Ljubljana 88-83 in the third place game.

An atypical center

Despite being 2.06 meters tall and based on today’s standards, Zidek Sr. was more a forward than a center, but he played in the '5' position and successfully fought against taller opponents. His best weapons were the fundamentals. He was a talented player that could hit the outside jumper and had a hard-to-guard hook shot. Zidek was also a great rebounder and had the spirit of a natural-born fighter.

Zidek Sr. told me that back in 1968, the Boston Celtics showed interest in him, but it was impossible and unthinkable for him to get out of Czechoslovakia. "I had many offers from the biggest clubs in Europe, but we lived in the communist era, without personal freedom. Getting out of the country in a legal way was almost impossible," Zidek Sr. said. He was one of the true European basketball legends in the 1960s and the 1970s. After playing one season for Olomouc, he was granted permission to work outside his country and finished his brilliant career in Finland. At age 38, Zidek Sr. was a coach-player with Forza Alku for two seasons.

Jiri Zidek Jr., Jiri Zidek Sr. He remembers well his battles in the paint against Dino Meneghin, Kreso Cosic, Cliford Luyk and Trajko Rajkovic. Zidek Sr. spoke with me about the great Ivo Daneu, his rivalry against CSKA that went beyond sports and especially, about his great friendship with Radivoj Korac, who tragically passed away in a car crash 43 years ago. When I asked him why there are no great basketball players in the Czech Republic like in the old days, Zidek didn't have a clear answer. "Maybe it is because basketball is not as popular as football and ice hockey," he said. "There is not enough money for basketball. Maybe players lack that passion for basketball nowadays."

Jiri Zidek Jr. managed to achieve a lot of the things Jiri Zidek Sr. couldn't do. Zidek Jr. won the Euroleague title, played three years in the NBA and wore the jerseys of European basketball powerhouses like Zalgiris and Real Madrid, one of the dreams his father had. But if I had to choose one of them - with all due respect to my friend Jiri Jr. - I would choose Zidek Sr., considered by many as the best Czech player of all-time.

Jiri Zidek Sr. A Czech legend.