Veteran 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!
To start today's story, dedicated to - if not the best, then the most decorated - French player of all time (not taking active players into account), I don't find anything better than a detail that Cedevita Zagreb head coach Boza Maljkovic, the boss of Limoges in the early 1990s, told me this week.
"When I arrived to Limoges I had to build a new team from scratch," Maljkovic said. "For different reasons, of the eight players that finished that season, only one was expected to stay for the following season, Richard Dacoury. He was a player I liked a lot because of his physical potential, his willingness to work, his strong winning character and a personality that is always welcome in any lockerroom. Also, he spoke good English, which was important to interact with Michael Young and Jure Zdovc, our foreigners back then.
"One day, I was told that we had to go to some school that was to take the name of Richard Dacoury because he had decided to... retire! It was a hard for me to convince him not to do that. He was about 32 and thanks to his physical condition, he still had some basketball years in him. Plus, he was a key man in my defensive schemes. He was probably the best athlete I ever coached in my career. Fortunately, I convinced him and he is thankful to me for that even today!"
The biggest consequence of that decision happened on April 15, 1993 in Athens, at Peace and Friendship Stadium. Limoges was crowned European champion by beating Toni Kukoc's Benetton Treviso by 59-55. Two days before, in the semis, Limoges beat the other favorite: Arvydas Sabonis' Real Madrid by 62-52. I was there in one of my 20 of 24 Final Fours, and I still think that was the biggest surprise ever in the Euroleague! Nowadays, many people take on Maljkovic because of his style of "basket-control" or even "anti-basket", based on few points and slow pace. However, if the goal in sports is winning, epsecially in pro sports, what Maljkovic did with that "team of miners", as he called his boys, is something to be studied through a technical, tactical and psychological point of view. It was the recipe of how a coach must adapt to the players he has in order to get the best of them. Even Dacoury himself, on occasion of the celebration of 50 Years of European Competitions anniversary celebrated at the 2008 Final Four in Madrid, agreed.
"Our coach did a huge psychological job on us," Dacoury told Euroleague.net. "I saw that later, but now I can say it: He did the best work ever on our confidence. He was so relaxed, especially if you compare him with the rest of season until that point. He smiled, laughed. We had no pressure. He told us that it was only pleasure."
Before surprising Real Madrid and Benetton, Limoges played the preliminary round to eliminate the Guildford Kings (with a tie in London!), while in the group stage it finished second behind PAOK Thessaloniki with a 7-5 record and on top of teams like Scavolini Pesaro, Knorr Bologna, Joventut Badalona, Cibona Zagreb and Maccabi Tel Aviv. In the quarterfinals, Limoges got rid of Olympiacos with a 2-1, making good use of the homecourt advantage.
As the captain of that team, Dacoury lifted the Euroleague trophy, the first title ever in a top continental competition for a French team in any sport. One month later, Olympique Marseille also won the football European Cup, but the honor of being first will always be for Limoges CSP. The full cover of the newspaper L'Equipe with Dacoury lifting the trophy is history in itself. Curiously, Dacoury was wearing a yellow jersey even though the official color of the team the previous years had been green. Maljkovic had managed to change colors and it worked because yellow was fashionable and successful (Jugoplastika Split, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Aris Thessaloniki...) The retired jersey of Dacoury with number 7 hangs on the rafters of the Limoges arena, and it has both colors, the classic green and the yellow which gave the club its most important title.
The symbol of Limoges
Even though he started his career in Lyon from 1976 to 1978, and finished it in Racing Paris (from 1996 to 1998) winning his ninth French League title, the bulk of Richard Dacoury's career was tied to Limoges. He wore the jersey of the club from 1978 to 1996, winning 8 French Leagues, 5 French Cups, 2 Korac Cups (1982 and 1983), a Cup Winners Cup (1988) and the Euroleague (1993). He was never a born scorer. His specialty was defense, rebounds, fighting, sacrifice and being the extension of the coach on court. However, if the team needed points, he would happily provide. His best numbers in the French League came in 1984-85 with 18.7 points per game with an accuracy of 55.9%, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. In 1986-87 he averaged 18.2 points. In 20 years of career, only in the last three did he average below 10 points. In total, he played 495 games with an average of 12.6 points.
With the French national team, he made his debut in Orleans on May 5, 1981 in a friendly game against Cuba (108-117) and he scored his first 4 points. The last time he wore the blue jersey was on June 26, 1992 in Granada against Switzerland (108-65) saying good bye with 22 points. He played 160 games with France, totalling 2,230 points (13.9).
I remember pretty well the first time I saw Richard Dacoury play. It was the final of the Korac Cup which took place on March 18 of 1982 in Padova, Italy, between Limoges and Sibenika of Croatia, which had a young talent named Drazen Petrovic (19 points) and a golden veteran like Srecko Jaric (16 points), Marko Jaric's father. Limoges won by 90-84, thanks to Ed Murphy's 35 points. Dacoury contributed 12, but you could see an enormous potential in him. One year later, on March 8 of 1983, in Berlin, the same matchup took place in the same final and Limoges won again, 94-86. Murphy shined again with 34 points, but Dacoury was already the star of the team as he also scored 16 points. Looking through the data of the game, I discovered that the second best scorer of the Dalmatian team was Predrag Saric (22 points), father of Dario Saric, who is considered one of the best prospects in European basketball nowadays. The father and son sagas still go on...
Dacoury's third continental trophy also arrived on neutral ground, on March 16, 1988 in Grenoble, where Limoges defeated Joventut Badalona of Spain in the Cup Winners Cup final by 96-89. Dan Collins was the big star with 28 points, but the fact that Dacoury played for 33 minutes makes it clear that his contribution was way more than the 8 points he scored that night.
From the court to the microphone
I personally met Dacoury in the EuroBasket played in Limoges in 1983. It was his second continental tournament. After that we met each other again several times, even in the Los Angeles Olympic Games in 1984. I was at his official farewell game in Limoges, one day after the 1999 EuroBasket of Paris. We also saw each other again in London 2012, where he was there as commentator of the French television. Since his retirement he became the"voice of basketball" in France, where he was really popular due to his understanding of the game and because of the way he explained what was happening on the court. When I told him thatr the new season, I would be writing about him in my series dedicated to the past legends of the game, he only told me: "It will be an honor for me to be among the great players that appear on your series."
It's also an honor for me to have known for so many years a player and person such as Richard Dacoury. With the ball or the microphone, his profession is still the same: being a winner.