Eurobasket History

 

The origins of the competition || Geneva 1935 || Riga 1937 || Kaunas 1939 || Geneva 1946 || Prague 1947 || Cairo 1949 || Paris 1951 || Moscow 1953 || Budapest 1955 || Sofia 1957 || Istanbul 1959 || Belgrade 1961 || Wroclaw 1963 || Moscow 1965 || Helsinki 1967 || Naples 1969 || Essen 1971 || Barcelona 1973 || Belgrade 1975 || Liege 1977 || Torino 1979 || Prague 1981 || Nantes 1983 || Stuttgart 1985 || Athens 1987 || Zagreb 1989 || Rome 1991 || Munich 1993 || Athens 1995 || Barcelona 1997 || Paris 1999 || Istanbul 2001 || Stockholm 2003 || Belgrade 2005 || Madrid 2007 || Katowice 2009 || Kaunas 2011 || Ljubljana 2013 || Lille 2015 || Istanbul 2017

 

 

 

THE ORIGINS OF THE COMPETITION

Two years after its creation in 1932, the International Basketball Federation (commonly known as FIBA, for its French abbreviation) reached a landmark achievement in having basketball included as an Olympic sport for the 1936 Games in Berlin. Preparation for the Olympics were key, and in 1933 it was decided that a European Championship would be held as a test event. FIBA’s Secretary General William Jones scheduled the event to take place in Geneva in May 1935.


 

GENEVA (SWITZERLAND) 1935: THE FIRST EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP

Eleven teams registered in this seminal edition, although a preliminary qualifying round between Spain and Portugal was held to reduce this number to ten in the Final Stage in Geneva. The competition system was originally devised with a knock-out round between these ten teams prior to the semifinal round, but the problem was that this preliminary round produced five semifinalist, so a tie-break had to be played between two of this teams (Switzerland and Italy). Latvia and Spain reached the final of this first European Championship, and with a victory by 24-18 the Baltic team became the first champion in the history of the competition. In those early days, Latvia had already a long basketball tradition, due mostly to the arrival of American sailors on merchant ships to the country, who had passed along their knowledge of basketball to the Latvian players.


 

RIGA (ESTONIA) 1937: FIRST AFRICAN PARTICIPANT

FIBA rules dictated that the winner of the European Championship would host the next event. Therefore, the 1937 edition was held in Latvia. This time, the competition system was made clear from the beginning, with two groups in the preliminary round and later a classification round to decide the final standing. Unlike the Swiss two years before, the Latvian Basketball Federation could not provide a covered court for the competition, so the games were held on outdoor cement courts.

 

Interestingly enough, a non-European squad entered the competition this year: Egypt. Although this might seem quite shocking today, we must remember that in those early days the jurisdiction of the continental basketball associations was not clearly defined, so the North African team neither belonged to the African nor Asian zone, and they were granted permission to play in the European Championship (later on, this would also be the case with other teams like Lebanon, Syria, and Israel).


 

KAUNAS (LITHUANIA) 1939: AMERICAN POWER

The competition system adopted in this edition, a league stage with no knock-out rounds or final, proved to be rather unsuccessful. Unfortunately, that meant that the first game of the tournament between Lithuania and Latvia (37-36) was effectively the “final,” as they qualified first and second in the final standing.

 

One of the main issues facing FIBA during the 30s was the participation of “naturalized” Americans in European national squads. The most famous case―but not the only one―was that of the Lithuanian player Pranas Lubinas. As was later known, his real name was Frank Lubin, an American center born in Los Angeles who won the gold medal with the USA at the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin. However, the Lithuanian Basketball Federation registered him for the European Championship as a native player (even producing a birth certificate showing that Lubin was born in Kaunas), and therefore he could play for Lithuania.


 

GENEVA (SWITZERLAND) 1946: THE FIRST POST-WAR EDITION

World War II had a huge impact on Europe. Not only were many countries facing huge economic difficulties, but the basketball map of Europe had also changed notably (for instance, Lithuania and Latvia, the championship’s first winners, had been annexed to the Soviet Union). FIBA wanted to organize the first post-war European Championship in 1945, hoping to use sport as part of Europe’s healing process, but the sequels of the conflict were still fresh: most national federations had disappeared and the majority of the players had been conscripted into the armed forces.

 

However, in 1946 FIBA chose Switzerland as the host of the European Championship, since this country remained neutral during World War II and all their sport infrastractures were in good conditions. Ten teams entered the tournament and the winner was Czechoslovakia, led by its star player Ivo Mrázek. This championship was a landmark in the participation of Italy’s Giuseppe Stefanini: not only was he one of Europe’s top players, but the first one to use the jump-shot as an offensive weapon.


 

PRAGUE (CZECHOSLOVAKIA) 1947: THE SOVIET UNION ENTERS THE SCENE

1947 saw the first appearance of two countries who would have an enormous impact on the global basketball scene in the future: the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Although the Balkan squad struggled at first and would not become a regular medal contender until 1961, when coach Aleksandar Nikolić led the team to a silver, the USSR took to international competition like a duck to water. After all, the advantage of being able to choose players from Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Lithuania, etc. was used to the full by the Soviets. A record 14 countries entered the 1947 Championship and the Soviet Union steamrolled through the competition, winning their 6 games by an average margin of 25 points.


 

CAIRO (EGYPT) 1949: THE FIRST AFRICAN WINNER

The 1949 European Championship is significant for being the strangest of all the championships. For starters, it did not take place in Europe and the host nation was Egypt. In addition, of the seven participants, only four were actually European teams.

 

After the Soviet Union had won the 1947 title, it was their right and responsibility, as dictated by the rules at the time, to host the next championship. However, the USSR refused to be the organisers. Czechoslovakia had been second in 1947, but they had hosted the last event and could not repeat. Therefore, the organization of the tournament fell to the bronze medallist, Egypt.

 

At the time, air travel was still expensive and not entirely safe. In the same year, the Italian football team Torino had lost all its players in a plane accident and as such the teams were less keen to travel by plane. The result was that France was the only strong European squad to register, while Greece, Holland and Turkey were all championship rookies. In order to avoid an organization disaster, Syria and Lebanon were also persuaded to enter the tournament, so that the final number of teams was seven. As a result, the 1949 European Championship was undoubtedly the weakest in the history of the competition. Egypt won the title quite easily, France finished second and Greece third.


 

PARIS (FRANCE) 1951: THE BEGINNING OF THE SOVIET DYNASTY

The Soviet Union established an almost total control over European basketball in the 1950s and 1960s. From 1951 to 1971, they won 10 out of 11 European Championships. Most incredible yet, their overall tally in the decade of the 1950s was: 49 games played, 47 victories and only 2 defeats (both of them in the 1955 edition, when they finished in third place).

 

Stepas Butautas was USSR’s top scorer in the 1951 championship, but it was in the paint where the Soviets really outmatched their opponents. In 1955, the intimidating 2.14 m center Jānis Krūmiņš made his debut in an era when most centers just about reached the two meter mark. By 1959, the Soviets had Krūmiņš, the 2.08 m Petrov, 2.04 m Zubkov and the 2.01 m Vol’nov and Korneev, and the result was complete dominance.

 

Most of post-war Europe was still in a re-building phase during the early 1950s, and that posed problems for an indoor sport such as basketball. Except the 1951 championship, all the Eurobasket editions of this decade were held in football stadiums, since there were no indoor facilities able to host an international basketball competition. The venue for this edition in Paris was the Vélodrome d’Hiver, a 12,000 seat stadium used mostly for indoor cycling.

 

The final between the Soviet Union and Czechoslovakia was not free on controversy, and the game was decided at the free throw line. Leading tournament scorer and Soviet star Stepas Butautas was fouled with one second on the clock and the game tied (44-44). The French fans, who supported the Czechs, did their best to put Butautas off, but his nerve held and he made the game winning free throw, to the delight of his teammates. However, confusion reigned in the aftermath as one referee claimed the free throw invalid due to the fact that Butautas had stepped on the line, while the second referee indicated that the shot should stand. The Soviets complained and, after 20 minutes of discussion, the basket was declared valid and victory awarded to the Soviet Union. Both the crowd and the Czech team expressed their unhappiness with the call and the referees ran to the safety of the dressing-room. The medal ceremony was marred by the continued jeering from the French fans, but nothing could alter the fact that the Soviet Union were the 1951 European Champions for the second time in their history.


 

MOSCOW (USSR) 1953: OUTDOOR GAMES

The Soviet Union easily cruised to win their third European Championship at home, with games played outdoor in a football stadium of Moscow, in front of a huge crowd of 35,000 fans. Fortunately for the competition, the weather was not an inconvenience and didn’t rain during the tournament.


 

BUDAPEST (HUNGARY) 1955: THE SOVIET MACHINE WAS STOPPED

The Soviet dominance during the 1950s was interrupted at the 1955 championship in Hungary, where a new record number of 18 nations registered. This edition was notable because the 30-second shot clock was introduced for the first time. The new rule had an immediate effect on tactics and coaches completely changed style, from a slowed-down possession game to a fast, quick shooting game. Consequently, scoring went up and Poland’s 140-44 victory over England is a clear consequence of this.

 

The first serious drawback for the Soviet Union came in the final round, when they lost with Czechoslovakia (81-74) after 32 consecutive European Championship wins. Although the Czechs were immediately hailed as tournament favourites, the victory of Hungary over the USSR in the second to last competition day gave the title to the Magyars.


 

SOFIA (BULGARIA) 1957: INCREASING INTEREST

As the rest of editions of the European Championship during the 1950s (Paris 1951 excepted), the games of the edition of 1957 in Sofia were played outdoors, in a football stadium, at the mercy of weather conditions. In this case, the chosen venue was Vasil Levski stadium, and the decisive game between Soviet Union and Bulgaria gathered a new record of 48,000 spectators.


 

ISTANBUL (TURKEY) 1959: A NEW SOVIET TITLE

The last European Championship to be held outdoors was Istanbul in 1959 (at Mithat Paşa Stadium), after which FIBA introduced a rule ensuring that all host nations must have indoor arenas. A complex competition system was introduced, new Asian participants were invited (Israel and Iran), but in the end the outcome was the same: victory of the Soviet Union with a clean tally of 9 victories and 0 defeats.

 

Although all the games were played outdoors, the final was “accidentally” moved indoors due to rain. At the end of the tournament, the team managers chose the following players as the best five: Viktor Zubkov (USSR), Radivoj Korać (YUG), János Greminger (HUN), Jiří Baumruk (CZE), Maigonis Valdmanis (USSR).


 

BELGRADE (YUGOSLAVIA) 1961: YUGOSLAVIA ENTERS THE SCENE

Until 1961, the European Championship was open to any country who wished to register (as long as FIBA approved it). The result was that more and more teams wanted to participate and the competition was becoming difficult to organize. In 1961, FIBA decided to reduce the number of participants in the final round to 16, but this decision didn’t come into effect until the 1963 tournament in Wrocław (Poland). In future editions, registration was still open to all European teams, but qualification tournaments would be held in order to reduce the final number of participants to 16.

 

The Soviet Union continued their successful record in the competition winning yet another title, but this time they found a serious competitor in Yugoslavia, who narrowly lost the final against the Soviets (60-53) and introduced themselves in the international scene.


 

WROCŁAW (POLAND) 1963: TOWARDS A STEADY COMPETITION SYSTEM

The edition of 1963 was designed according to the original plan of FIBA in the early 1960s, with a total number of 16 participants and a clear-cut competition system in which teams are divided into two groups of eight during the Preliminary Round, and later play crossed matches during the Final Round. In order to reduce the increasing number of participants, a qualifying stage was introduced prior to the final stage.

 

The Soviet Union went on to win another championship, while host Poland finished in second position ahead of Yugoslavia. The Polish championship was the first edition in which the tournament’s MVP was officially elected (this election had also been made in previous editions, although unofficially, by the international media): the first MVP in the history of the European Championship was the Spanish forward Emiliano Rodríguez, a highly lethal scorer.


 

MOSCOW (USSR) 1965: THE MAP OF PARTICIPANTS INCREASE

For the first time in the history of the European Championship, the final stage of the tournament was held in different cities: the Soviet Union was the host and they proposed to split the preliminary round between Moscow and Tiblisi. The system proved to be a success and was adopted on a regular basis in the following championships.

 

The competition format of the tournament remained the same as in the previous edition, with 16 teams in the final stage. Nonsurprisingly, the Soviet Union went on to win their eight title (fifth in a row) in front of their own fans, establishing their indisputable supremacy in European basketball.


 

HELSINKI (FINLAND) 1967: COMPETITION GAINS MOMENTUM

The 1967 European Championship, hosted in the Finnish cities of Helskinki (main venue) and Tampere (sub-venue), is considered to be the first of the modern age. It was the first time that the international media were in attendance and games were broadcasted on TV across Europe. The Finns organized an excellent tournament which, in many ways, set the standards for today. For instance, it was possible for fans and media in Tampere to watch games in Helsinki via short circuit TV, and statistics were also available in both venues. In modern times, such “luxuries” have become the norm, but in the 1960s these innovations were nothing short of revolutionary.

 

On the court, the Soviets were showing no signs of relinquishing their grip on the reins of power and won yet another championship, extending their participation sheet to a perfect record during the period 1957-1967: six championships won out of six, with 55 victories and 0 defeats, thanks to a list of players that would become part of legend: Valdis Muižnieks, Jānis Krūmiņš, Yurij Korneev, Armenak Alachachian, Sergej Belov, Gennadij Vol’nov, Jaak Lipso, Vladimir Andreev… conducted since 1961 by the “Silver Fox” Aleksandr Gomel’skij.

 

The Finnish championship was the first edition in which an All-Tournament team was elected: Sergej Belov (Soviet Union), Modestas Paulauskas (Soviet Union), Jiří Zedníček (Czechoslovakia), Jiří Zídek (Czechoslovakia) and Veikko Vainio (Finland).


 

NAPLES (ITALY) 1969: THE RISE OF YUGOSLAVIA

While the Soviets were still far ahead in the distance at the top of European basketball, a new force was emerging in the horizon: Yugoslavia. If center Radivoj Korać had been the leader of the team during the first half of the 1960s (he was the championship top scorer in 1961, 1963 and 1965), a new era for Yugoslavia started in the late years of this decade under the leadership of Krešimir Ćosić, a very talented 2.10 m center with guard-like skills, perfectly capable of playing inside and outside. After winning the silver medal at the 1968 Olympics, Yugoslavia became the first team to defeat the Soviet Union in twelve years of European Championship at the 1969 edition in Italy (73-61), with Ćosić being instrumental in the last minutes of the game.

 

Although the winning streak of the Soviet Union was stopped in 59-0 by this loss in the preliminary round of the tournament, in the final they reversed the defeat and emerged with a seventh consecutive gold medal. This time Gomel’skij had the weapon to stop Krešimir Ćosić: the veteran Gennadij Vol’nov defended the Yugoslavian center and held him to just 8 points, and the result was a Soviet hard-fought victory (81-72). But this was a serious warning of Yugoslavia of what was about to come in European basketball…


 

ESSEN (FRG) 1971: THE END OF AN ERA AND THE BEGINNING OF A NEW ONE

If Yugoslavia had been nipping at the Soviets’ heels in the 60s, in the 70s they tore a huge chunk out of their dominance. After the decade was over, Yugoslavia had won three gold medals for two of the Soviets, and established themselves as Europe’s premier force.

 

The battle for supremacy began at the 1970 World Championship. Yugoslavia was the host team and emerged with the first major title in the country’s history (their only defeat in the competition was precisely against the Soviet Union, although it was in a game in which nothing was at stake, since Yugoslavia was already the champion before the match). The battle resumed at the 1971 European Championship in West Germany. Mirko Novosel, who would go on to become a very successful head coach of the Balkanic team, made his debut as assistant coach to Ranko Žeravica, while on the court Krešimir Ćosić was still the star.

 

As expected, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia cruised through the tournament undefeated and met in the final. For most of the game it seemed as though Yugoslavia would finally beat their nemesis, but it was not to be. Ćosić, who was elected MVP of the tournament, was again stopped by the Soviet defense (he was held to a very poor 3/20 shooting by Alzhan Zharmukhamedov) and the Soviets earned a tough win (69-64) to grab their eight consecutive gold in European Championship.


 

BARCELONA (SPAIN) 1973: FIRST CHAMPIONSHIP FOR YUGOSLAVIA

The new era of Yugoslavian dominance in the European Championship began in 1973, but this time they didn’t meet their arch-rivals in the final, since Spain produced the biggest surprise of the tournament by beating the Soviet Union in semifinals (80-76). It can be argued that the USSR was a weakened team without centers Aleksandr Belov, Vladimir Andreev and Alzhan Zharmukhamedov, but the participation of players like Sergej Belov, Modestas Paulauskas, and Valerij Miloserdov ensured a very competitive squad.

 

Yugoslavia grabbed their first gold medal in the competition by easily beating Spain in the final (78-67), but their supremacy of European basketball was not convincingly established yet, since they had not yet beaten the Soviets in a major competition.


 

BELGRADE (YUGOSLAVIA) 1975: BALKANIC DOMINANCE

For the 40th anniversary of the European Championship, FIBA decided to grant the organization of the tournament to Yugoslavia. The Balkans, a very solid and powerful team in which Mirko Novosel was the head coach and Mirza Delibašić made his debut as point guard, were unanimously considered the favorites of the competition. This time they not only won the gold medal, but did it by beating the Soviet Union in the final game, thus claiming their supremacy in the European basketball. Yugoslavia’s inside power was too much for their opponents and, although the contest was close, the home team finally prevailed (90-84).


 

LIÈGE (BELGIUM) 1977: THIRD TITLE FOR YUGOSLAVIA

To prove that their supremacy in European basketball was consolidated, Yugoslavia went on to win another gold medal in the 1977 European Championship held in Belgium. Their clear victory in the final against the Soviet Union (74-61) prompted Aleksandr Gomel’skij to call the Yugoslavs “the best team in basketball.” Although the title was still a matter of these two teams, whose play was way ahead of the rest, the bronze medal earned by Czechoslovakia can be considered as the greatest surprise of the Championship.


 

TORINO (ITALY) 1979: THE USSR IS BACK

Although Yugoslavia cemented their status of basketball power by winning the World Championship in the Philippines in 1978, the next year the Soviet Union proved that they were far from a spent force and won the gold medal in the Eurobasket of Italy. This time Yugoslavia couldn’t even make it to the final against their arch-rivals, as a result of their surprising defeat against a Mickey Berkowitz-led Israel in the preliminary round (77-76) and a much more clear one against the Soviet Union in the classification round (96-77). The final was played by the USSR and Israel, and the Soviets easily won the gold medal to return to the track of success.


 

PRAGUE (CZECHOSLOVAKIA) 1981: ANOTHER GOLD FOR THE SOVIET UNION

No big surprises in this championship, since the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia met again in the final. The Soviets had won the last edition of the 1970s and now they started the 1980s with another gold medal. Their two clear victories over Yugoslavia in the competition (108-88 in the preliminary round and 84-67 in the final) proved that the balance of the rivalry between these two team was again moving to their side.


 

NANTES (FRANCE) 1983: THE TITLE GOES WEST

After many years of dominance of East European countries, the 1983 edition brought about the first gold medal for a Western country: Italy. This time neither the Soviet Union nor Yugoslavia made it to the final: the former lost in semifinals with Spain and the Balkans ended the competition in a very disappointing seventh place. So, for the first time in the history of the European Championship, the final was decided between two Western countries, Italy and Spain, marking a new era in European basketball, with more candidates to the gold medal.

 

Italy, Olympic silver medallists in 1980, continued their success with their first European Championship gold in 1983. Led by Dino Meneghin, Antonello Riva, Pierluigi Marzorati and Renato Villalta, the azzurri defeated Yugoslavia and Spain in the preliminary round, before beating Spain again in the final. Despite this defeat, the Spanish team showed that they were also a legitimate power in European basketball, thanks to a new generation of players such as Juan Antonio San Epifanio “Epi”, Juan Antonio Corbalán and Fernando Martín (the first two of them were selected to the All-Tournament team).


 

STUTTGART (FRG) 1985: THE EUROPEAN CHAMPIONSHIP REACHES THE NBA

The 1985 edition of the tournament saw the debut of two important innovations in basketball rules: the three-point shot and the one-and-one foul shot rule. Although the three-pointer was first introduced in the United States by the ABA in 1967, and it was later adopted by the NBA in 1981 and the Olympic Games in 1984, it wasn’t until the European Championship of 1985 when it gained international approval. The one-and-one foul shot rule was another breakthrough in basketball rules. In previous years, foul shooters were given as many as three attempts to make two free throws. The new rule was a trickier proposition for players, as a second free throw would only be earned if the first one was made.

 

With European players improving at breakneck speed, it was not long before the NBA began to reach out its feelers for international talents. The 1985 European Championship in West Germany was the first time when different NBA scouts were present to assess Europe’s best players. They were obviously impressed with what they saw, and following the championship Rik Smits (Netherlands), Detlef Schrempf and Uwe Blab (West Germany), Fernando Martín (Spain) and Georgi Glushkov (Bulgaria) all went to the USA to pursue NBA careers.

 

The greatest surprise of this championship was Czechoslovakia, a team of old but experienced players led by Brabenec and Kropilák that narrowly qualified through the preliminary round (they clinched the last qualifying position in their group on basket average ahead of Israel), but then went on to shock Yugoslavia in quarterfinals (102-91) and Spain in semifinals (98-95). In the final, however, they were an easy prey for the Soviet Union (120-89).

 

The MVP of the tournament was Arvydas Sabonis. The 2.20 m, 21-year-old Lithuanian center of the Soviet Union was at the height of his powers before knee injuries robbed him of most of his athletic ability. Also on the All-Tournament team was Dražen Petrović (Yugoslavia), Detlef Schrempf (West Germany), Fernando Martín (Spain) and Valdis Valters (Soviet Union).


 

ATHENS (GREECE) 1987: GALLIS AND GREECE REACH OLYMPUS

The gold medal won by Greece in the 1987 edition of the European Championship meant an unprecedented success for Greek basketball. In an isolate context it can be considered a great surprised that a team with a nonimpressive basketball tradition went all the way to win the final, but taking into account the fact that Greece played in front of their own fans and, above all, the leadership of Nikos Gallis, it comes to no surprise at all.

 

Greece’s pedigree in European basketball up until 1987 was not overtly impressive. In fact, their only previous European Championship participation in the decade was in 1981, where they finished in an unheralded 10th position. But all that changed with the arrival of Nikos Gallis into the Greek national side and the fact that the 1987 championship would be hosted on Greek soil. Gallis, who was arguably the top scorer in the history of European basketball, came together with fellow guard Panagiotis Giannakis, center Panagiotis Fassoulas and power forward Fanis Christodoulou in a formidable line-up.

 

After an inauspicious start, which included two preliminary round losses, the Greeks clicked into gear beating Italy in the quarterfinals (90-78) and Yugoslavia in the semifinals (81-77) before they faced the Soviet Union in the final. The gold medal game was played in front of 17,000 Greek fans, and it proved to be a thriller. Gallis scored 40 points for Greece, but it was center Kabouris who was the hero of the night. His two last second free throws gave Greece a last-gasp overtime victory and the finest hour in the country’s basketball history.


 

ZAGREB (YUGOSLAVIA) 1989: YUGOSLAVIA BACK ON THE WINNING TRACK

Just as the Soviet Union were able to put together their best players in 1985, the Yugoslavs achieved the same feat in 1989, assembling all of their “golden generation” in what would turn into a three-year dominance of world basketball (European titles in 1989 and 1991 and a World Championship in 1990). Coached by Dušan Ivković and led on the court by Dražen Petrović, Yugoslavia also counted on Predrag Danilović, Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoč, Stojan Vranković, Žarko Paspalj and Dino Rađa to make up a formidable team.

 

In an effort to increase the quality of the competition, the final stage of the European Championship was reduced from 12 to 8 teams, but as Dražen Petrović predicted before the tournament, the only team that could beat Yugoslavia was themselves. The Balkans had little trouble progressing to the semifinals, where they cruised past Italy (97-80) to face Greece in the final (the Hellenic team proved that they were also a competitive team without the support of their fans by beating again the Soviet Union 81-80, with a majestic performance by Nikos Gallis, who scored 43 points). But Yugoslavia proved too much for Greece in the final. The home side had little trouble beating the Greeks and the 98-77 scoreline reflected their dominance. Petrović finished the game with 28 points and was also elected MVP of the tournament.


 

ROME (ITALY) 1991: YUGOSLAVIAN APOTHEOSIS AND DISINTEGRATION

The beginning of the 1990s saw major political upheaval across Europe, as Communist regimes began to collapse and the iron curtain gradually disintegrated. The effect of this change on the basketball landscape was profound, as it led to the collapse of the two basketball superpowers in Europe, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.

 

Yugoslavia were the first to feel the effects of the new political reality at the 1991 European Championship in Rome, since they couldn’t gather their traditional constellation of superstars into the national team, including Croatians Dražen Petrović and Stojan Vranković (even the Slovenian point guard Jure Zdovc, who played the first three games of the competition with Yugoslavia, was ordered by his government not to play anymore after Slovenia declared independence two days into the tournament). But, with Toni Kukoč and Dino Rađa at the height of their careers, there was really no other team in Europe that could challenge Yugoslavia on the court, and they completed their magic three years (1989-1991) with another European title.

 

The Soviet Union, on the other hand, was much more affected by the disintegration of the former Soviet republics, as they couldn’t even qualify for the final stage of the European Championship. Their home defeat against France in the last competition day of the qualifying round (84-85) meant that the USSR would miss out on the final stage of the tournament for the first time in forty years. It was also the last participation of the team under the Soviet Union flag, before the creation of modern Russia.


 

MUNICH (GERMANY) 1993: A SURPRISE CALLED GERMANY

The biggest upset of the 1990s came at the 1993 European Championship, held in Germany, when the home team produced one of the greatest surprises in the history of the competition by winning the gold medal. The German side, led by a young Yugoslav coach called Svetislav Pešić, were not favoured at all going into the championship, despite holding the homecourt advantage. Their triumph in the final can only be compared with the success achieved by Greece six years ago, although Germany didn’t have a superstar and natural born leader like Nikos Gallis. However, the European basketball map had changed drastically after the collapse of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia. Following the disintegration of the traditional superpowers in European basketball, there was no clear favorite for the gold medal.

 

Yugoslavia was banned from the competition due to United Nations sanctions, but the newly created republics of Croatia, Slovenia and Bosnia-Herzegovina replaced the Yugoslavs in the final stage.

 

Germany had a host of experienced players on their roster, led by guards Michael Koch and Henrik Rödl, forward Henning Harnisch and center Christian Welp. They were, however, without NBA star Detlef Schrempf, who didn’t participate in the tournament. After preliminary round action, the Germans finished fourth in their classification round group and faced a strong Spanish team in the quarterfinals. Despite leading by 6 points with a minute and a half remaining, some costly Spanish errors allowed Germany back into the game and some clutch play from Welp saw the Germans tie the game at the end of regulation and go on to win in overtime (79-77). Then, in the semifinals, Germany took on Greece, a team that had won European gold just six years ago, but whose stars (such as Gallis, Giannakis, Fassoulas and Christodoulou) were approaching the end of their careers. Germany’s inside players held Fassoulas to just 1 point and the home team grabbed a 76-73 win.

 

The final matched up Russia and the now confident Germany. It would go down as one of the best finals of all-time, if not for the quality of play, then for its thrilling climax. After a closely fought 39 minutes, two free throws from Sergej Babkov gave Russia a 70-68 lead with 15 seconds remaining, but Germany still managed to tie the game (70-70). After Svetislav Pešić called a time-out, Welp got the ball, drove baseline for a dunk and was fouled. The ensuing free throw gave Germany the gold medal and Welp was selected tournament MVP.


 

ATHENS (GREECE) 1995: A CLASSIC FINAL

The 1995 European Championship final in Athens will go down as one of the greatest ever. It had everything: an electric atmosphere, an outstanding individual performance, and plenty of controversy.

 

The final featured two teams that can be considered the natural heirs of the classic giants Yugoslavia an Soviet Union: the new Yugoslavia (who was back in the competition with Serbian players after the UN bans) and Lithuania (with their triumvirate of stars Šarūnas Marčiulionis, Rimas Kurtinaitis and Arvydas Sabonis). The Yugoslavs were hungry to take off from where they left world basketball in 1991, and with the likes of Aleksandar Ðorđević, Žarko Paspalj, Predrag Danilović, Zoran Savić, Dejan Bodiroga and Željko Rebrača, they had the personnel for the job.

 

The final between Yugoslavia and Lithuania was marked by a remarkable performance from Aleksandar Ðorđević, perhaps the finest in any European Championship final. The 1.88 m guard torched Lithuania with 41 points on 9/12 three-point shooting. Šarūnas Marčiulionis was almost as spectacular, tallying 32 points, 6 assists and 6 rebounds, but it was not enough to stop Yugoslavia from winning (96-90). Besides Ðorđević’s overall performance, the game also produced one of the most spectacular individual plays in European Championship history, courtesy of Predrag Danilović. It was in the final possession of the first half, when the Serbian guard produced a stunning drive and dunk right over Lithuanian giant Arvydas Sabonis.

 

The game was marked by controversy in the second half when the players’ exchanges with the referees became more and more heated. When Sabonis was called for a foul on what had seemed an innocuous enough post-up situation (which was exploited expertly by Zoran Savić), that was the last straw for the Lithuanians: all the players went to the bench and looked as though they would refuse to continue. It took the intervention of several Yugoslav players, led by Divac and Ðorđević (who went over to the Lithuanian bench to talk to their opponents), before common sense prevailed and the Lithuanians took to the court once again. But, psychologically, the Baltic players had defeated themselves, and Yugoslavia went on to win and cap a triumphant return to European Championship action.


 

BARCELONA (SPAIN) 1997: THE NEW YUGOSLAVIA BACK TO POWER

The number of participants in the Final Stage was increased again, this time to 16. Consequently, the competition system underwent some modifications, but nevertheless the final round remained basically the same, with a 1/4 final round prior to the cross-matches deciding the final positions in the tournament. Precisely in this decisive round of 1/4 finals the host team, Spain, was stunned by a more experienced Russia. Yugoslavia and Italy qualified for the final, and the Balkanic team, led by Bodiroga, triumphed in a quite defensive game (61-49). Aleksandar Ðorđević was elected MVP of the tournament.


 

PARIS (FRANCE) 1999: A CHANGE OF POWERS

Yugoslavia, who had dominated the competition for the last ten years (except the 1993 edition, when it wasn’t allowed to participate due to UN sanctions), was stopped in the decisive semifinal game by Italy (71-62). In the final, the Italians faced an old enemy, Spain, who in time qualified at the expense of the hosts, France. Curiously enough, the last time these two teams had played the final of the European Championship was back in 1983, also in French soil. Again, the victory went to a more experienced Italian team, who based their triumph on an outstanding defense (64-56). The MVP of the tournament went to the Italian power forward Gregor Fučka.


 

İSTANBUL (TURKEY) 2001: THE CHAMPIONSHIP IS PLAVI AGAIN

A new elimination round was introduced in the competition format prior to the 1/4 Finals, and it produced some surprises, like the clear victory of Latvia over neighbors Lithuania (94-76), or the defeats of Italy and Greece by Germany and Croatia, respectively. The local team, supported by their fans, made the most of their local advantage and qualified for the final against… who else? Yugoslavia. The Balkans overcame the pressure and the noise of a fully packed Abdi İpekçi in İstanbul to earn yet another gold medal, the eight in the history of Yugoslavia. Predrag Stojaković was elected MVP of the tournament.


 

STOCKHOLM (SWEDEN) 2003: THE GREEN TIDE

Lithuania, led by an unstoppable Šarūnas Jasikevičius (MVP of the tournament), renewed old memories and won the gold medal in the European Championship (their last such achievement dates back to 1939). A brilliant generation of players like Jasikevičius, Macijauskas, Štombergas, Songaila, Lavrinovič and the Žukauskas brothers (Mindaugas and Eurelijus) brought glory to Lithuania after leaving behind teams like Germany, Serbia-Montenegro and France. Their rival in the final, Spain, paid the price of a very intense semifinal against Italy and, in spite of the outstanding game of Pau Gasol (36 points), could not resist the Lithuanian power.


 

BELGRADE (SERBIA-MONTENEGRO) 2005: GREECE RETURNS TO OLYMPUS

Serbia-Montenegro hosted the 34th edition of the Eurobasket, and much was expected from the local team, composed by very experienced players in Europe and the NBA (Bodiroga, Rakočević, Rebrača, Tomašević, Gurović, Jarić…). But these expectations were soon frustrated, after their first game against Spain resulted in a heavy and somehow unexpected defeat (89-70). In a country with such a strong basketball tradition as Serbia-Montenegro, much was criticized about the attitude of some players and the lack of team spirit that always characterized the Balkanic team. So it wasn’t so much of a surprise when later France defeated the hosts in the elimination round and send them away from the fight for the medals. A surprising Germany (heavily dependant on an incredible Dirk Nowitzki, MVP of the tournament, who was vital in the semifinal against Spain) and a no less amazing Greece (with a bench player like Thodoris Papaloukas, who has the rare ability of always chosing the best alternative to the game) qualified for the final. Greece proved that their bench depth and team play was better, and easily won their second gold medal.


 

MADRID (SPAIN) 2007: A WORLD CHAMPION FRUSTRATED

Spain, current World Cup champion, had the perfect opportunity to add to their trophies in the European Championship edition they organized as hosts. For all the tournament, Pepu Hernández’s men showed the same intensity and good play that made them win the Worldbasket the year before in Japan, and when they qualified for the final against Russia they were the favorites in most bettings. But, after a closely fought game, the Russians broke Spain’s heart in a dramatic end, when J. R. Holden scored a decisive jumper with 2.1 seconds to go to make it 60-59 for David Blatt’s men, before Gasol’s shot on the buzzer went in… and out. It was the first European Championship title for Russia (as Soviet Union they had won previously 14 gold medals) and the 6th silver medal of Spain (who added to the cursing of the Eurobasket hosts, who don’t win the competition since 1993).


 

KATOWICE (POLAND) 2009: SPAIN, AT LAST, EUROPEAN CHAMPION

After six previous attempts, the best generation of Spanish basketball players finally won the Eurobasket gold and completed a magical career that started in 2006 with the World Championship and continued with two more silvers in the European Championship (2007) and the Olympic Games (2008). Led by Pau Gasol (although by no means dependant on him), Los Chicos de Oro ended the tournament on a high which no one could have suspected after their shaky start.

 

As in previous tournaments, Spain had impressed with a perfect preparation stage, with clear victories and a fluent game, which reinforced their role as top favorites in the Eurobasket. But then, a few days before the beginning of the competition, the “ÑBA” was beaten as clearly as unexpectedby by Lithuania in Vilnius (94-72), and many doubts cropped up in the team. These doubts multiplied after the first game (and defeat) with Serbia, and all of a sudden Spain seemed to be not so favorite after all. The second game against Great Britain was the turning point for Scariolo’s men, as they were virtually eliminated from the competition when trailing by four points a few minutes from time. They finally won this game, and in their next match they showed recovery symptoms when they beat one of the best teams in the Eurobasket so far, Slovenia, to qualify for the next stage.

 

The second round started with a narrow defeat against Turkey (63-60), with a last play in which young Sergi Llull had the winning basket but missed. After the game, the Italian coach of the Spanish team, Sergio Scariolo, was criticized in the local media for choosing Llull for the last play instead of more experienced players like Gasol, Navarro or Rubio. That defeat meant that Spain had to win their last two games in order to qualify for the quarterfinals. It might be the fear of early elimination, it might be the suffering during the competition, it might be the physical recovery of some key players, but from that moment on Spain started to play their best basketball, improving with every game and culminating in a spectacular first half in the final against Serbia (52-29) which boosted them to their first European gold medal. One by one, their rivals succumbed to the flurry of the Spanish game, with impressive displays both in attack and defense. Teams like France, Greece and Serbia, who had played some of the best basketball in the competition so far, looked depleted and minimized when they crossed their way with Spain, as their key players were completely neutralized by the Spanish defense (Parker in France, Spanoulis in Greece, Teodosić in Serbia).

 

The best generation of Spanish players was finally vindicated with this triumph, and proved they are a solid block that, over recent years, has learned to play as a group and doesn’t need the individual effort of key players. Calderón was missing (but not missed) and Pau Gasol didn’t need to play many minutes to become the top scorer of the competition and be chosen MVP.


 

KAUNAS (LITHUANIA) 2011: THE “ÑBA” BECOMES LEGEND

The greatest generation of Spanish basketball players confirmed their dominance in European basketball with a second consecutive Eurobasket gold. As if history repeated itself, after a very positive warm-up stage the “ÑBA”—who was billed as the indisputable favorite as it could finally muster all its best players in good shape (the Gasol brothers, Rudy Fernández, Calderón, Navarro and the reinforcement of the naturalized Congolese center Serge Ibaka)—had a shaky start in the tournament, with unconvincing victories over minor opposition and many doubts around its potential. The match against host Lithuania, however, seemed to be the turning point for Scariolo men, who completed one of the best first halfs ever witnessed in European basketball (36-62). After an almost unimportant defeat against Turkey in the last group game (with a rested Pau Gasol missing the game), Spain cruised to the gold with the same ease as two years before in Poland (although the tournament’s biggest surprise, Macedonia, showed a very strong opposition in the semifinal).

 

For many reasons, Eurobasket 2011 can be considered as one of the best editions in the history of the tournament. The pending NBA lockout meant that European stars in the North American league (Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Tony Parker, Andrej Kirilenko, Hidayet Türkoğlu…) could concentrate all their efforts in the competition. In addition, the selection of Lithuania as host country was also a guarantee of success, as this Baltic country has a long tradition in basketball and lives and breathes the sport like few others. As in previous editions, there were several surprises in the tournament, both positive (Macedonia and Finland) and negative (Italy, Turkey, Slovenia and Serbia); some star players confirmed the expectations around them (Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Juan Carlos Navarro, Tony Parker, Nicolas Batum), others became revelations (like the naturalized Georgian point guard Bo McCalebb, who was the main boost behind his team’s magnificent performance in the tournament) and some others failed to live up to expectations (Miloš Teodosić ahead of a disappointing Serbian team, as well as Turkish forward Hidayet Türkoğlu).


 

LJUBLJANA (SLOVENIA) 2013: FRANCE COMES OF AGE

For the first time in their long history of participations in the competition—missing only two editions since 1935—the best generation of French players (led by Parker, Batum and Diaw) became European champions at last. In order to achieve this success, France had to set their recent demons aside and defeat two-time defending champion and arch-rivals Spain in an epic semifinal, with Les Bleus rallying from a 14-point halftime deficit to overcome the Spaniards in overtime. In the final against Lithuania, although France was not generally favored once again, the team led on the court by NBA superstar Tony Parker (named MVP of the tournament) proved they were finally ripe for success: after dynamiting the game with a spectacular second quarter (31-12) they cruised to their first ever European gold.

 

With many top European players missing out for rest or injury (Pau Gasol, Dirk Nowitzki, Andrej Kirilenko, Juan Carlos Navarro, Miloš Teodosić, Andrea Bargnani, Joakim Noah, Nikola Peković…), the expectations for the 2013 edition in Slovenia were seriously downgraded. In fact, the competition was not remarkable by any standards: with a few exceptions, the basketball quality of the tournament was poor (especially compared with the magnificent 2011 edition in Lithuania). In this respect, it was significant that scores were in general low, although only 60 players fouled out in 90 games (which were also poorly attended, with the exception of those played by hosts Slovenia). As in previous editions, Eurobasket 2013 saw some unforeseen surprises (Ukraine, Croatia and Finland performed much better than expected) and also bitter disappointments (world cup finalists Turkey failed to advance after the group stage, and a heavily diminished Russian team also suffered the same fate).


 

LILLE (FRANCE) 2015: SPAIN AND PAU GASOL BECOME LEGEND

Against all odds, with some key players like Marc Gasol, Serge Ibaka and Ricky Rubio missing action through injury or rest, a very poor performance for most of the tournament and a tough semifinal against favored hosts France, Spain won their third European title in a similar fashion to 2009 and 2011: a shaky start in the competition gave way to an unstoppable final rush. It was not important this time that Spain couldn’t show their best squad in recent years or that other teams had more talented players, as coach Sergio Scariolo was lucky to have Pau Gasol in his ranks. The Spanish power forward provided yet another impressing display in a major tournament and topped his brilliant career with a new trophy, thus entering the selected elite of legendary players in European basketball.

 

For the first time in the history of Eurobasket, four nations jointly hosted the final stage of the competition: France, Germany, Croatia and Estonia. It was the former, though, who enjoyed the lion's share, as Montpellier saw early action in one of the preliminary groups and Lille, with its new and impressive Stade Pierre-Mauroy (actually a football stadium with a retractable roof), hosted the complete final round. Originally, Ukraine had been selected to organize the final stage of the tournament, and venues had been assigned to Kharkïv, Donets'k, Dnipropetrovs'k, Odessa, L’vïv and Kyïv, but the country had to give up this task due to the war situation in Eastern Ukraine. As several new candidates applied to host the tournament, FIBA Europe decided to give the green light to an old idea that had been lingering for some time: multiple organization.

 

As in the two previous editions, 24 teams entered the final stage, divided in four regional groups with venues in Montpellier, Berlin, Zagreb and Rīga. However, the competition system was simplified by the removal of the intermediate classification group stage, so that the qualifiers after the preliminary round entered directly the knock-out stages, played as an X-pairing all the way to the final. In group A (Montpellier), France, as expected, ended on top (altough the European champions were far from impressive) and Russia, quite unexpectedly, were eliminated after a very disappointing performance (plagued by the suspension warning by FIBA after the scandals in the Russian Basketball Federation and an alarming lack of preparation and tactical training). Israel (back on the European elite after several years of frustration), Poland and Finland (confirming their recent progression) joined France in the knock-out stages. Group B (Berlin) was one of the toughest, with Spain, Serbia, Turkey, Italy and Germany, together with newcomers Iceland, competing for the four qualifying spots. An impressive Serbia topped the group with a clean record. Previous European champions Spain struggled to find their usual pace, and after two defeats against Serbia and Italy had to earn their qualification in a heart-stopping game against hosts Germany (who failed to qualify, as Dirk Nowitzki alone was not enough). Italy and Turkey completed the qualifiers in Berlin. Group C (Zagreb) saw few surprises, as Greece, Croatia, Slovenia and Georgia qualified ahead of Macedonia and the Netherlands. The same applied to group D (Rīga), where Belgium was a positive surprise and joined Lithuania, Latvia and the Czech Republic into the next stage.

 

The real action started in Lille, with an 1/8 final knock-out round that provided the first shocks of the competition, as Latvia defeated Slovenia and the Czech Republic crushed Croatia. Greece, France, Serbia and Italy looked impressive, whereas Spain, still struggling, needed their best defense of the tournament and a Pau Gasol at full throttle to get past a stubborn Polish team. The 1/4 fnals had no surprises, as all the favorites qualified (although Spain, less favored than ever against Greece, had to show all their resilience). Into the semifinals, France and Serbia looked the most likely teams to qualify for the final, as they had provided the best basketball of the tournament up to this stage. However, the hosts suffered a major blow at the hands of Spain, who avenged their last defeat in the 2014 World Cup with a masterly performance by Pau Gasol, who scored half of the points of his team and was simply unstoppable for the French defense. In the other semifinal, Lithuania shocked favorites Serbia after a thrilling game.

 

In a repetition of the 2003 final, Spain and Lithuania met to decide the supremacy in European basketball. After a rather disappointing tournament, the “ÑBA” had finally recovered their usual pace and confidence following the semifinal game against France, and with the inspirational and impressive Pau Gasol they looked unstoppable again. Lithuania seemed to feel it too, for they were no match for Sergio Scariolo’s men in a quite one-sided final, in which Spain cruised to their third European title. Unsurprisingly, Pau Gasol was named MVP of the tournament after his fabulous display.


 

İSTANBUL (TURKEY) 2017: GREEN MAGIC

Like in the previous edition, four countries co-hosted the 2017 Eurobasket, with group stage games held in Finland, Israel, Romania and Turkey and the knock-out phase played at Istanbul’s Sinan Erdem Dome. The tournament produced one of the greatest surprises in the recent history of the competition, as underdogs Slovenia won their first ever title after defeating Serbia 93-85 in the final. On the road, the Slovenes completed a perfect 9-0 (becoming the first team to go undefeated and win the championship since 1995), including clear victories over the last two champions, Spain and France. Even after teenage sensation Luka Dončič limped off with an ankle injury in the second half and playmaker Goran Dragič joined him on the bench late in the game with a mix of fatigue and cramps, Slovenia weathered a desperate rally from Serbia thanks to an amazing performance by substitute Klemen Prepelič.

 

2013 winners France, without inspirational playmaker Tony Parker, had an early exit in the 1/8 Finals round against Germany, whereas current current champions Spain, heavily favored to win the tournament with the likes of the Gasol brothers, Sergio Rodríguez, Ricky Rubio and Juan Carlos Navarro, had to bow out to Slovenia in the semifinals.

  

© www.linguasport.com

Website designed and maintained by Santiago Velasco