Monday, March 10, 2014

Predicting Next Retired #s In NBA*

*active players only

(Remember, Bobcats/Hornets, Clippers, Grizzlies, & Raptors don't have any retired numbers... yet.)

Locks to have their jerseys retired:

#34 Pierce (BOS)
#23 James (CLE)
#41 Nowitzki (DAL)
#1 Billups (DET)
#24 Bryant (LAL)
#6 James (MIA)
#3 Wade (MIA)
#21 Garnett (MIN)
#35 Durant (OKC)
#13 Nash (PHX)
#9 Parker (SAS)
#20 Ginobili (SAS)
#21 Duncan (SAS)

Players with a strong possibility of having numbers retired (I think):

#5 Garnett (BOS)
#20 R-Allen (BOS)
#1 Rose (CHI)
#13 Nash (DAL)
#31 Terry (DAL)
#15 Anthony (DEN)
#1 Bosh (MIA)
#34 R-Allen (MIL)
#3 Paul (NO-NOP)
#12 Howard (ORL)
#1 Stoudemire (PHX)
#15 Carter (TOR)

Other worthy/semi-worthy candidates who MAY get their jerseys retired by a particular team... one day:

#9 Rondo (BOS)
#50 Okafor (CHA) ??
#9 Deng (CHI) ?
#13 Noah (CHI)
#22 Prince (DET)
#7 J-O'Neal (IND)
#33 Granger (IND) ?
#42 Brand (LAC) ?
#2 Fisher (LAL)
#16 P-Gasol (LAL)
#16 P-Gasol (MEM)
#33 M-Gasol (MEM)
#50 Randolph (MEM) ?
#40 Haslem (MIA)
#24 R-Jefferson (NJ-BKN)
#31 Marion (PHX)
#9 Iguodala (PHI) ?
#12 Aldridge (POR)
#8 D-Williams (UTA) ?

Best young superstars (with at least 4 NBA seasons under their belts) well on path to jersey-# retirement... in the distant future:

#30 Curry (GSW)       
#13 Harden (HOU)   
#24 George (IND)       
#32 Griffin (LAC)   
#42 Love (MIN)
#0 Westbrook (OKC)           
#2 Wall (WAS)

List of NBA retired jersey numbers

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

NBA Teams TWITTER FOLLOWERS RANKINGS - February 2014


1. LAL 3,624,161
2. MIA 2,211,132
3. BOS 1,362,390
4. CHI 1,335,057
5. ORL 1,147,125
6. NYK 853,749
7. OKC 684,888
8. SAS 540,329
9. LAC 475,098
10. DAL 388,269
11. BKN 387,124
12. HOU 351,119
13. GSW 345,455
14. TOR 344,824
15. IND 324,042
16. CLE 281,920
17. PHI 276,001
18. DEN 263,536
19. PHX 248,292
20. MEM 238,349
21. POR 237,005
22. DET 233,962
23. UTA 227,022
24. MIN 221,069
25. NOP 211,576
26. WAS 204,399
27. SAC 197,953
28. MIL 195,937
29. ATL 191,518
30. CHA 182,334

Thursday, October 03, 2013

2014 World Cup of Basketball

*** Qualified teams ***


















*** Wild cards ***







Wednesday, October 02, 2013

NBA Training Camps 2013 Invitees

Note: NBA teams are allowed to bring in up to 20 players for training camp, and to have up to 15 players under contract during an NBA season (13 players dressed and in uniform for a game).

Celtics (14 players on the roster with fully/partially guaranteed contracts) *** F DeShawn Sims, F Damen Bell-Holter, G Chris Babb, G Kammron Taylor
Nets (15) *** F Gary Forbes, F Chris Johnson, G Jorge Gutierrez, G Marko Jaric
Knicks (15) *** F Justin Brownlee, F Ike Diogu, F Josh Powell, G Toure Murry, G Chris Smith
Sixers (13) *** G Vander Blue, G Darius Morris, F-G Hollis Thompson, G-F Rodney Williams, G Khalif Wyatt, C Solomon Alabi, F-C Mac Koshwal
Raptors (14) *** G Carlos Morais, G Julyan Stone, F Chris Wright
Bulls (12) *** G Patrick Christopher, G Mike James, G-F Dahntay Jones, G Kalin Lucas, C Dexter Pittman, F D.J. White
Cavs (13) *** G Matthew Dellavedova, C DeSagana Diop, F Kenny Kadji, F Michael Lee, C Henry Sims, G Jermaine Taylor, G Elliot Williams
Pistons (15) *** None.
Pacers (13) *** F-C Hilton Armstrong, G-F Rasual Butler, G-F Ron Howard, F Darnell Jackson
Bucks (15) *** G Junior Cadougan, G Trey McKinney Jones, G-F Stephen Graham, F Olek Czyz
Hawks (14) *** F Eric Dawson, G Royal Ivey, F James Johnson, G-F David Lighty, G-F Adonis Thomas, G-F Damien Wilkins
Bobcats (14) *** G Troy Daniels, G Abdul Gaddy, C Patrick O'Bryant, F James Southerland
Heat (15) *** G Larry Drew II, F Eric Griffin, C Justin Hamilton, G Roger Mason Jr., G Charlie Westbrook
Magic (15) *** C Mickell Gladness, G Manny Harris, F Solomon Jones, F Kris Joseph
Wizards (15) *** F Josh Childress, C D'or Fischer, F Pops Mensah Bonsu, G Xavier Silas
Nuggets (15) *** F Reginald Becton, G Kyle Fogg, F Damion James
T-Wolves (15) *** F-G Robbie Hummel, G-F Othyus Jeffers, G AJ Price
Thunder (15) *** G Diante Garrett, G Rodney McGruder
Blazers (15) *** G Dee Bost, F Richard Howell, F E.J. Singler
Jazz (13) *** F Mike Harris, G Scott Machado, F Dominic McGuire, F Brian Cook, G-F Justin Holiday, C Dwayne Jones, G Lester Hudson
Warriors (14) *** G Seth Curry, F Joe Alexander, C Dewayne Dedmon, G Cameron Jones
Clippers (14) *** F Brandon Davies, F Lou Amundson, G Mustapha Farrakhan, F JaMychal Green
Lakers (14) *** F Marcus Landry, C Eric Boateng, G Darius Johnson-Odom, C Dan Gadzuric
Suns (16) *** G Dionte Christmas, F James Nunnally
Kings (14) *** G Trent Lockett, G-F DeQuan Jones, C Hamady Ndiaye
Mavs (15) *** C Fab Melo, G-F D.J. Kennedy, G Richard McConnell, F Devin Ebanks, F Renaldo Balkman
Rockets (16) *** F Robert Covington, C Jordan Henriquez, G BJ Young
Grizzlies (14) *** G Josh Akognon, C-F Melvin Ely, G-F Derrick Byars, F Tony Gaffney
Pelicans (14) *** F Rodney Carney, F Lazar Hayward, F-C Arinze Onuaku
Spurs (14) *** F Corey Maggette, F Sam Young, C Marcus Cousin, G-F Courtney Fells, G Myck Kabongo, F Dan Nwaelele

Monday, September 30, 2013

12 GREATEST EUROPEAN BASKETBALL PLAYERS EVER


Honorable Mentions (18 players):
*Sasha Djordjevic* PG -- Serbian
*Sarunas Jasikevicius* PG -- Lithuanian
*Mirza Delibasic* SG -- Bosnian
*Sarunas Marciulionis* SG -- Lithuanian
*Dimitris Diamantidis* SG -- Greek
*Juan Carlos Navarro* SG -- Spaniard
*Juan Antonio San Epifanio* SF -- Spaniard
*Drazen Dalipagic* SF -- Serbian
*Sasha Danilovic* SF -- Serbian
*Dejan Bodiroga* SF -- Serbian
*Peja Stojakovic* SF -- Serbian
*Andrei Kirilenko* SF -- Russian
*Sasha Volkov* PF -- Ukrainian
*Zarko Paspalj* PF -- Serbian
*Dino Radja* PF -- Croatian
*Detlef Schrempf* PF -- German
*Rik Smits* C -- Dutchman
*Zydrunas Ilgauskas* C -- Lithuanian


THE PANTHEON OF EURO HOOPS
(players listed by date of birth)


*Radivoj Korac*
Born: November 5, 1938 (Sombor, Yugoslavia)
Died: June 2, 1969 (aged 30)
Nationality: Serbian
Power Forward
Height: 6-5
Weight: 207 lbs



Career history
1956–1967          OKK Belgrade (YUG)
1967–1968          Standard Liege (BEL)
1968–1969          Petrarca Padova (ITA)

Career highlights and awards
FIBA's 50 Greatest Players (1991)
FIBA Hall of Fame (2007)
50 Greatest Euroleague Contributors (2008)
Olympics Top Scorer (1960)
European Championship MVP (1961)
European Championship Top Scorer (1959, 1961, 1963)
Yugoslav League Top Scorer (1957, 1958, 1960, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1965)
Olympics: Silver (1968)
World Championship: Silver (1963, 1967)
European Championship: Silver (1961, 1965), Bronze (1963)
Champion of the Yugoslav League (1958, 1960, 1963, 1964)
Champion of the Belgium League (1968)

Radivoj Korac Highlights: www.youtube.com/watch?v=eWCi20Fnyog

...popularly nicknamed Žućko.
...in a two game playoff series against Swedish League champions Alvik Basket, during the 1964-65 season of the FIBA European Champions Cup (current Euroleague), he scored 170 points. He scored 71 points in the first game of the series, and 99 points in the second game of the series, for a series scoring average of 85 points per game.
...in 1969, Korac died in a car crash just outside of Sarajevo -- two years later, FIBA Europe established the Radivoj Korac Cup in his remembrance.

*Radivoj Korac's 99 points*
By Vladimir Stankovic (Note: The Stankovic articles have been edited by @Luke_Mellow.)
January 12, 2011

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!
In 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
Korac 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 the top scorer in the 1960 Rome Olympics, 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. A year before, Korac joined Standard Liege and became Belgium champ with the team in 1968-69, the last title 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.

*Radivoj Korac – The legend that lives on*
By Vladimir Stankovic
May 26, 2012

Last season, I wrote an entry about legendary Yugoslavian scorer Radivoj Korac, but then I focused on a very specific event: his 99-point effort against Alvik Stockholm in the old Champions’ Cup. That figure is still a record today and will be very difficult for anyone to overcome. This time around, I want to talk more about this exceptional man, whose life came to an end 43 years ago today, on June 2, 1969, in a tragic car accident close to Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

The basketball world, especially the older generations, knows the sporting history of this great player, whose humble character was the opposite of his on-court greatness. He was the best, but for Korac, there was no such thing as "me". All the praises he received from the press, the crowds, his teammates... he always dealt with it with incredible modesty and almost as if it didn't have anything to do with him. He was very kind, generous and always surrounded by friends.

Korac was a well-mannered man with many interests. There was no theater premiere in Belgrade at which he was not present. His group of friends included actors, singers and artists of all kinds. His record collection was the best and biggest in Belgrade as he always brought new records with him after every trip abroad. Thanks to him in fact, a music show at Radio Belgrade was able to play the Beatles for the first time ever, and his comments was: "This band will be huge." He was a lover of movies and literature, and his favorite writers were James Joyce, Norman Mailer, George Bernard Shaw and William Faulkner. His other passion was... jerseys. He had hundreds of them, of all colors. He only wore a suit on very special occasions. He was a good student of electrical engineering, even though he never got his degree. He nearly finished, but left the finishing touches "for later, when I am done with my career." Unfortunately, his life ended sooner.

A scoring machine
Korac himself said once that his first meeting with basketball was in the early 1950s in Karlovac, Croatia, where his parents - Zagorka and Bogdan - visited relatives. He started playing in Belgrade at a fairly late age by today's standards. He was 16 years old, but he was the tallest kid in class and played center. Korac played in the same position for the OKK Belgrade juniors in 1954, despite being only 1.93 meters. From the start of his career, he wore number 5 on his jersey; he viewed it as good luck because he was born on November 5, 1938. Aside from boasting a great sense for scoring from any position, something that he taught himself, his great weapon was rebounding. Korac was able to fight for the ball with taller men than himself. The official stat sheet of the Yugoslavian national team shows that Korac shares the top spot with Kresimir Cosic in this category; each averaged 7 rebounds per game.

His best friend and godfather, Dragutin Tosic, a school friend and teammate at OKK, relayed that in his first game as junior, they defeated Pancevo 33-28 as Korac scored... 33 points! In 1956 he made his debut in the OKK first team and over the following eight years was the league’s leading scorer seven times. His averages were quite impressive: in 1957 - 29.1 points; in 1958 - 35.2 ppg.; in 1960 - 37.0 ppg.; in 1962 - 30.5 ppg.; in 1963 - 34.5 ppg.; in 1964 - 26.3 ppg. and in 1965 - 31.6 ppg.. With OKK he won four league titles and three cups. His first coach at the junior level was Dragutin Glisic and in the first team his coach was Borislav Stankovic, the future Secretary General of FIBA.

Korac also played football – his brother Djordje, a sculptor, was the goalkeeper at Radnicki Belgrade – handball and athletics, where he excelled in the high jump. His great challenge was to jumping above his own height, 1.93 meters, and he did so. During his military service, Korac he was the champion in that discipline. He was also the best chess player among his mates. His coaches and teammates always said that at first sight, Korac seemed a slow and clumsy player, like he was not interested in what was happening around him. This impression fooled many of the players that guarded him because he was the opposite: fast with the ball, strong, left-handed, a good jumper... His famous left hand was precise, but he shot his free throws in a very peculiar manner by that era's standards and virtually non-existent today: "grandma style", underhand, with both hands down. He held the ball between his legs, one hand on each side. And he hardly missed.

Free throws: 100 of 100 on TV
After leaving Yugoslavia, Korac played in Belgium, where he was the star of national champion Standard Liege. In a live television interview in French – a language he learned in three months –they asked him how many free throws he would make out of 100 attempts. His answer was "About 80." The host of the show asked immediately, "Can you prove that?" When Korac said that he could, a curtain opened and a real basket appeared. Korac accepted the challenge, took off his jacket and shirt, and with his pants and shoes on, started scoring. 10, 25, 47, 62, 88, 99... and 100! No misses!
During his time in Belgium, the president of Standard gave him a car, a new model Volkswagen. Korac loved to drive, even though it's been said that he was not very good behind the wheel. In the summer of 1969, after spending a season playing for Arqua Petrarca in Italy, where of course he was the best scorer in the league, Korac drove to Belgrade in this car. The national team had a friendly game scheduled in Sarajevo and he wanted to make the trip in his car. On June 1, 1969, Yugoslavia beat Bosnia and Herzegovina 131-93 behind 35 points by Korac. Nobody would have even imagined that those were his last points. The following day, June 2, after breakfast, two cars started for Belgrade from Sarajevo. The first one was occupied by Coach Ranko Zeravica and his wife Zaga, the second by Radivoj Korac.

Just a few kilometers outside of Sarajevo, near the town of Kamenica, Korac tried to pass another car while driving uphill. The other car wouldn't let him. In the opposite lane a truck appeared. Ranko and Zaga Zeravica saw the collision in their rearview mirror. They were the first ones to try to help him. While Ranko drove to the hospital, Korac spent the last moments of his life in the backseat with Zaga. He died a few hours later. On June 3, a line more than two kilometers long of mourners said goodbye to Korac's body in Sarajevo. He was laid to rest in the "Alley of Distinguished Citizens" at the Novo Groblje cemetery complex in Belgrade. He was the first sportsman to be buried there among politicians and other celebrities.
I attended his funeral as a young journalist, with only a few months on the job under my belt, but I would have been there anyway as a fan of basketball. Radivoj Korac was an icon for us. Two years later, under a proposal from the then-Secretary General of FIBA, William Jones, the third club competition in Europe was named in Korac’s memory. When the competition disappeared in 2001, the Serbian Federation rescued the name for its national cup. A street in Belgrade was also named for Radivoj Korac in the neighborhood where he lived. His mother, Zagorka, now 100 years old, still lives there today. Today, on the 43rd anniversary of his passing, the City of Belgrade is unveiling a plaque to mark "Radivoj Korac Corner" at the foot of Knez Mihajlova Street in the town center, near the café where he had his friends met daily.

Korac was not an elegant player, but he was rational. For him, the best players he saw were Oscar Robertson, Wilt Chamberlain and Jerry Lucas. Among the Yugoslavians, he considered his best friend Ivo Daneu, Nemanja Djuric and Trajko Rajkovic to be the greatest.

With the Yugoslavian national team he won six medals: silvers at the 1961 and 1965 EuroBaskets, bronze in 1963, silvers at the 1963 and 1967 World Championships and an Olympic silver medal in Mexico 1968. He was the best scorer at the 1961, 1963 and 1965 Eurobaskets and also in the Rome Olympics. With 3,107 points, he is the fourth best scorer in the national team behind only Drazen Dalipagic (3,700), Dragan Kicanovic (3,330) and Kresimir Cosic (3,180), all of them with many more than his 146 games played. His average was 21.3 points per game, more than even Drazen Petrovic (21.0 ppg.). His best marks with the team were 42 points scored against Israel and 40 against Peru. According to a calculation based on minutes played, he was the best performer in the history of the national team. Second was Petrovic and third was Vlade Divac. After them, Kukoc, Dalipagic, Kicanovic, Radja, Rebraca, Bodiroga and Cosic. What a brilliant lineup! He was the top scorer in a game 91 times; he scored more than 20 points 83 times and four times scored more than 30.

In 1963, when during an OKK tour of Italy they made it to Padova, the signs advertising the game boasted "Petrarca vs. Korac!"

In February of this year, 4,000 spectators filled the Sava Centar in Belgrade to capacity for the official premiere of a film about Korac. Directed by Goran Matic, the title is "Ginger" - the English translation of his nickname, "Zucko." It is a documentary with reenacted scenes from his life based on the testimonies from his friends and rivals. The movie has won several awards in international festivals. (More details can be found at www.radivojkoracfilm.rs.)
Radivoj Korac, the legend that lives on.


*Sergei Belov*
Born: January 23, 1944 (Nashchyokovo, Soviet Union)
Nationality: Russian
Shooting guard
Height: 6-3
Weight: 180 lbs



Career history
1964–1967          Uralmash Sverdlovsk (USSR)
1968–1980          CSKA Moscow (USSR)

Career highlights and awards
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1992)
FIBA's 50 Greatest Players [Voted #1] (1991)
FIBA Hall of Fame (2007)
50 Greatest Euroleague Contributors (2008)
World Championship MVP (1970)
European Championship MVP (1969)
Euroleague Final Top Scorer (1970, 1972, 1974)
Olympics: Gold (1972), Bronze (1968, 1976, 1980)
World Championship: Gold (1967, 1974), Silver (1978), Bronze (1970)
European Championship: Gold (1967, 1969, 1971, 1979), Silver (1975, 1977), Bronze (1973)
Champion of the European Cup for Champion Clubs [current Euroleague] (1969, 1971)
Champion of the USSR League (1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980)

Sergei Belov Highlights: www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hy-f3C7e_kU

...regarded as a magician with the basketball.
...the "Jerry West of Russia" used his significant court presence to make the Soviet National team a force in Olympic competition.
...the first international player to be elected into the Basketball Hall of Fame.
...after each Belov team victory, opponents used to say Belov could score at will.

*Sergei Belov, officer and gentleman*
By Vladimir Stankovic
November 19, 2011

Twenty years ago, in 1991, FIBA published the results of a survey of their own about the best player in the history of FIBA basketball. The name at the top of the list was Sergei Belov, the great captain of CSKA Moscow and the USSR national team. Today, 20 years later, the result would probably be different, but nobody can deny that Belov is among our sport's greats. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield recognized this fact by inducting Belov in 1992 as the first European player ever to be included there. I had double luck: first I followed him as a player from 1967, the year of his debut with the USSR at the World Championships in Uruguay until he retired after the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. I saw him in his glory moment as the last carrier of the Olympic flame to set the torch at the Lenin Stadium in Moscow and also his last games with the national team. After that, I met Belov as a head coach and workman. We have spoken many times, but never like we did during EuroBasket 2007 in Madrid, where he gave me an interview for Euroleague.net that caught many people's attention all over Europe.

From a difficult childhood to glory
Sergei Aleksandrovitch Belov was born on January 23, 1944 in the village of Nashchyokovo, region of Tomsk. Before giving birth to Sergei, his mother survived, with her elder brother, the famous siege of Stalingrad. The father, an engineer, worked far from home and the family got back together in 1947. The gift for the small child was a football, something scarce and valuable at that time. Sergei wouldn't part with his favorite toy. He was a goalkeeper, but he also was into athletics, specifically the high jump. However, his quick growth to 1.90 meters decided his future. He started to play basketball and didn't stop until the end of a brilliant career. His first coach was Georgiy Josifovitch Res. In the summer of 1964, while in Moscow to study, Belov was seen by Aleksandar Kandel, the coach of Uralmash of the city of Sverdlovsk and he called Belov for his team. The promising teenager accepted and already in the 1964-65 season, at just 17 years old, he played in the USSR first division. In the summer of 1966, Belov made his debut with the USSR national team and in 1967 he was already a world champion in Uruguay with an average of 4.6 points. He scored a total of 32 points in the tourney (his game high was 11 against Japan).

In 1968 another key moment in Belov's life took place: he signed for CSKA Moscow and for the following 12 years, he would be the best player of the Red Army team under colonel Aleksandar Gomelskiy on the bench. Belov, like other players, was also an officer in the army, even though his only profession was playing basketball. In 1969, in Barcelona, he won his first European crown against Real Madrid. In an unforgettable game that CSKA won after double overtime (103-93), big man Vladimir Andreev was the main star with 37 points and 11 rebounds. Both Belov and Andreev played the entire 50 minutes. Belov finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds. The following year CSKA lost the final in Sarajevo against Ignis Varese 79-74 with 21 points by Belov. However in 1971 the Red Army team won the title back after beating Varese in Antwerp 67-53. Belov scored 24 points, but he also acted as a coach due to some problems for Gomelskiy at the Russian border. In 1973 he played his last final with CSKA, of course against Varese, and lost in Liege 71-66 despite scoring 34 points.

Three seconds in Munich, 1972
Sergei Belov was a player ahead of his time. He was a shooting guard, but also capable of playing point guard or small forward. Just like Dragan Kicanovic, Mirza Delibasic, Manuel Raga, Bob Morse, Walter Szczerbiak and other shooters from the era, they had to play without three-pointers, which were introduced by FIBA during the 1984-85 season. He was unstoppable in one-on-one situations and after the dribble you could count on an assist or a precise shot, many times with only one hand. He was also a great rebounder, but his best quality was his cold blood, his 100 percent concentration in crunch time. His teammates always looked for Belov for the last play or the last shot. He was a leader who transmitted security and confidence to the rest of the players and true fear to some rivals. He was a player respected by all, because of his qualities and his behavior. He was a true officer and gentleman.

With the USSR he won 15 medals: Four Olympic medals (gold in 1972, bronze in 1968, 1976 and 1980); four in World Championships (two golds, 1967 and 1974; one silver and one bronze), seven at European Championships (four golds, two silvers and one bronze). In total, seven golds, 5 silvers and 6 bronzes in the most important international competitions. His only Olympic gold was from Munich against the USA. A famous final because of the repeated last three seconds under the orders of William Jones, the then secretary general of FIBA. In September 2007, Belov told me the story of the most famous three seconds in basketball history:

"I think the decision was correct and fair. Look, when Doug Collins scored to put his team ahead 50-49, there were three seconds left, the clock showed 19:57. Ivan Edeshko put the ball inbounds and I was close to mid-court and the table was behind my back. I got hands on the ball and almost at the same time the siren stopped the game. But it wasn't the end of the game, it was a mistake because the clock now showed 19:59. There was a second left and we protested a lot because it was an obvious mistake. Time had to start running when I touched the ball, not when Edeshko passed the ball. After some moments on court that seemed to have no end for us, Jones raised his three fingers and signaled that they had those three seconds had to be played again. The rest is history... This time Edeshko passed the ball to Aleksandar Belov who faked for two American players to jump and managed to score the basket that gave us the Olympic gold."

Disappointment at home, 1980
If his most glorious moment was the 1972 gold at the Olympics in Munich, I am sure that his biggest disappointment was the Olympic Games played in Moscow in 1980. Playing at home, the USSR lost first to Italy in the group stage and later against Yugoslavia after overtime and the team was out of the title game. Some days later, he received an offer which in fact was an order:
"I got a call from the USSR Sports Minister, Sergei Pavlov, and he literally said 'From this moment, you are the USSR national team coach' and I rejected it on the spot. The Minister insisted and he repeated his offer constantly. Gomelskiy found out about the issue and through his connections he made it that the KGB wouldn't allow me to leave the country for several years... I was an officer in the Soviet army and it was easy to do that. Those were the worst years of my life and now I can say that for five years I even feared for my life!"

The darkest period in his life also coincided with the comeback from Brazil of a USSR emigrant, a friend of his. Sergei greeted him at home and this was a suspicious act for the "usual services". His problems lasted until 1988, when he returned to CSKA as coach. In 1990 he coached Italy and in 1993 he was back to Russia, where he became president of the Russian Basketball Federation until 2000. He was also the national team coach for the World Championships of Toronto in 1994 and Athens in 1998, where Russia won silver medals and also during the Barcelona EuroBasket of 1997, where it won bronze. From 1999, Belov joined Sergei Kuschenko as general manager and president to build a great team in Perm, Ural Great, which broke the dominance of CSKA Moscow and won league titles and played the new Euroleague in 2001-02 as the first Russian team in the competition. Belov still lives in Perm.

He doesn't have any doubts that he, as well as other talents of his generation like Cosic, Dalipagic or Kicanovic could have played and triumphed in the NBA, just like Arvydas Sabonis did, getting there at 31, or Pau Gasol, or Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki, Vlade Divac and so many other Europeans who showed that good basketball and good players are not an American-only privilege.


*Kresimir Cosic*
Born: November 26, 1948 (Zagreb, Yugoslavia)
Died: May 25, 1995 (aged 46)
Nationality: Croatian
Center
Height: 6-11
Weight: 210 lbs



Career history
1964–1969          Zadar (YUG)
1970–1973          BYU (NCAA)
1973–1976          Zadar (YUG)
1976–1978          Olimpija Ljubljana (YUG)
1978–1980          Virtus Bologna (ITA)
1980–1983          Cibona Zagreb (YUG)
Drafted: 1972, by the Portland Trail Blazers

Career highlights and awards
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (1996)
FIBA's 50 Greatest Players (1991)
FIBA Hall of Fame (2007)
50 Greatest Euroleague Contributors (2008)
European Championship MVP (1971, 1975)
First foreign player to earn All-America honors in the NCAA (1972, 1973)
Olympics: Gold (1980), Silver (1968, 1976)
World Championship: Gold (1970, 1978), Silver (1967, 1974),
European Championship: Gold (1973, 1975, 1977), Silver (1969, 1971, 1981), Bronze (1979)
Champion of the Yugoslavian League (1965, 1967, 1968, 1974, 1975, 1982)
Champion of the Italian League (1979, 1980)
Champion of the European Cup Winner's Cup (1982)

Kresimir Cosic Highlights: www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2k40KmUYE0

...a hero on and off the court in his native Croatia.
...equally effective playing near the basket and on the perimeter.
...Cosic's decision to attend BYU was historic -- it paved the way for international basketball players to come to America to improve their basketball skills at the collegiate level.
...in 1995, after a year-long battle with a form of cancer known as non-Hodgkins lymphoma, Cosic passed away in Baltimore, Maryland.

*Kresimir Cosic, a player ahead of his time*
By Vladimir Stankovic
November 26, 2011

This week, on November 26, he would have turned 63. However he has not been in this world for more than 16 years now. When he died on May 25, 1995, in Baltimore, USA, he was only 47, but with a past, both sporting and human, which only exceptional men can have whether they live long or short lives. And Kresimir Cosic, the player I will write about today, was a sensational player, one of those who changed the history of our sport. For the young ones who were not fortunate enough to see Cosic on the court (even if they can find a few games or plays of his on the net) I'd define him a bit like Arvydas Sabonis but 10 centimeters shorter, a lot lighter and a different body. Cosic was a 2.10-meter thin man, but with great rebounding abilities. He was officially a center, but he could play almost any position. He was a modern player way ahead of his time, because he was capable of dishing assists like the best guards, shooting from mid-range like the best forwards or blocking shots like the great big men. He was the first center who started coming out of the paint, and it was not strange to see him in the high post dribbling with one hand and telling his teammates what to do in the play. And he didn't do that because some coach asked him to. It was just his way of understanding basketball. Whatever he did had a reason and it made sense. It had logic from a smart man.

He was always the extension of the coaches on the court because basketball ran through his veins. He was a huge talent. All his teams – from when he was 16 in 1964 and made his debut with Zadar to his retirement at 35 with Cibona in 1983 – had a huge advantage by having him on the roster.

Kreso Cosic was an impulsive player, sometimes too much, and his nerves could betray him on occasion. He would explode on court angry at himself, his teammates or – more often – the refs, but he was calm again in no time. He had big hands and great timing for rebounds. Many times he could just pull the ball with one hand like an octopus and launch the fast break with a long pass. He played with his head, using his excellent technique to overcome stronger rivals like Dino Meneghin or Vladimir Tkachenko. He was no Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but he also scored with a precise sky hook. In the one-on-one with his direct defender, he had a jump shot that was always good as the ball left his hands when the rival was going down after the first fake.

Last week in Milano I bought a book, Dino Meneghin, Passi da Gigante, the autobiography of the great Italian center. On page 80 we can read:

"The best Yugoslavian players were extra-classy, but also gentlemen. I specifically think about Kreso Cosic. And I say that with love because he has not been among us for a few years. I admired him and I confess he was my weak spot. On the court he was like a chip on your shoulder, a player who could do anything and everything. To me, he was the first player ever, including in the NBA, who could play all five positions. He was a center with the brain of a playmaker. He played like an assistant point guard, or like a small forward with his 2.11. In a team there are engineers and workers. He was an engineer. A generous man, loyal and kind. Kreso opened in me a universal world in terms of personality and human values, something that was not possible with other rivals."

Natural-born talent
Cosic was born in Zagreb on November 26, 1948. However, he grew up in Zadar, a Croatian city on the Dalmatian coast with a great basketball tradition. People in Zadar have a saying: "God created man and Zadar created basketball". Zadar produced many great players, but the most famous two were Josip Gyergya and Kresimir Cosic. When Cosic, at 16 years old, started in Zadar's first team, Gyergya was the star of the team, an international with Yugoslavia and the fans’ idol. The guard-center connection worked flawlessly and Gyergya helped Cosic, who at 18 was already a member of the national team and won his first silver medal at the Uruguay World Championships in 1967. The following year, at the Mexico Olympics, he also won the silver medal while with Zadar he won three Yugoslavian Leagues: 1965, 1967 and 1968. In the summer of 1968 he was in a European team with Veikko Vainio from Finland and this meeting changed his life. Vainio, a student at Brigham Young University, told him about life in college and the life of Mormons. Cosic, who until then was some sort of enfant terrible with long hair, a smoker and "life lover," accepted the invitation and moved to the United States in 1969.

That's why Ranko Zeravica, the coach who called Cosic to the national team at only 17 years old, said the following words when on March 6, 2006, Cosic's jersey was retired at Brigham Young - before his 11 was retired, only Danny Ainge's jersey had been retired there - : "Yugoslavia had problems with Cosic before he came here because he was underdeveloped as a person and a player. But he returned to Yugoslavia a complete man and player. He came back to Yugoslavia a well-respected man. He brought back from BYU an outstanding way of behaving."

In three years, always with his jersey number 11, he averaged 19.1 points and 11.6 rebounds. He was an idol for the fans, the man who allowed for a new arena with a capacity for more than 20,000 spectators to be built. He was the first non-American ever chosen to the All-American team and a strong candidate for the NBA. He was drafted in 1972 picked by Portland with pick No. 144 in the 10th round while numbers 1 and 2 were LaRue Martin and Bob McAdoo, respectively. He was curiously drafted again the following year by the Los Angeles Lakers with number 73, but he never played in the NBA. He was too patriotic to give up his club of origin and his national team, with which he started winning it all. After two silver medals at the EuroBaskets of 1969 and 1971, Yugoslavia finally won the first gold medal in 1973 in Barcelona with Mirko Novosel on the bench. Novosel's merit was the introduction of young talent to the team: Dragan Kicanovic, Drazen Dalipagic and Zoran Slavnic, but the soul of that team was Cosic. Until Moscow 1980, where Yugoslavia won the Olympic gold, Cosic would lead this team to European titles in 1975 and 1977, a world title in 1978, a silver at the Worlds of 1974 and an Olympic silver in Montreal 1976.

His international career with Yugoslavia ended with 14 medals. Only Sergei Belov has more than he does. In 305 games (an absolute record) with the Yugoslavian team, he scored 3,180 points (third, after Dalipagic with 3,700 and Kicanovic with 3,300).

Back to Europe, respecting all the rules of his new Mormon religion, Cosic won two more titles with Zadar in 1974 and 1975. From 1976 to 1978, he was a player-coach with Olimpija Ljubljana with no titles. In 1978 he joined Virtus Bologna in Italy and he turned the team into a double-champ in Italy overnight as he averaged 35 minutes per game with 16.9 points, 9.9 rebounds and 1.6 assists. When Novosel started to build his great Cibona in Zagreb in the early 1980s, he saw Cosic as the key piece. On March 16, 1982, Cibona won in Brussels the Cup Winners’ Cup against Real Madrid after overtime 96-95 with 22 points by Cosic. Cibona would also win its first Yugoslavian League title and in 1982-83 the team made its debut in the top European competition. It was Cosic's last season and the team had an awful record in the competition, 0-10, but Novosel was looking into the future. When in the summer of 1984 he managed to sign Drazen Petrovic, the future was secured despite not having Cosic in the team. The mission had been accomplished.

Believing in youngsters
Once he retired, Kreso Cosic dedicated his life to his passion: coaching. He was named coach of the Yugoslavian national team. He made his debut at the Germany EuroBasket of 1985 with a solid team (Drazen Petrovic, Cutura, Vrankovic, Radovic, Knego, Nakic, Vucevic, Boban Petrovic...) but finished seventh. At the World Championships of 1986 in Spain, he brought in an 18-year-old kid named Vlade Divac. During the 1985-86 season, he travelled several times to Kraljevo, the city of Divac's club, to spend a week or 10 days practicing individually with the young center. Divac never forgot this and he never misses a chance to remember the great Cosic. In the semifinal against the USSR with the score 85-82 for Yugoslavia, Divac fumbled a ball which allowed Valters a three-pointer that forced overtime, and then led to Yugoslavia's loss. After the game Divac made up his mind of abandoning the sport because he was clearly not made for it. The following day, in the game for third place, the starting center was Vlade Divac. The message from Cosic was clear and loud: "I believe in you". Both won. For the 1987 EuroBasket in Athens, Cosic called young prospects like Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja and Aleksandar Djordjevic, plus Divac, Zarko Paspalj, Goran Grbovic... The bronze medal was a prize for a team full of talent. The great vision of Kreso Cosic.

I was lucky enough not to only follow many games of Cosic, but also to meet him personally and even collaborate with him during his last stint as national head coach. I was member of a "press commission" of the Yugoslavian Federation, a precedent of today's press officers. But since of the three members, I was the only one living in Belgrade, most of the practical stuff fell on me. I talked to Cosic many times because he was a perfectionist and always wanted to improve things. He was a super kind man, with a wide smile. He used to call people with the phrase "Stari" (meaning 'old man'). Almost every one of his conversations started with his famous "Listen, old man..."

He spent the last years of his life in the United States, as a Croatian diplomat. He has a statue in Zadar and the new arena bears his name. The Croatian Cup is also called "Kresimir Cosic Cup". He was buried at the Mirogoj cemetery in Zagreb, a few meters away from another basketball legend, Drazen Petrovic.

Kresimir Cosic, an unforgettable man on the court. Even more so off the court.


*Dino Meneghin*
Born: January 18, 1950 (Alano di Piave, Italy)
Nationality: Italian
Center
Height: 6-9
Weight: 240 lbs

 


Career history
1966–1980          Pallacanestro Varese (ITA)
1980–1990          Olimpia Milano (ITA)
1990–1993          Pallacanestro Trieste (ITA)
1993–1994          Olimpia Milano (ITA)
Drafted: 1970, by the Atlanta Hawks

Career highlights and awards
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (2003)
FIBA's 50 Greatest Players (1991)
FIBA Hall of Fame (2010)
50 Greatest Euroleague Contributors (2008)
European Player of the Year (1980, 1983)
Olympics: Silver (1980)
European Championship: Gold (1983), Bronze (1971, 1975)
Champion of the European Cup for Champion Clubs [current Euroleague] (1970, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1987, 1988)
Champion of the Italian League (1969, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1974, 1977, 1978, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1989)
Champion of the European Cup Winner's Cup (1967, 1980)
Champion of European Cup Radivoj Korac (1985)
   
Dino Meneghin Highlights: www.youtube.com/watch?v=4_kewUBLaPY

...big and strong, knew how to play both inside and outside, and was blessed with a knowledge of basketball's intricacies that was highly advanced.
...began his celebrated international career at age 16 and did not retire until age 44.

*Dino Meneghin, the eternal champion*
By Vladimir Stankovic
December 17, 2011

In a hypothetical contest of European basketball history knowledge, these could be 10 questions:

    What player played for 28 years in a very competitive league?
    What player won 10 European cups?
    What player reached 10 straight Champions Cup finals and won five of them?
    What player won four Intercontinental Cups?
    What player played against his son in a league game?
    What player, and his 16-year younger son, played together to be European champs with their national team?
    What player and his son were national champs with the same club?
    What player, and when, was first picked for the NBA draft?
    What player was a member of the team, team manager and president of his country's federation?
    What Italian player is featured both in the Springfield and FIBA Halls of Fame?

I could add some more to the list, but the answer would always be "Dino Meneghin." His brilliant career cannot be compared to anyone or anything. He is an unprecedented example in the history of our sport and probably of any sport. Nobody, be it as a player or be it as a director, has ever lasted that long and given that much to basketball as "Dino Nacionale."

Debut at 16 years old
The sporting career of a young, tall and strong Dino Meneghin started in the late 1950s, when the young man was with his elder brother, Renzo, in the athletics track of the Varese stadium. Renzo was a mid-distance runner while Dino, because of his physical build, was to choose between shot put and discus throw. But destiny, as so many other times, changed a life forever. In 1963, in Varese, there was a basketball tourney among a few schools. In Dino's school, the physical education teacher was Nicola "Nico" Messina, who also happened to be collaborating with Pallacanestro Varese, the local basketball club. As he was looking for players for the team to play in the tournament, Nico put his eye on Dino, a tall kid with broad shoulders.

"Have you ever played basketball before?" was the question from Nico to Dino. "No, never" was the answer. "Run back and forth and do some moves" was the next order of the coach. A couple of sprints were enough for the eye of Nico to see a talent. His next words were "Come tomorrow to the practice with a pair of basketball shoes."

In his autobiography Passi di Gigante Meneghin joyfully recalls how he went to his mother to ask for "scarpe da basket" (basketball shoes) and the answer he got from his mom was "Dino, what is basketball?"

Only three years later, on November 20, 1966 in the game between Ignis Varese and Cassera Bologna (76-54) the name of Dino Meneghin appeared for the first time on the game sheet. He was 16 years and 11 months old. Right there, right then, nobody, not even Dino himself, could ever have thought that a brilliant career that would last for 28 years and would earn him 36 trophies, was just starting.

Dino Meneghin is not, by any means, the biggest natural born talent that I have ever seen, but nobody ever earned so much respect due to his professionalism, sacrifice, desire to win, character, charisma, leadership or undisputable authority. At "only" 2.04 meters, he was not a pure center, not even during his time, but he always played close to the boards and battled against men bigger than him. His body was like the statue of a Greek god: broad shoulders, long hands and a natural strength that allowed him to fight and prevail over bigger rivals.

The long list of records
If I remember correctly, I saw Meneghin for the first time in the 1969 EuroBasket, played in Caserta and Naples. He was younger than Ossola, Recalcati, Bariviera, Massini, Zanata, Brumati and Bisson. But the first game I vividly remember with him was in the World Championship of 1970 in Ljubljana, between Italy and Yugoslavia. It was the first game, very tense and only solved in the last plays thanks to a genius Kresimir Cosic, who authored 27 points and 22 rebounds. Meneghin finished with 10 points in his first duel with Cosic, who was two years older than him. Their rivalry would last for another 13 years until the very last face off at the 1983 EuroBasket in Nantes, France with a win for Italy, 91-76. But above everything, there will always be the maximum respect between the two big men, the best of their era. It's not by chance that Meneghin remembers with respect and love his biggest rival, Kresimir Cosic.

That same 1970, Dino Meneghin also became the first European player to be selected in the NBA Draft. Yes, he was in the 11th (last) round, chosen by the Atlanta Hawks, but he never played in the NBA because, at the time, that meant giving up the national team. Dino's world was Europe and for many years he played in his club of origin, Ignis Varese. From his debut in 1966 until 1980, he played there and won seven Italian leagues, four Italian cups and five European crowns – and played 10 straight finals in the top European competition – as well as three Intercontinental Cups and a pair of Cup Winner's Cups. Truth be told, he did not play the 1975 Cup for Champion Clubs final against Real Madrid (79-66) because he broke his hand one week before the big game, but the win was also his. In his nine finals played with Ignis, he scored more than 20 points six times!

When Dino decided to sign for Olimpia Milano in the 1980-81 season, he was already a veteran. However, in the following nine years he would extend his résumé with five more Italian leagues, two Italian cups, two European crowns, one Intercontinental Cup and a Korac Cup. In 1990, already at age 40, he accepted the call from Bogdan Tanjevic, the then coach of Pallacanestro Trieste, who was starting to build a great team by signing future stars like Gregor Fucka, Claudio Pilutti and Alessandro de Pol... All that was missing was an expert hand, and Dino Meneghin, despite his age, was the perfect solution. In 1994, coaching Olimpia Milano, Tanjevic would also have Dejan Bodiroga in the team, and a great team finally gelled to win the double crown in Italy in 1995-96: the league and the cup. Dino did not play then as he retired by the end of 1993-94, but the triumph of the team had a lot to do with the great Dino.

Behind him were 28 seasons, 834 games, 8,560 points (10 per game plus 6.7 rebounds) plus 271 games with the Italian national team and 2,947 points. Only the great shooter Antonello Riva scored more. I was lucky to see his biggest successes with Italy: a bronze medal in the 1975 EuroBasket in Belgrade; a silver medal at the 1980 Moscow Olympics and, most of all, the gold medal at the 1983 EuroBasket in Nantes. He was part of a great Italy team with Marzorati, Bonamico, Costa, Vilalta, Riva, Sachetti, Brunamonti, Tonut and Vechiato. Dino finished in the tourney with 11.3 points per game, but he was a player whose real importance could never be revealed by stats alone. He was a leader and an authority for his teammates, rivals, fans and even the referees.

The most emotional moment of his career was probably on November 15, 1990, when, playing for Stefanel, he had to face his former Varese team where Andrea Meneghin, a 16-year old kid, was playing. It was a father-and-son duel. The father won (93-89) as Dino scored 6 points and pulled 4 boards while Andrea, in 7 minutes on court, didn't score. Andrea made his debut in the first team at the same age as his father did and won the league with Varese on May 6, 1999, against Benetton Treviso 77-71 with 15 points by Andrea. That same year, Italy won its second gold medal in the EuroBasket in France with a key Andrea Meneghin, who averaged 11.2 points in over 30 minutes per game. Dino was on the bench as team manager. The coach was Tanjevic, an important man for the two Meneghins.

In 2003, Dino Meneghin entered the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield and thus became the second Italian to achieve that honor after only Cesare Rubini. In 2010 he was inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame. Since February 7, 2009, he has been the president of the Italian Basketball Federation with a huge challenge in front of him: taking Italy back to the level it had when Dino was on the courts -- when he was a great player, as great as a basketball Dino(saur)!


*Nikos Galis*
Born: July 23, 1957 (Union City, New Jersey)
Nationality: Greek / American
Shooting Guard
Height: 6-0
Weight: 180 lbs



Career history
1975-1979           Seton Hall (NCAA)
1979–1992          Aris Thessaloniki (GRE)
1992–1995          Panathinaikos Athens (GRE)
Drafted: 1979, by the Boston Celtics

Career highlights and awards
FIBA's 50 Greatest Players (1991)
FIBA Hall of Fame (2007)
50 Greatest Euroleague Contributors (2008)
World Championship Top Scorer (1986)
European Championship MVP (1987)
European Championship Top Scorer (1983, 1987, 1989, 1991)
European Player of the Year -- Mr. Europa & Euroscar -- (1987)
European Cup for Champion Clubs [current Euroleague] Top Scorer (1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1994)
Greek League MVP (1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992)
Greek League Top Scorer (1981, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1989, 1990, 1991)
European Championship: Gold (1987), Silver (1989)
Champion of the Greek League (1983, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991)


...one of the biggest scoring-machines in basketball's history: averaged over 30 points a game during his 16-year career in Europe (both in the national and continental club competitions). The vast majority of his points scored came inside the paint area due to his penetrating ability.
...another enormous competitive advantage that Galis possessed was his incredible stamina, which was due to his exemplary physical condition. This led to his being given the nickname of "Iron Man."
...the child of a poor immigrant family from Rhodes, Greece. Following in his father's footsteps, Galis took up boxing in his early years. Fearful of seeing him come home with his face covered in blood, his mother intervened to persuade him to take up something else. He didn't find football attractive, so he took up the other most popular sport in the New Jersey neighborhoods: basketball.

*Nikos Galis, a scoring machine*
By Vladimir Stankovic
December 10, 2011

In the history of the Euroleague there have been several great players who, despite brilliant careers, are missing an important title: the Euroleague championship. I have already written about a few of them in recent weeks like Dragan Kicanovic and Kresmir Cosic. And I will write about some more in the coming weeks and months. One of them is the legendary Nikos Galis, one of the biggest figures in European and world basketball in the 1980s. If I had to define Galis in a few words, it would be easy: A scoring machine. I have seen many great scorers and it is hard to choose one of them as “The Best.” However, in an imaginary selection of players I would surely include Radivoj Korac, Nikola Plecas, Drazen Petrovic, Oscar Schmidt, Drazen Dalipagic, Kicanovic, Manuel Raga, Bob Morse, Juan Antonio San Epifanio and, of course, Nikos Galis.

Compared to the rest of players in this list, Galis had a big disadvantage: height. He was only 1.83 meters tall, which in theory is very little, even for point guards. But for most of his career, Galis got away as an unstoppable shooting guard! It was unbelievably easy for him to score and he could do it in every imaginable way. He could shoot from mid-range or behind the arc. He could penetrate, run the fast break or even jump higher than taller opponents. His specialty was the contact shot, with the hand or the whole body of the rival on his right wrist. He was almost always shorter than his defenders, but he was also always stronger and better prepared physically. He could play 40 minutes with no problems and could jump for clean shots.

From the ring to the court
Nikos Galis was born in New Jersey, USA, on July 27, 1957 as Nikolaos Georgallis. His parents, Georgios and Stela, were Greek emigrants with their roots in the island of Rhodes. Nikos's father was an amateur boxer. He thought that boxing was ideal for his short, strong son. Until age 15, Galis also boxed, but the constant pressure from his mother led him to switch sports. He tried American football, but he soon turned to basketball and in a short time, as a point guard, he became the best player on his high school team and in 1975 entered Seton Hall University, where coach Bill Rafferty changed his position to shooting guard. The result was mind blowing. In 1978-79, Galis finished as the third best scorer in the NCAA with an average of 27.5 points per game, behind only Larry Bird (28.6 ppg.) and Lawrence Butler (30.1 ppg.). His scoring average over four years of college was 20.3 points. In April 1979, he played in the college basketball all-star game in Hawaii and everything pointed towards a great future in the NBA draft. However, his agents seemed to be more focused on managing singer Diana Ross and Galis slipped to the fourth round, where he was selected by the Boston Celtics. He had to go through the Summer camps and fight with several other players for one or two free spots on the team. An injury kept him sidelined and when he returned, the Celtics' roster was already closed, so coach Bill Fitch wished him better luck for the following year.

It's difficult to know whether Boston, with this decision, lost a great player. But there is no doubt that European basketball, especially Greek basketball, got the better side of the deal. A neighbor in New Jersey, Leas Mat, who was also of Greek origin, tried to convince Nikos to go to Greece to play for Panathinaikos. But Nikos didn't want to go far from home and also refused an offer from Olympiacos. The clubs only offered him long contracts and he wanted a one-year deal so the next summer he could try for the NBA again. The third club that tried to sign Nikos Georgallis was Aris Thessaloniki. The president of the club was Menelaos Hagigeorgiu and he travelled to New Jersey. With his sincere words he convinced Nikos's parents and after that, Nikos himself. But the deal was for one year only, until the end of the season.

His arrival to Thessaloniki brought about many doubts, especially because of his physical looks. Instead of a shooting guard or a tall forward, a young kid appeared whose body didn't promise especially good things. He spoke Greek poorly and could not express himself well or understand what was wanted from him. But from the first practice, and later when the games started, the "little American" shut everyone's mouths. He scored with unbelievable ease. Defenses would switch on him, but nobody could stop the rain.

His official debut came on December 2, 1979 against Iraklis. Galis finished the game with 30 points. At the beginning of 1980, a new coach arrived at the Aris bench: Dusan Ivkovic, the Serbian coach who led Partizan to the Yugoslavian League title in 1979. He saw Galis's enormous potential on the spot. Galis soon became the idol of the fans, and not only Aris's. He finished the season as third-best scorer in the league averaging 31.4 points -- there was a player who scored more than him, Panagiotis Giannakis of the small Athens club, Ionikos, with 36.5.

Already in 1980, Galis made his debut with the Greek national team against Sweden and scored his first 12 points. From then he enjoyed life in Greece and decided to forget about the NBA and signed again with Aris. He finished the next season with an average of 44.0 points (!) and against Ionikos set a Greek League record with 63 points. However, Aris finished third after Panathinaikos and Olympiacos. In the 1983-84 season Aris lost the title in the tiebreaker against Panathinaikos played at the isle of Corfus. New coach Giannis Ioannidis was also becoming an important part of Galis's career, but there was still something missing. When the club directors managed to sign Giannakis from Ionikos, and 2.17-meter big man Kokolakis, all the pieces of the puzzle were in place.

Already in the first season, the Galis/Giannakis duo worked perfectly. Aris won the Greek League with only one loss and Galis was the best scorer with an average of 37.1 points. They key was that Galis and Giannakis switched from point to shooting guard as they pleased. It was the birth of one of the best duos ever in European basketball.

Miracle in Piraeus
In 1986-87, a playoff was introduced in the Greek league. Aris won the title again with no defeats and Galis scored a total of 808 points for an average of 39.7! In his best year, Galis earned his crown by leading the Greek national team to the EuroBasket title in 1987 at the Peace and Friendship Stadium in Greece. Galis was already a well-known and respected player in Europe. In the 1981 EuroBasket, he was named to the all-tournament team, and again in France 1983. He was the top scorer, with 33.5 points per game, at the Spain World Championships of 1986. With his personal best coming against Panama with 53 points, Galis outscored for the first time Oscar Schmidt in an international competition. The victims of Greece and Galis at the European Championships in 1987, until the final, were Romania (Galis, 44 points), Yugoslavia (again, 44), Spain (35), USSR (31), France (34), Italy (38), Yugoslavia again in semis (30). But his big day was on June 17. In front of 17,000 fans, Nikos Galis scored 40 points against the USSR and, thanks to him, Greece claimed the title in overtime, 103-101. His average was 37.0 points. He only committed 7 fouls throughout the tourney. He was chosen MVP with a vast majority of votes and he was also named best player in Europe through the survey at Italian paper Gazzetta dello Sport. He is still the best scorer in EuroBasket history with a total of 1,032 points. He was a great scorer, but also a generous player. In FIBA competitions, his 23 assists in a Saporta Cup game in 1990 are still the record. There was a before and an after with that historic game against the USSR. Galis became the most popular sportsman ever in Greece. He was an idol, a sports icon and a symbol of national pride. Thanks to him, the Greek Basketball Federation saw its numbers of registered basketball players to go from 92,731 in 1987 to 163,000 in 1991!

The first European millionaire
All the European greats wanted to sign Galis, but he loved his Thessaloniki. He used his genius on court and his popularity to make a lot of money. Prior to the 1987 EuroBasket, he played for $150,000 a year. After that he improved his salary to $700,000 and not much later he became the first European player with a contract over $1,000,000 dollars, apart from many publicity contracts. In Greece he is considered the player to have earned the most money of all time, but nobody can deny that he earned every penny. The fact that over 12 seasons he only lost 6 games and played in 97% of them (including 99 in a row) says everything about his professionalism. He won eight league titles and seven cups. He was top scorer in the Greek League 11 times. He was the best passer four times and was European champ with his national team.

With Aris, Galis went to three straight Euroleague Final Fours: Ghent 1988, Munich 1989 and Zaragoza 1990, but Aris always lost in the semis despite his points. At the 1989 EuroBasket, Greece won the silver medal and Galis finished with an average of 35.6 points for a total of 178. He was also a member of the all-tournament team with Drazen Petrovic, Zarko Paspalj, Vlade Divac and Arvydas Sabonis. He was top scorer in four EuroBaskets, like the legendary Korac. At the 1991 EuroBasket in Rome, Galis scored his 5,000th points for Greece against Czechoslovakia and FIBA allowed for the game to be stopped so everybody could pay tribute to the legendary scorer. His international career ended with 167 games and 5,130 points (30.5 ppg.) while Giannakis was second with 4,214 points in 272 games.

In the 1991-92 season Galis lost the scoring throne despite posting 32.1 points per game. Zarko Paspalj, the new Olympiacos star, beat him. For the first time since 1985, Aris did not win the Greek title and was third behind PAOK and Olympiacos. His golden years at Aris were coming to an end. For the 1992-93 season he finally left Thessaloniki and joined Panathinaikos, who used him as an answer for Olympiacos bringing in Paspalj. He finished with 23.6 points and 6.7 assists in the league as the Greens won the cup. The following year he averaged 18.8 points and reached his fourth Final Four in Tel Aviv, but lost in the semis against archrival Olympiacos. He finished his career at age 37 after the 1994-95 season in which he averaged 12.8 points and 3.6 assists. Panathinaikos reached the Zaragoza Final Four, but already without him. His last two games in the European Cup were against Budivelnik, with 16 and 23 points. He officially retired on September 29, 1995.

In September of 2007 he entered the FIBA Hall of Fame and in 2008 he was chosen by the Euroleague among the 35 players to be honored among the 50 Greatest Contributors to basketball for the 50th Anniversary of European competitions. The Naismith Hall of Fame in Springfield still waits for him, but he will get in because he deserves it. He was rather closed as a player. Galis didn't speak much and he tried to avoid journalists. He was a tough negotiator, but he was a scoring machine on the court. He stayed in "his" Thessaloniki forever saying that he loves the Greek way of life. After giving up his camp in Halkidiki several years ago, today Galis has no relation to basketball whatsoever. He doesn't visit Aris games either. He lives a quiet life. But the ones who were lucky enough to see him play can tell the young ones that, Once Upon a Time there was a super scorer named Nikos Geor(Galis).


*Drazen Petrovic*
Born: October 22, 1964 (Sibenik, Yugoslavia)
Died: June 7, 1993 (aged 28)
Nationality: Croatian
Shooting Guard
Height: 6-5
Weight: 195 lbs



Career history
1979–1983          Sibenka Sibenik (YUG)
1984–1988          Cibona Zagreb (YUG)
1988–1989          Real Madrid (ESP)
1989–1991          Portland Trail Blazers (NBA)
1991–1993          New Jersey Nets (NBA)
Drafted: 1986, by the Portland Trail Blazers

Career highlights and awards
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (2002)
FIBA's 50 Greatest Players (1991)
FIBA Hall of Fame (2007)
50 Greatest Euroleague Contributors (2008)
World Championship MVP (1986)
European Championship MVP (1989)
European Player of the Year – Euroscar (1986, 1989, 1992, 1993), -- Mr. Europa (1986, 1993)
All-NBA Third Team (1993)
#3 Retired by New Jersey Nets (1993)
Spanish ACB League Top Scorer (1989)
Olympics: Silver (1988-YUG, 1992-CRO), Bronze (1984-YUG)
World Championship: Gold (1990-YUG), Bronze (1986-YUG),
European Championship: Gold (1989-YUG), Bronze (1987-YUG)
Champion of the European Cup for Champion Clubs [current Euroleague] (1985, 1986)
Champion of the European Cup Winner's Cup (1987, 1989)
Champion of the Yugoslavian League (1985)


...Petrovic had such artistic skills on the basketball court that those who saw him play called him the "Mozart of Basketball" and/or "Amadeus."
...an offensive force with limitless range on his perfectly-released jump shot and explosive moves to the hoop.
...once scored 112 points in a 1985 Yugoslav League game by hitting 40 of 60 shots from the field.
...Petrovic's skills propelled him into a brief career in the NBA (he experienced a break-out following a trade to the Nets,  becoming one of the league's best shooting guards) cut short by his tragic death at the age of 28 in a car accident in Germany.

*Drazen Petrovic, an unfinished symphony*
By Vladimir Stankovic
January 21, 2013

This week I spoke to Biserka Petrovic, the mother of the late basketball genius Drazen Petrovic, who was born on October 22, 1964 in Sibenik, Croatia and died on June 7, 1993 in Denkendorf, Germany. His mother and biggest fan, who is also the driving force behind the Drazen Petrovic Museum and Foundation, wants to commemorate the 20th anniversary of his death with a game between KK Cibona Zagreb and the New Jersey (now Brooklyn) Nets, the two teams for which Drazen had his best performances in his short, but great career. It is an idea that deserves support. I really hope that such a game could take place next October at Zagreb Arena. Drazen deserves this effort.

Slavnic, a prophet
Drazen Petrovic. It was in the fall of 1979 when I heard his name for the first time. The one who uttered it was Zoran "Moka" Slavnic, who by then was a player-coach at Sibenka, before a group of journalists during a game in Belgrade. "In Sibenik there is a kid who will be better than Kicanovic and me. He is a natural-born talent and he also has good work ethics. He is very ambitious and does unbelievable things. His name is Drazen Petrovic. Remember this name."

And I did remember. Some months later, specifically on December 29 of 1979, and during the game between Sibenka and OKK Belgrade, Drazen Petrovic scored his first point in the Yugoslav first division at 15 years, 2 months and 7 days old. Slavnic left the court and substituted himself with the kid who would become a legend. With his first basket he showed his character to everyone: he crossed the paint of the opponents through the middle, finding giant big man Rajko Zizic (2.10) in the way, and with a combination of courage and easiness, virtues of the greats, he scored a hook shot.

At the 1981 European championships for cadets in Greece, despite being part of a strong class of players - Perasovic, Vrankovic, Sretenovic, Radunovic and others - Drazen was already the undisputed leader. There was no TV at the tournament, but we could follow his records through the press: 31 points against Finland, 41 against Spain, 42 against Israel, 37 against France, 43 against Greece. He totalled 227 points, averaging 32.5. A star was born.

That was the start of a brilliant career that, unfortunately, only lasted for 14 years. On June 7 of 1993, a car accident on a German highway put an end to the life of a great basketball player. Petrovic was only 28 and still had many brilliant seasons ahead of him. As a matter of fact, 1992-93 was his best season in the NBA, as he played 70 games with the New Jersey Nets, averaging 22.3 points and securing a spot in the All-NBA 3rd team that year. That season he also had great numbers from the arc - 75 of 167 for a 45%. He was about to sign a new contract, he was desired by the best NBA teams and Panathinaikos was also offering him huge amounts of money to return to Europe. Among the personal things that his parents, Biserka and Jole, and his elder brother, Aleksandar, found in his apartment was a piece of paper with the name of three NBA franchises: New Jersey, New York and Houston.

His job: winner
His talent exploded in the 1981-82 season, in which he finished with a 16.3-point scoring average in the Yugoslav League and then went on to become the clear leader of Sibenka the following campaign with an average of 24.5 points. Unfortunately, that great 1982-83 season finished with a scandal in the final between Sibenka and Bosna, in the third and final game of the series. It was played on Sibenka's home court, the regular season champ. In the final minutes, and after losing a 19-point advantage because of Drazen's points, Bosna was only one point ahead, 81-82, but the last posession was for the hosts. With 2 seconds to go, young Drazen got the ball, pulled up and... missed the shot. The end? No, because referee Matijevic called a foul on Sabit Hadzic over Drazen, sending the latter to the foul line. With the roar of the crowd in the stands and after a long timeout, Petrovic, being the champion he was, increased his account to 40 points scoring both attempts and making it 83-82. The champion received his trophy and the city of Sibenik celebrated all night long.

Early next morning, in an emergency meeting of the executive organ of the basketball federation and "because of the clear mistake by referee Matijevic", the final result was declared null and the game had to be repeated one week later in neutral ground, in the city of Novi Sad. It was one o'clock in the afternoon and the Petrovic family still had not waken up from the previous long night when I told them the bad news. First, to the mother Biserka, and later to Drazen. "I am not going to Novi Sad, and I don't think the rest of the team will either. We are the champions and nobody will take this title away from us". That was the fast reply I got from the young player.

Said and done. Sibenka never appeared in Novi Sad and Bosna was declared champion without even playing the game.

The coach of Sibenka those days, Vlado Djurovich, explains this winning character of the player. Some years ago he told me some details about that famous final. "During the timeout one minute before the free throws, I begged Drazen to score only the first one and miss the second so we could play overtime. We had the feeling that there would be trouble and we were convinced that we would win easily in the extra period. But no. Drazen didn't want to miss a free throw on purpose."

With Sibenka, Petrovic lost two Korac Cup finals, both against the same rival, Limoges of France. My guess is that he wanted revenge on the French team and that's why on January 23 of 1986, in a Cibona vs. Limoges game in the Euroleague, he did everything he could. In minute 13, and with a 27-43 score, things looked bad for Cibona, but then Drazen had one of his unforgettable performances. In seven straight plays he scored seven straight threes-pointers! Cibona ended up winning, 116-106. Drazen finished with 51 points after shooting 70% from the field, but he also had 10 assists.

Drazen's Cibona team won the Euroleague twice and then also won a Cup Winners' Cup. Every home game he played drew 12,000 fans. Those were the years when my Italian colleague Enrico Campana, from Gazzetta dello Sport, called him "Mozart" for the first time. Soon after, Drazen gave his Cafe Bar in the Cibona arena the name of "Amadeus".

The man of the records
In 1988, after the Olympic Games in Seoul, his cycle in the former Yugoslavia came to an end after 197 games with Sibenka and Cibona. He combined for 5,113 points between them, an average of 26.0 points per game. Drazen was searching for new challenges and Real Madrid of Spain became his new destination. He played a great season with impressive numbers (28.2 points in 36 regular season games and 11 playoff games). But one of his best games ever arrived in the final of the Cup Winners' Cup in Athens, against Snaidero Caserta of Italy, in which he scored 62 points! He also won the direct duel with Oscar Schmidt, who was one of the best shooters ever in world basketball. Drazen's scoring record was 112 points for Cibona against Olimpija Ljubljana, even though it's worth noting that Olimpija was sanctioned to play that game with the junior players.

I was a witness to his debut with the Yugoslav national team at the 1983 EuroBasket in Limoges and Nantes, France. He was the youngest player on the team. On one side, there were legends in the sunset of their careers - Cosic, Kicanovic or Slavnic - and on the other, the new star Drazen. His debut was not very happy because Yugoslavia finished seventh. The following year, at the Los Angeles Olympics, Yugoslavia won the bronze medal after having lost to Spain in semis. It was his first big trophy if we ignore the "lost" league title of 1983.

In the 1986 World Championships in Spain (bronze medal) he was already an international star, as in the Athens EuroBasket of 1987 (bronze) or the 1988 Olympics (silver). Finally, the gold arrived. It was at the Zagreb EuroBasket of 1989, in the court that saw him shine from 1984 to 1988 winning everything that could be won with Cibona. His scoring average was 30 points. The following year, in the Buenos Aires World Championships, he won the gold again and it would be his last. Drazen had landed to the tournament already as an NBA player after a not-so-happy debut with the Portland Trail Blazers, where coach Rick Adelman never trusted him.

After seven years with the Yugoslav national team, he had played 135 games and had scored 2,830 points. Ahead of him, with many more games played, were only Drazen Dalipagic, Dragan Kicanovic, Kresimir Cosic and Radivoj Korac. But if we add up all his points in all categories of the national team, Drazen is the best scorer with 3,979 points. His 47 points against the Netherlands in Spain in 1986 are still the best individual mark. He scored more than 30 points 27 times and more than 20 points 75 times. Of his 135 games with the national team, he was the top scorer on 79 occasions. He was a truly restless scoring machine.

Starting in 1992 he played with the national team of Croatia a total 40 games for 1,004 points (25.1 per game). He won the silver medal at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. It was a great prize for him and his teammates.

Following the Olympics came his best season in the NBA. He averaged 22.3 points on 52% field goal shooting, 45% from three-point distance. In February, however, he suffered the injustice of being left out of the All-Star Game despite totally deserving it after a few weeks of having shot 67% on three-pointers. When he was invited to the three-point shooting contest, Drazen declined, saying: "If I am not in the All-Star Game this year, when will I be?"

His last game with the Croatian team was in Wroclaw on June 6, 1993 against Slovenia in a qualifying tournament for the EuroBasket that was to be played in Germany that same year. There he scored his last 30 points. The following day destiny led him to make a wrong decision. Instead of going back to Zagreb with his teammates, he decided to spend a couple days off in Germany with his girlfriend, and took the car to his death.

What kind of person was Drazen Petrovic? I would say that there were two personalities inside him. On the court he was a lion who didn't fear anything or anyone, but in his private life he was silent, well mannered and kind. Basketball was his life. Maybe he took practices too far but that made him happy. Coaches helped him with the technical work, but most of what he accomplished, he did on his own. When it was time to practice, he never seemed to get enough. Starting in his junior years in Sibenik, he maintained an unbelievable pace. He arrived at 7 in the morning before going to school, trying several hundred free throws every day.

What kind of player was Drazen Petrovic? He was an individualist, great at going one-on-one, with a perfect shot, fast and with great strength, especially in his last NBA years. He played primarily as playmaker and did so really well, even though he preferred being the shooting guard. He was the classic killer who could almost beat a team by himself. But, was he also arrogant, egocentric and selfish? Maybe in some moments, but only when the game called for it and the atmosphere made him fly. But if we take a look at the number of assists, especially in the national teams, we find another Drazen, the one who made the Toni Kukoc saying a reality: "A basket makes one player happy, but an assist makes two players happy". Petrovic brought happiness to all basketball lovers with his game. His way of understanding life was apparently - only apparently - simple: "Today, I want to improve more than yesterday, but less than tomorrow."

And he did so, until that tragic day of June 7, 1993.


*Arvydas Sabonis*
Born: December 19, 1964 (Kaunas, Soviet Union)
Nationality: Lithuanian
Center
Height: 7-3
Weight 292 lbs



Career history
1981–1989          Zalgiris Kaunas (USSR)
1989–1992          Forum Valladolid (ESP)
1992–1995          Real Madrid (ESP)
1995–2001          Portland Trail Blazers (NBA)
2001–2002          Zalgiris Kaunas (LTU)
2002–2003          Portland Trail Blazers (NBA)
2003–2005          Zalgiris Kaunas (LTU)
Drafted: 1986, by the Portland Trail Blazers

Career highlights and awards
Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame (2011)
FIBA's 50 Greatest Players (1991)
FIBA Hall of Fame (2010)
50 Greatest Euroleague Contributors (2008)
European Championship MVP (1985)
European Player of the Year -- Euroscar (1984, 1985, 1988, 1995, 1997, 1999), -- Mr. Europa (1985, 1997)
Euroleague Final Four MVP (1995)
Euroleague Regular Season MVP (2004)
Spanish ACB League MVP (1994,  1995)
Spanish ACB League Finals MVP (1993, 1994)
NBA All-Rookie Team (1996)
Olympics: Gold (1988-USSR), Bronze (1992-LTU, 1996-LTU)
World Championship: Gold (1982-USSR), Silver (1986-USSR),
European Championship: Gold (1985-USSR), Silver (1995-LTU), Bronze (1983-USSR, 1989-USSR)
Euroleague Champion (1995)
Champion of the Soviet Union League (1985, 1986, 1987)
Champion of the Spanish ACB League (1993, 1994)
Champion of the Lithuanian League (2004, 2005)


...tall and strong with soft hands, terrific timing, unique court vision, and shooting range up to the three point line.
...dominated the European scene for 15 seasons.
...arrived to the NBA bruised and a little beat up, but ready to showcase his talents for the rest of the non-European world to see.
...one of the greatest playmakers from the center position in basketball, the 7’3” Sabonis laced perfect passes to cutters on the perimeter and found open teammates in the interior. He was an equally effective scorer, shooting a soft hook shot or finishing strong going to the basket.
...in the spring of 1987 suffered a devastating injury, rupturing his right Achilles tendon.

*Arvydas Sabonis, the Lithuanian tsar*
By Vladimir Stankovic
February 25, 2013

At the 1983 EuroBasket in Nantes, France, I came across Arvydas Sabonis in a nearby mall. By then he was the young center of the USSR team. It was his second competition at a senior level because, with his enormous talent, he basically skipped the junior period in his career. After having played the cadet European championship in 1981 in Greece, where the USSR was crowned champion with 17 points per game by Sabas, he was already a great talent. One year later, while his generational peers - Sarunas Marciulionis, Valery Tikhonenko, Josechu Biriukov, Igors Miglinieks and others - played the junior European championship, Sabonis was in the World Championships in Colombia with the seniors, alongside Sergey Tarakanov, Valdis Valters, Vladimir Tkachenko, Anatoly Mishkin, Aleksandar Belosteny, Sergejus Jovaisa, Valdemaras Chomicius... He was less than 18 years old at the time, having been born on December 19, 1964 in Kaunas, Lithuania. The USSR became world champion beating the USA by 95-94, with a scoreless Sabonis, even though his talent helped his team reach the title game. For instance, he scored 28 points against the hosts, Colombia.

Let me go back to my enocunter with Sabonis. We had a cup of coffee, he was very kind. We talked a little but enough for me to put together a short interview with the future superstar of world basketball. From our conversation, I only remember a single sentence: "I will never play for CSKA Moscow" he told me. When I was back home, I was looking through the pages of the Borba newspaper, the one I was sports chief in, and I never found the interview with Sabonis. When I asked my work peers what had happened, they told me: "We didn't have much space those days, and since he is an unknown player..."

Shortly after, interviews with Sabonis were world exclusives but my peers made the typical mistake of the coach who fires a young talent, future superstar, from a club because he has "no talent". Years later, fortunately, I had the chance to know Arvydas a little better, make several interviews with him, talking to him several more times in a casual way and, most of all, enjoying his game.

Pure talent
Arvydas Sabonis was an unrepeatable player. In my almost 50 years following basketball I have never seen a player similar to him. There were taller players, more celebrated players, but never did someone with his height (2.20 meters) have that much talent in him. I couldn't even mention what aspect of the game was his strongest point: rebounds, shooting, assists, game vision, leadership... He was a natural-born talent, a giant born to play basketball and do big things in this sport.

If I had to compare him to someone I can only think about Kresimir Cosic, the great Croatian center of Zadar and the Yugoslav national team. Even though both played center, they didn't look like each other physically, but their game had many resemblances. Cosic was a visionary, the first big man to ever play at all positions. He had great game vision, he went to the perimeter to deliver playmaker assists and, especially, he understood basketball like nobody else. His main weapon was his basketball IQ. Sabonis was like his pupil, but even with a few more qualities in him: he was 10 centimeters taller, with a stronger body, a better long-range shot (he scored many threes). Both changed basketball, were icons of their respective eras, and led their teams and national teams to the top. The only time they coincided in a big competition was in the 1983 Nantes EuroBasket, but Yugoslavia and the USSR never played each other there and we didn't have the chance to see, even if in a symbolic way, the duel between the two greatest centers of all time in European basketball. Cosic was 35, Sabas was 19.

After Nantes, where USSR was third after losing to Spain in semis by 94-95, Sabonis played the junior world championships in Palma de Mallorca and didn't win the gold medal either, because the young Americans were better in the title game (78-82), but his 18.5-point average confirmed that a new star was born.

After missing the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics due to the USSR boycott, Sabas was back to the big stages at the Stuttgart EuroBasket of 1985, where the USSR domination was overwhelming and he was chosen MVP. In the final, Czechoslovakia fell by 89-120 with 23 points and 15 rebounds by Sabas. His average was 20 points. The all tournament team included Valdis Valters (USSR), Drazen Petrovic (Yugoslavia), Detlef Schrempf (West Germany), Fernando Martin (Spain) and Arvydas Sabonis (USSR). Some starting five! That same year, on March 19, his team, Zalgiris Kaunas, reached its first European final. It was the Cup Champions Cup against FC Barcelona in Grenoble and Zalgiris lost by 73-77 despite Rimas Kurtinaitis' 36 points. Sabonis had one of his usual double-doubles, 14 points and 16 rebounds.

The following year, Zalgiris, as USSR champion, represented the country in the Champions Cup, now the Euroleague, and reached the title game where it had to square off against Cibona Zagreb, the defending champ after having beaten Real Madrid the previous year in Athens. The game was played in Budapest on April 3 and didn't end well for Sabas. His team lost by 82-94 while referees Costas Rigas of Greece and Vittorio Fiorito of Italy expelled Sabonis, who to that point had 27 points and 14 rebounds, in minute 31 after a blow in the face to Mihovil Nakic, as an answer to a provocation. His European dream at club level would have to wait.

The second disappointment that year arrived at the World Championships in Spain. After coming back from 9 points against Yugoslavia with 41 seconds to go, the USSR was the favorite to win the title game against the USA, but lost 85-87 against a good American team led by David Robinson, Rony Seikaly, Sean Elliot, Brian Shaw and the excellent playmaker Tyrone Bogues, who stood only 1.60 meters.

Olympic gold
In the middle of the eighties, Sabonis started to suffer injuries, which would become his biggest enemies throughout his career. Ankles, knees and especially his tendons started to suffer the consequences of such an effort made by such a big man. After missing almost all of 1987, he was back for the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, South Korea. His start was not that promising because in the first game against Yugoslavia, the USSR lost 79-92. But after beating the USA in semis 82-74 with Sabas's 13 points and 11 boards, the Soviets prevailed in the final against Yugoslavia by 76-83 with 20 and 15 by Arvydas. His dream was accomplished. Also, after several political changes during the perestroika era of Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachov, the doors were open for the best players of the country to show their talent in other places.

At the 1989 EuroBasket in Zagreb, Sabonis and his Lithuanian teammates (Marciulionis, Chomicius, Kurtinaitis...) would win the last medal (bronze) for a multi-nation USSR with Ukranians Volkov and Belosteny, Latvian Gunars Vetra, Estonian Tit Sokk, and Russians Tikhonenko and Valery Gaborov. In the World Championship of 1990 in Buenos Aires, the Lithuanian players would already not be there and their dream was to play with Lithuania as soon as possible.

As some kind of prize for the Olympic gold, the best USSR players obtained the legal permits to leave the country. Sabonis went to Spain to play with Forum Valladolid. The surprise was big: one of the best players in the world was signing for a humble team in Spain. The reason was that the biggest teams in Europe were not that confident on Sabas' physical condition and also that Valladolid president, Gonzalo Gonzalo, had the good judgment, and help of sponsors, to gather one million dollars and take a risk. He hit the jackpot.

Sabonis was not in top form because of injuries when he arrived, but the great job by the medical services of the club made a sports miracle easier. In his debut, a friendly game against Real Madrid, he scored 27 and pulled 10 boards despite his team's loss (81-95), but he made it clear that Spain was in for a real treat with a new superstar. In the following three seasons, he would play 37, 37 and 36 games, averaging 23.6 points, 13.0 rebounds and 1.9 assists, taking Valladolid to the playoffs for three straight years and in 1991-92 to the Korac Cup semifinals, where the team lost to a strong Messaggero Roma team, with Dino Radja, Roberto Premier and Ricky Mahorn.

Real Madrid, Gold, NBA, Comeback
In the summer of 1992, after three brilliant seasons in Valladolid, two important things happened in the life of Sabas. First, he signed for Real Madrid for three seasons. Second, he won the bronze medal with Lithuania, already an independent country, at the Barcelona Olympics. Sabas's averages in Barcelona were 23.9 points, 13 rebounds and 1.8 assists. He was 28 years old and was in his prime. He was a dominating player, one of the few who could win games on his own.

By arriving to Real Madrid, his main goal was winning the European crown, but before doing that in 1995, he suffered another disappointment. At the 1993 Final Four in Athens, Real Madrid lost, unexpectedly, against Limoges - the eventual surprise champ - by 52-62 in the semis. The arrival of Zeljko Obradovic to the bench of Real Madrid would be the start of a great collaboration between a player and a coach which evolved into great friendship between two men who have given a lot to basketball. Obradovic has no doubt in pointing to Sabas as one of the undisputed members of the starting five among all the players he has ever coached, while Arvydas always says that Zeljko is the best coach he ever had.

On April 13, 1995 in Zaragoza, Spain, a basketball giant fulfilled his dream: winning the Euroleague crown and also being named MVP of the Final Four in the process. In semis, Real Madrid got revenge against Limoges with a 62-42 victory, while in the title game, the Spanish team defeated Olympiacos Piraeus with Eddie Johnson, Volkov, Dragan Tarlac, Milan Tomic, Panagiotis Fassoulas and Giorgios Sigalas by 73-61. The Lithuanian Tsar had 23 points and 7 rebounds.

Before leaving for the NBA to fulfill his last dream, Sabonis took part in the Athens EuroBasket of 1995 where Lithuania reached the final and and lost to Yugoslavia with Divac, Djordjevic, Danilovic, Paspalj, Bodiroga, Savic and company by 90-96 in the best final I have ever seen. At 31 years old, Sabonis was leaving the Spanish League after 235 games and averages of 20.3 points, 12.4 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 33 minutes on court, to take the next important step in his career: signing for the Portland Trail Blazers of the NBA. The club also fulfilled its dream of taking Sabas to the USA almost a decade after having chosen him the 1986 draft with pick number 24.

At 31, when some players retire, Sabonis showed the world that he still knew how to do a lot of things. Never did such a veteran rookie attract as much media attention as he did, but Sabas justified it all. He won Player of the Week awards, was part of the All-Rookie team, and Rookie of the Year runner-up. In seven seasons averaging more than 24 minutes per game, he averaged 12 points (32% in threes) and 7.3 rebounds. The projection to 36 minutes was 17.9 points and 10.9 boards. Everybody was just wondering what he would have done had he arrived to the NBA seven or eight years earlier.

After fulfilling all his dreams, at 39 years old, Sabonis decided to have his biggest wish granted: dressing again the jersey of his Zalgiris. He literally played for his own team, since he had just bought most of the stock in the club. He signed for the club of his heart and immediately became a Euroleague star again: in the 2003-04 season, he was named MVP of the regular season and the Top 16, playing 28 minutes per game with 16.7 points, 10.7 rebounds and 26.3 index rating averages. At 40 years old.

In Lithuania, nowadays, he is still an idol. He has been president of the Lithuanian Basketball Federation for the last several years and since 2010 he is a member of the FIBA Hall of Fame. Since 2011 he is also in the Springfield Hall of Fame. His three sons play basketball and are members of the Lithuanian national teams for their age groups, but they have a great handicap: the Sabonis name is a great burden in the basketball world.

Arvydas Sabonis, an unrepeatable player.


*Vlade Divac*
Born: February 3, 1968 (Prijepolje, Yugoslavia)
Nationality: Serbian
Center
Height: 7-1
Weight: 243 lbs



Career history
1984–1986          Sloga Kraljevo (YUG)
1986–1989          Partizan Belgrade (YUG)
1989–1996          Los Angeles Lakers (NBA)
1996–1998          Charlotte Hornets (NBA)
1999 (2 games)    Red Star Belgrade (SCG)
1999–2004          Sacramento Kings (NBA)
2004–2005          Los Angeles Lakers (NBA)
Drafted: 1989, by the Los Angeles Lakers

Career highlights and awards
FIBA's 50 Greatest Players (1991)
FIBA Hall of Fame (2010)
50 Greatest Euroleague Contributors (2008)
NBA All-Star (2001)
European Player of the Year (1989)
NBA All-Rookie First Team (1990)
#21 Retired by Sacramento Kings (2009)
One of the six players in the NBA history to record more than 13,000 points, 9,000 rebounds, 3,000 assists and 1,500 blocks
Olympics: Silver (1988, 1996)
World Championship: Gold (1990, 2002), Bronze (1986)
European Championship: Gold (1989, 1991, 1995), Bronze (1987, 1999)
Champion of European Cup Radivoj Korac (1987, 1989)
Champion of the Yugoslavian League (1987, 1989)


...Divac was best known for his excellent passing skills.
...had an unusual style for centers of the time: despite the height, he possessed good mobility, had good control of the ball, was a good shooter from distance, and occasionally, he would also act as a playmaker.
...his trademark moves included a midrange shot at the top of the key and flip shots around the rim while facing the complete opposite direction.
...in just 4 professional seasons in Europe, he became the most sought-after tall player in the continent after Arvydas Sabonis.

*Vlade Divac, an icon without a ring*
By Vladimir Stankovic
February 11, 2013

Just seeing his number of titles or medals in the Olympics, World Championships and European Championships, there is no doubt that Vlade Divac, who was born on February 3, 1968 in Prijepolje, Serbia, is one of the most-crowned players in basketball. What's more, he had a great NBA career. But despite his 20 years in basketball's elite, he is missing something: an NBA title, although that's something that almost happened for him, too. In the 2001-02 season, his Sacramento Kings were NBA's team of the moment, with a style of play that was joyful, fun and attractive. In that season's Western Conference finals, they were tied 3-3 with the Los Angeles Lakers. Having won their division, the Kings played Game 7 at home, but lost 106-112. The Lakers qualified for the finals and erased the New Jersey Nets 4-0, the same as Sacramento would have done if it had arrived to the finals.

But even without an NBA ring, Vlade Divac is still one of the great Europeans to have played in that competition, in addition to being one of its European pioneers. From 1989 to 2005, he played 16 seasons with the Lakers (1989 to 1996 and 2004-05), with Charlotte (1996 to 1998) and with Sacramento (1999 to 2004). He left behind 1,134 games, 979 of them as a starter; 13,398 points (11.8 on average), 9,326 rebounds (9.2 per game), 1,631 blocks (1.4 per game) and an all-star appearance in 2001.

Pure talent
In this blog series, now in its third season, I have tried until now to relive my memories of more than 40 great players of the past. All of them I saw play at least one time, but if I have to choose one who I know best and have seen play hundreds of times, it's Vlade Divac. I can remember his first great game, the one in which he showed he was a future star.

It was the first week of the Yugoslav League of 1985-86. Red Star played against Sloga Kraljevo at the Pinki arena in Zemun, a suburb of Belgrade on the banks of the Danube River. Red Star won, but had to suffer to do so because of an unknown kid named Vlade Divac, author of 27 points that day and owner of a game that left no doubt about his enormous potential. The previous season, at 16 years old, Divac had debuted as a pro with Sloga, but his 22 points in 20 games were nothing more than a sign of how his coach, Milan-Kime Bogojevic, believed in him.

In fact, Bogojevic is to "blame" for Divac's great career. As a kid, Divac left his hometown of Prijepolje and the home of his parents to live with his maternal grandmother in Kraljevo. One day, Bogojevic saw him in the street and immediately fixated on Divac's height. He invited Divac to a Sloga practice, and that's how it started. During the summer of 1984, while they were watching a game of the Olympics basketball tournament from Los Angeles, Bogojevic made a bold prediction, telling Divac: "Look, if you work a lot, you will play in the next Olympics in 1988 in Seoul."

Many times since, Divac has said that the words from Bogojevic that day seemed like "science fiction". But when four years later he returned from Seoul with a silver medal, Divac hung it around the neck of Milan Bogojevic.

Divac's pure talent for basketball never went unrecognized. The coaches of the Yugoslav federation, with their perfect scouting program, were well aware of all available talents. In the summer of 1985, for the European Cadets Championships in Ruse, Bulgaria, Divac was selected for the team by Svetislav Pesic, who was then the coach of Bosna Sarajevo. Together with Divac were Toni Kukoc, Nebojsa Ilic, Radenko Dobras, Slavisa Koprivica and Zoran Kalpic, all of whom would become European junior champions two years later in Bormio, Italy. Yugoslavia won the gold medal with Divac averaging 11.7 points.

In his second season with Sloga, Divac was the team's top scorer with 17.6 points per game and equally dominant at rebounds. All the major teams in Yugoslavia now wanted him, but Partizan Belgrade had a big advantage: already playing there was Aleksandar "Sasha" Djordjevic, the country's most-promising point guard. Divac, who was smart, knew that he needed a great point guard, and so decided to join Partizan.

During the 1985-86 season, Divac had the privilege to work individually with the great Kresimir Cosic, who was then the Yugoslav national coach. A few times, Cosic had spent up to a week in Kraljevo showing the young Divac the secrets of playing center. The result of their collaboration was Divac forming part of the Yugoslav men's team at the World Championships in Spain in 1986. There, in Madrid, during the semifinal against the Soviet Union, a historic anecdote unfolded: Yugoslavia was winning by 9 points with 40 seconds left, but the Soviets, led by Arvydas Sabonis, tied with 3 three-point shots, forcing overtime, and won the game. Before the last three-pointer by Vandis Valters led to overtime, the young Vlade Divac had committed a turnover. That night, "I wanted to quit basketball," Divac said. But the next day, against Brazil in the bronze-medal game, Cosic put Divac in the starting five. The message was clear: I believe in you.

On his return home, Divac went directly from the airport to training camp for the junior team's European Championships in Gmunden, Austria. Waiting for him were his teammates Ruse, Djordjevic, Dino Radja... Little by little, Pesic had completed a great team that would triumph the next year at the junior worlds in Bormio. But before that would happen, some nice things occurred in Divac's life.

The great year of 1987
In his first season with Partizan, that of 1986-87, Divac won two important titles. First came the Korac Cup, after two great battles with Cantu of Italy. In the first game, Cantu won at home 89-76 with 24 points from Kent Benson, 19 from Antonello Riva and 9 from Pierluigi Marzorati. Partizan had 28 points by Divac and 22 from Djordjevic, and went home to Belgrade with some hopes for the rematch. In that second game, on March 22 in the old arena at New Belgrade, we saw a great game featuring an explosion of talent from the young Partizan team. The trophy stayed in Belgrade thanks to a 101-82 victory behind 30 points by Divac, 22 by Zarko Paspalj and 21 by Djordjevic. An excellent Riva, with 36 points, wasn't enough for Cantu to avoid defeat.

In June of 1987, the young Divac played the senior European Championships in Athens together with his junior national teammates Radja, Kukoc and Djordjevic, and they returned with the bronze medal. They crowned their great year at the junior worlds in Bormio, where Yugoslavia became champion with seven wins, two against a great USA team, as Divac averaged 12.6 points and formed a great team with Kukoc, Djordjevic, Radja, Alibegovic, Ilic, Pavicevic, Kprivica, Avdic, Pecarski...

At the end of the 1986-87 club season, Partizan had beaten Red Star 2-0 in the Yugoslav League playoff finals, winning the right to play the next Euroleague, the first with a new format of an eight-team group phase leading to a Final Four. Partizan finished first after beating Barcelona twice as well as Aris and Maccabi. But at the Final Four in Ghent, Belgium, they lost in the semifinals against Maccabi and finished third after beating Aris.

In 1988, Divac won the silver medal with Yugoslavia at the Olympics in Seoul. In 1989, Partizan won a triple crown: Yugoslav League, Yugoslav Cup and Korac Cup titles. Then the Yugoslav national team became European champion in Zagreb. That same year, Divac was taken 26th in the NBA draft by the Los Angeles Lakers. In record time, Divac had gone from unknown to famous, from Kraljevo to Los Angeles, from a more-than-modest team in Sloga to the best-known team in the world, the Lakers. All thanks to his enormous talent.

By stature, 2 meters 12 centimeters, Divac was a center. But in terms of skills, he was a small forward who shot three-pointers; when it came to assists, he was like a point guard; his timing was that of a shot-blocker; and in character, he was a fighter. What's more, he was always well loved, a leader in the locker room, a joker with a thousand and one stories. In Los Angeles, he had the luck to play with the great Magic Johnson and others who brought "show-time" to the Lakers, and he had the opportunity to learn from the recently retired Kareem Abdul Jabbar.

The rest is history. World champion with Yugoslavia in 1990 and 2002, European champion three times, in 1989, 1991 and 1995, Olympics silver medalist in 1988 and 1996, bronze in the 1999 European championships, NBA all-rookie team member in 1989-90, his number 21 retired by Sacramento, the only European along with Dirk Nowitzki to play 1,000 NBA games, a member of the Hall of Fame of FIBA since 2010, candidate for the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield this year.... A brilliant career even without an NBA ring.

As of four years ago, Vlade Divac is the president of the Serbian Olympic Committee, a post to which he was recently reelected unanimously. Together with his wife, Snezan-Ana, he has a foundation that bears his name and has helped many refugees of the ex-Yugoslavia, as well as other needy people around the world. His humanitarian effort is huge and perhaps Divac's brightest medal of all.


*Toni Kukoc*
Born: September 18, 1968 (Split, Yugoslavia)
Nationality: Croatian
Small Forward
Height   6-11
Weight: 235 lbs


Career history
1985–1991          Jugoplastika Split (YUG)
1991–1993          Benetton Treviso (ITA)
1993–2000          Chicago Bulls (NBA)
2000-2001           Philadelphia 76ers (NBA)
2001–2002          Atlanta Hawks (NBA)
2002–2006          Milwaukee Bucks (NBA)
Drafted: 1990, by the Chicago Bulls

Career highlights and awards
FIBA's 50 Greatest Players (1991)
50 Greatest Euroleague Contributors (2008)
World Championship MVP (1990)
European Championship MVP (1991)
European Player of the Year -- Euroscar (1990, 1991, 1994, 1996, 1998), -- Mr. Europa (1990, 1991, 1992, 1996)
Euroleague Final Four MVP (1990, 1991, 1993)
NBA Sixth Man of the Year (1996)
NBA All-Rookie Second Team (1994)
NBA Champion (1996, 1997, 1998)
Olympics: Silver (1988-YUG, 1992-CRO)
World Championship: Gold (1990-YUG), Bronze (1994-CRO)
European Championship: Gold (1989-YUG, 1991-YUG), Bronze (1987-YUG, 1995-CRO)
Champion of the European Cup for Champion Clubs [current Euroleague] (1989, 1990, 1991)
Champion of the Yugoslavian League (1988, 1989, 1990, 1991)
Champion of the Italian League (1992)
   

...was renowned for his versatility and passing ability.
...although his natural position was small forward, he played all five positions on the court with prowess and demonstrated court vision and an outside shooting touch that were seldom found in players of his height.
...nicknamed "the White Magic," "the Spider from Split," "the Pink Panther," "the Waiter," and "the Croatian Sensation."

*Toni Kukoc, the Pink Panther of basketball*
By Vladimir Stankovic
March 4, 2013

It was April of 1991. The final series of the Yugoslav League between the great Jugoplastika Split and its biggest rival those years, the also great Partizan Belgrade. After winning the first game in Split by 74-85, Jugoplastika also won the second game in Belgrade by 95-91. The third game was also played in Belgrade but Jugoplastika didn't want to celebrate the title at home. With a 64-86 Jugoplastika swept the series and lifted its fourth straight trophy. With 4 minutes and 18 seconds left in the game, Split coach Zeljko Palicevic decided to sit Toni Kukoc. Then something unforgettable happened: the Partizan fans, even if hurt by the tough defeat of their team, rose to their feet and gave Kukoc a one-minute long standing ovation. It was an admiration gesture towards a basketball genius but also with a feeling that that would be the last time that Kukoc would play in Belgrade.

Even though in June of that year the Croatian players would play in the Yugoslav team that won the Rome EuroBasket, the political climate was very tense already. The basketball world was already making plans for a united league the following season under the direction of YUBA, a recently formed club association. However, it was pretty clear that the third game in those final series was to be the last of the history of the Yugoslav championships, as well as Jugoplastika being the last champion of a country that gave so much to basketball.

The day after the final, Aleksandar Djordjevic, Partizan's point guard those days, talked to Borba newspaper and said the following: "Congratulations to Jugoplastika. They are natural born winners and they have a winning mentality. I think that Toni Kukoc, despite being only 23, is the best Yugoslav basketball player ever."

I don't know if Djordjevic still feels the same way about that, but I do know people who would sign every word Sasha said 22 years ago. Bozidar Maljkovic, the coach and builder of the great Jugoplastika, doesn't compare Kukoc to players from other eras but he asseverates: "Toni Kukoc is the best player I ever coached. Huge talent, polyvalent, able of playing in all five positions. He also won all the important titles."

"Signed" at the beach
If genes have something to do with a career of a sportsman, Toni Kukoc was somehow destined to sports because of his father Ante, who had been a goalkeeper in the teams of Nada and Split and who was crazy about any sport. Since he was a child, Kukoc (born on September 18 of 1968) showed a talent for all sports, but basketball would enter his life rather late. First of all there was tennis table. Radojka, Toni's mum, was happy to enrol him in the tennis table section because practice would happen in Gripe pavillion, just a hundred meters away from the apartment where the Kukoc family lived.

Soon enough, Toni showed great talent for the sport and at just 10 years old, he was champion of Dalmacia, a coast region of Croatia. However, his true love was football and like any kid in Split, his dream was wearing the jersey of famous local club Hajduk one day. With the support of his father, he passed the tests at 11 and he became the left fielder of the Hajduk cadet team. He was good, some even say very good, but problems started when he started growing fast. At 13 years old he was already 1,90 meters but he was too thin, and that earned him the nickname "Olive", because of Popeye's girlfriend in the comic strip.

He kept playing football until he was 15. In the summer of 1983, Igor Karkovic - a young talent scout for Jugoplastika - saw a group of young kids playing several sports on a beach close to Split. His attention got definitely caught by a very tall kid but with great move coordination who was also a great swimmer. Karkovic was suprised when the kid told him that he didn't practice basketball at all, so Krakovic invited him to a tryout to which Toni agreed. He practiced football and basketball at the same time but - fortunately - basketball won.

That was the start of a brilliant career. He was a starter soon after that but in his first final, against Cibona for the Croatian title, he suffered his first disappointment. A loss at home in front of all his people. He had some consolation with the Yugoslav championship played in Kraljevo (Serbia) where Jugoplastika dominated strong opponents like host Sloga - who had a pair of future NBA big men like Vlade Divac and Milos Babic - or Buducnost Podgorica with Zarko Paspalj, Zdravko Radulovic and Luka Pavicevic.

In the summer of 1985, coach Svetislav Pesic called Kukoc for the European championship of cadets in Ruse, Bulgaria, where Yugoslavia won the gold medal in what was only the first step of a great generation with Divac, Neboja Ilic, Slavisa Koprivica, Radenko Dobras, Emilio Kovacic or Zoran Kalpic. Coach Slavko Trninic included Toni in the first team at 16 years old. He made his debut in Podgorica against Buducnost. In the 1985-86 season he played 20 games, totalling 52 points (2.6). In Ruse, Kukoc had a scoring average of 5.5 but he already increased that number to 12.6 in the summer of 1986 for the junior European championship in Gmunden, Austria. More new blood came to the team like Dino Radja, Sasha Djordjevic, Teoman Alibegovic, Pavicevic and Samir Avdic. The following season, with Zoran "Moka" Slavnic on the bench, Kukoc scored 317 points in 22 league games (14.4) and 46 more in three playoff games.

The great summer of 1987
For the 1987 EuroBasket in Athens, Yugoslav coach Kresimir Cosic called four kids to the team: Divac, Radja, Djordjevic and Kukoc. They won the bronze medal and right after that they joined the expedition of the junior team which had the World championship in Bormio, Italy. Pesic put together a great team that won its six games, even two against a powerful American team with Larry Johnson, Gary Payton, Stacey Augmon, Kevin Pritchard, Lionel Simmons, Scott Williams, Dwayne Schintzius, Brian Williams and Larry Brown as coach. The scoring average of that team was 112 points per game! The duel of the first stage ended 110-95 with an unrepeatable festival by Kukoc: 37 points with 11 of 12 triples! "Never, ever, in my career I would get even close to those numbers. The high for me in a game with triples was 5 or 6 but that day everything was going in. I felt extremely comfortable. When my first two shots went in I had my confidence up and I didn't stop until the end. I was shooting over my defenders, even stopping at the arc in a fastbreak. We had a great team, well-covered in all positions but not even ourselves knew what the limit was for us. We had no idea what levels we could reach" Kukoc told me not long ago.

In the final game, the Americans' attention went to Kukoc but the heroes of the game would be the big men: Divac scored 21 points, Radja 20. Yugoslavia won by 86-76.

Toni Kukoc's career skyrocketed after that. In 1988 he won his first league title with Jugoplastika. On April 6, 1989 a very young team for Jugoplastika surprised everyone in the Munich Euroleague Final Four by defeating FC Barcelona in semis and then Maccabi Tel Aviv in the final, 75-69, with 18 points by Kukoc. At the 1988 Olympics in Seoul, he won the silver medal with Yugoslavia after losing the final to the USSR. At the Zagreb EuroBasket of 1989, Yugoslavia rolled to the gold just the same as the 1990 Worlds in Buenos Aires, where Kukoc was MVP of the tournament. I remember the ovation he got in the final against the USSR a few minutes before the buzzer. A man by my side rose up and yelled "Thank you, skinny!"

Before Buenos Aires, Jugoplastika repeated the double crown with the Yugoslav League and the Euroleague (against FC Barcelona in the final in Zaragoza by 72-67, with 20 points by Kukoc) and the same thing would happen again in 1991 even though Dino Radja, Dusko Ivanovic and coach Boza Maljkovic were no longer in the team. However, genius Kukoc stayed, backed by Velimir Perasovic, Zoran Savic, Luka Pavicevic, Zan Tabak, Zoran Sretenovic, Aramis Naglic or Petar Naumoski. At the Paris Final Four the victim was, once more, FC Barcelona (70-65, Kukoc 14 points) and that with Maljkovic coaching Barca.

In his last three Yugoslav leagues his numbers were almost identical: 411 points (11.6) in 88-89; 413 (18.7) in 89-90 and 438 (19.9) in 90-91. But more than his points, he was admired by everything he displayed on the court. If I had to choose only one aspect of his game I would say "elegance". He made everything seem so easy, so natural. Like there was nothing easier than scoring a basket, pulling a rebound or dish an assist. Because of his basketball genius, his moves with the ball, his long hands and his thin body he earned the nickname of "Pink Panther". Also we can thank him for a great basketball quote which said: "A basket makes one man happy while an assist makes two men happy."

In the summer of 1991 Toni had a problem with his future. The Chicago Bulls - who had chosen him with pick 29 in the NBA draft - and Benetton Treviso, coached by Split legend Petar Skansi, were knocking on his door. Kukoc went to Italy, so the NBA could wait. In two years in Italy he won a league title and a cup title playing a total 68 games with 19.8 points, 6.0 boards and 5.2 assists per game. After so many successful years, Kukoc had a great disappointment at the 1993 Final Four in Athens. Benetton was the favorite to win against Boza Maljkovic's Limoges, but the Italian team - without Vinnie del Negro, but with Terry Teagle, Stefano Rusconi and Massimo Iacopini - could not defeat the French team with Michael Young and Jure Zdovc, 55-59.

Triumph in the NBA
Before leaving for the NBA, Kukoc was part of the Croatian "dream team" with Drazen Petrovic, Dino Radja, Stojan Vrankovic, Danko Cveticanin, Velimir Perasovic, Arijan Komazec and company at the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona. He could add a new silver medal to his already impressive collection. His numbers were 11.5 points, 3.1 boards and 6.0 assists. He would win more medals with Croatia: bronze at the 1994 Worlds and 1995 EuroBasket, but his true triumph would be the NBA. He got there right when Michael Jordan retired, but since the legend was back two years later, Toni could fulfill his dream of playing alongside the best. He is a proud owner of three NBA champ rings for 1996, 1997 and 1998.

We know almost everything about his NBA career. In 15 years playing in Chicago (7 seasons), Philadelphia (1), Atlanta (1) and Milwaukee (4) he played 846 games, scored 9,810 points (11.6), pulled 3,550 rebounds (4.2) and dished 3,118 assists (3.7). Until Nowitzki, he was the most relevant European player in the NBA. A detail explains it all: on May 13, 1994, in the third game of the Eastern Conference final against the New York Knicks, with a 102-102 on the scoreboard with 1.8 seconds to go, coach Phil Jackson designed a play in the timeout for Toni Kukoc. Scottie Pippen, at the bench at that moment but with Jackson orders to get back on court, got mad at the coach and refused to get back. Jackson insisted on the play. Kukoc scored the basket and Chicago won the game. A true champion.

After putting and end to his career in the summer of 2006, Kukoc got out of basketball. His passion is golf, but last summer he insinuated that he wants to be a coach. For now, he'd like to start as an assistant in the NBA and in the future come back to Europe to coach a big team. If he makes it, the life of his great Jugoplastika will be stretched even more. We still have many names from that Split generation still active in basketball. Bozidar Maljkovic is Slovenia NT head coach; Dusko Ivanovic is currently without a team but did great things in the bench in Spain, France and Switzerland; Velimir Perasovic is Valencia Basket coach; Luka Pavicevic coaches Chorale Roanne; Zan Tabak coaches Caja Laboral; Zoran Sretenovic coaches AZS Koszalin of Poland. Zoran Savic used to be sports director at Fortitudo Bologna and FC Barcelona and is now an agent while Dino Radja was KK Split president for many years.

Welcome back, Toni.


*Dirk Nowitzki*
Born: June 19, 1978 (Wurzburg, West Germany)
Nationality: German
Power Forward
Height:  7-0
Weight: 245 lbs




Career history
1994–1998          DJK Wurzburg (GER)
1998–present      Dallas Mavericks (NBA)
Drafted: 1998, by the Milwaukee Bucks

Career highlights and awards
NBA Champion (2011)
NBA Finals MVP (2011)
NBA MVP (2007)
NBA All-Star (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012)
All-NBA First Team (2005, 2006, 2007, 2009)
All-NBA Second Team (2002, 2003, 2008, 2010, 2011)
All-NBA Third Team (2001, 2004, 2012)
Sports Illustrated NBA All-Decade Second Team
NBA Three-Point Shootout champion (2006)
World Championship MVP (2002)
World Championship Top Scorer (2002)
EuroBasket MVP (2005)
EuroBasket/European Championship Top Scorer (2001, 2005, 2007)
European Player of the Year -- Euroscar (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2011), -- Mr. Europa (2005), -- FIBA Europe (2005, 2011), -- All-Europeans (2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2011)
World Championship: Bronze (2002)
EuroBasket: Silver (2005)


*Pau Gasol*
Born: July 6, 1980 (Barcelona, Spain)
Nationality: Spanish
Power Forward
Height:  7-0 in
Weight: 250 lbs




Career history
1998–2001          FC Barcelona (ESP)
2001–2008          Memphis Grizzlies (NBA)
2008–present      Los Angeles Lakers (NBA)
Drafted: 2001, by the Atlanta Hawks

Career highlights and awards
NBA Champion (2009, 2010)
NBA All-Star (2006, 2009, 2010, 2011)
All-NBA Second Team (2011)
All-NBA Third Team (2009, 2010)
NBA Rookie of the Year (2002)
NBA All-Rookie First Team (2002)
Olympics Top Scorer (2004, 2008)
World Championship MVP (2006)
EuroBasket MVP (2009)
EuroBasket/European Championship Top Scorer (2003, 2009)
European Player of the Year -- Euroscar (2008, 2009, 2010), -- Mr. Europa (2004, 2009), -- FIBA Europe (2008, 2009), -- All-Europeans (2009, 2010)
All-Euroleague Second Team (2001)
Spanish League Finals MVP (2001)
Olympics: Silver (2008, 2012)
World Championship: Gold (2006)
EuroBasket/European Championship: Gold (2009, 2011), Silver (2003, 2007), Bronze (2001)
Champion of the Spanish League (2001)


*Tony Parker*
Born: May 17, 1982 (Bruges, Belgium)
Nationality: French
Point Guard
Height:  6-2
Weight: 185 lbs




Career history
1999–2001          Paris Basket Racing (FRA)
2001–present      San Antonio Spurs (NBA)
2011                      ASVEL Lyon-Villeurbanne (FRA)
Drafted: 2001, by the San Antonio Spurs

Career highlights and awards
NBA Champion (2003, 2005, 2007)
NBA Finals MVP (2007)
NBA All-Star (2006, 2007, 2009, 2012, 2013)
All-NBA Second Team (2012, 2013)
All-NBA Third Team (2009)
NBA All-Rookie First Team (2002)
NBA Skills Challenge champion (2012)
EuroBasket MVP (2009)
EuroBasket Top Scorer (2011, 2013)
European Player of the Year -- Euroscar (2007)
EuroBasket: Gold (2013), Silver (2011), Bronze (2005)