Fiba European Champions Cup and Euroleague history

FIBA Champions Cup for men's clubs - origins and early history (1958–1960)

L'Equipe is widely credited for birthing the idea of a European club competition, first and foremost, in European football. Basketball was soon to latch onto the quickly successful idea, and the idea was discussed by FIBA, during the 1957 FIBA European Championship in Bulgaria. Then FIBA Secretary General William Jones, set up a commission consisting of Borislav Stanković (Yugoslavia), Raimundo Saporta (Spain), Robert Busnel (France), Miloslav Kriz (Czechoslovakia), and Nikolai Semashko (Soviet Union), to come up with a proposal.

The commission invited Europe's national basketball federations to send their national domestic league champions, L'Equipe donated a trophy, and in 1958, the FIBA European Cup For Men's Champion Clubs, or, FIBA European Champions Cup, started.

Clubs from Eastern Europe (from the former Soviet bloc) dominated the early years. They not only won the first six editions of the competition (three times ASK Riga, twice CSKA Moscow, and once Dinamo Tbilisi), but also managed to reach the finals four times in the first six years (twice Akademic Sofia, once Dinamo Tbilissi, and ASK Riga).

2.18 m (7'2") tall Soviet player Jānis Krūmiņš, was the man in the middle for ASK Riga's initial three-peat, as he was an unmatched dominant force inside.

The '60s, Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow rise

In 1961, things began to change. The main Western European basketball club, Real Madrid, started to show signs of ambition, and was eliminated only after the semifinal, by Riga.

The following two years, the Spanish League champions, Real Madrid, found their way to the final game, but lost both times, versus Tbilisi and CSKA. Eventually, Real won the first of its eight European crowns in 1964, by beating the Czechs of Spartak Brno.

However, that season, the USSR League champions did not participate, because the Soviet Union national team (made up of 90% of the players from CSKA) was preparing for the 1964 Summer Olympic Games. Anyway, this season was a big twist for European basketball, as it marked the beginning of the domination of the "wealthy" Western European clubs.

From then through 1968, Real Madrid and Olimpia Milano, then known for sponsorship reasons as Simmenthal, shared the title of the best European team. Real Madrid could rely on players like Clifford Luyk, the first naturalized American player with such a big role, Emiliano Rodríguez, Miles Aiken, Bob Burgess, and later Wayne Brabender.

Meanwhile, Milano, in 1966, was led by a young and smart American forward: Bill Bradley, who would later become an NBA champion with the 1970 and 1973 New York Knicks. Still later, Bradley would become a senator for the state of New Jersey and, finally, a candidate for the United States Presidency. Bradley, who was studying at Oxford, as a Rhodes Scholar, took advantage of his year in Europe, to give decisive help to Milano.

In 1969, CSKA, inspired by the talented Sergei Belov, managed to beat Real Madrid in Barcelona. The young Belov had 19 points that night, but his teammate, big 2.15 m (7'1") tall center Vladimir Andreev, exploded for 37 points.

The '70s, Varese-Meneghin Dynasty

After the Soviet and Madrid dynasties, the '70s were, without any doubt, the decade of Varese.

The Italian League champions found a way, year after year, to reach the final game of the competition. Indeed, Varese played the 10 finals in the '70s, winning five of them. Real Madrid, CSKA Moscow, the enthusiastic Bosna Sarajevo, and the up-and-coming Maccabi Tel-Aviv, were the other champions of the decade.

At the time, Varese was led by the legendary center, Dino Meneghin, whom was surrounded by players such as, one of the best scorers in Italian League history, Bob Morse, Mexican shooter Manuel Raga, Ottorino Flaborea, John Fultz, Ivan Bisson, etc.

In 1971, CSKA won its last European title, until they won it again in the year 2006. They beat Varese, thanks to Sergei Belov's 24 points. Varese, after a tough win in the championship game against Split in 1972, won the championship one more time, against CSKA in 1973. This was despite the play of Sergei Belov. Belov, was once again the dominant scorer, with 36 points in the 1973 championship game.

In the 1974 final, Varese, after almost securing the win, was upset by Real Madrid, on an unbelievable late surge, led by Wayne Brabender and Carmelo Cabrera.

In 1977, the Israelis of Maccabi Tel-Aviv, whose leaders Jim Boatwright and Miki Berkovich, combined for 43 points against Varese, won the first of their six European crowns. A big surprise to the world of European basketball. At last, in 1979, the Yugoslavian League school of basketball began to dazzle Europe. Bosna Sarajevo, led by a young coach (32 years old) named Bogdan Tanjević, beat Varese in Grenoble, France. The great performances of its shooters, Žarko Varajić (45 points), and Mirza Delibašić (30 points), offered its first European crown to Yugoslavia.

The '80s, Italian and Yugoslav dominance

What could have been the decade of Maccabi Tel-Aviv (six finals appearances, but only one win), eventually became a triumph for Italian League basketball (seven finals appearances, and five wins).

Italy managed to generate three different European champions (Cantù, Roma, and Milano) in only seven years. These ten years were also marked by the definitive emergence of the elegant and inspired Yugoslavian League style of basketball. First, Cibona Zagreb, led by the phenomenal Dražen Petrović, won two times in a row (in 1985 and '86). Then, the up-and-coming Jugoplastika/POP 84 Split, won three consecutive titles (in 1989, '90 and '91), revealing the talent of players such as Dino Rađa, Toni Kukoč, and others, like (Zoran Savić, Zoran Sretenović, Velimir Perasović, Žan Tabak...).

In 1982 and 1983, Cantù, traditional runner-up to the mighty Varese in the Italian League, won its two European titles, thanks to the young and talented Antonello Riva (16, then 18 points in the finals). The former Varese star, Dino Meneghin, who had joined Olimpia Milano, imported his winning tradition to Lombardy, to play in his eleventh European Final (in 1983). But he eventually lost what seemed like a wrestling match, against Wallace Bryant of Cantù, in one of the most physical and "ugliest" finals of all time.

After Cantù's back to back wins, Banco di Roma took over for one year. Its American players, Larry Wright and Clarence Kea, dominated the final, scoring respectively, 27 and 17 points. Then began the reign of Cibona Zagreb, and the marvelous Dražen Petrović.

"Little Mozart", as Petrović was nicknamed, scored 36 points against Real Madrid in the 1985 championship game, and added 22 against Arvydas Sabonis and Žalgiris Kaunas a year later. Italy got back to its back-to-back tradition in 1987, and '88, as Milano, now bearing the sponsorship name of Tracer Milano, beat Maccabi Tel-Aviv twice. Then, in 1989, the wonderful generation of Jugoplastika Split (Kukoč, Rađa, Savić, etc.) took over and dominated European basketball for three years.

The '90s, the Greek rise

The '90s saw two of the most exciting and controversial endings in the history of the competition, which in 1996, became known as the FIBA EuroLeague, using the name, Euroleague, for the first time.

In 1992, Partizan Belgrade's young duo of Sasha Đorđević and Predrag Danilović, led the underdogs to a title, the fourth consecutive for a Yugoslav League club. Danilovic was named the Euroleague Final Four MVP, but it was Djordjevic's last second, coast-to-coast three-pointer, which lifted Partizan to a 71–70 victory against Joventut Badalona.

The following year, saw another underdog take the title, as the French League club Limoges, stunned the Toni Kukoč-led club of Benetton Treviso in the final.

In 1994, Badalona made up for their last second defeat against Partizan two years earlier. This time, it was the Spanish League club's turn to stage a late rally. Against an Olympiacos team with the regular season's best record, Badalona forward Corny Thompson, hit a three-pointer (his fifth of the entire competition), to put his team up by 2-points, with 19 seconds remaining.

Olympiacos had a chance to tie the game at the free throw line, but Yugoslavian national team star Žarko Paspalj, only made one of two free throws, and Badalona held on for the win.

The title stayed in Spain in 1995, but this time with Real Madrid. Arvydas Sabonis, led Real Madrid to victory over Olympiacos in the final, and won the only European club honor that had eluded him, before going to play in the NBA.

1996 proved to be one of the most controversial finals to any European club competition. Greek club Panathinaikos, pulled off the coup of the season, by signing former NBA star Dominique Wilkins, but it was Croatian center Stojko Vranković, who decided the outcome of the Euroleague Final Four.

The 2.18 m (7'2") tall center, ran the length of the court, to block Barcelona's Jose Antonio Montero's lay-up attempt, in the last second, to seal the win for Panathinaikos. Although the block looked like a possible goal-tend, no call was made, and Panathinaikos were the first ever champions from the Greek League. Although this would seem to indicate that a goal tend call should have been made, the situation is less than clear. In fact, numerous violations occurred in the last seconds of the game, none of which were called by the referees. Panathinaikos had possession of the ball, and with 8 seconds remaining on the game clock, Panathinaikos guard Panagiotis Giannakis lost possession of the ball (possibly after being fouled, though no foul call was made). As players from both teams struggled to gain possession of the ball, the shot clock was renewed illegally (since the ball was in possession of neither team, a shot clock violation should have been called against Panathinaikos, meaning that the game clock should have been stopped, and Barcelona should have been given the ball, with an upcoming inbound pass). The situation was further exacerbated, by the fact that the game clock stuck at 4.9 seconds for about 6 seconds, thus allowing Barcelona nearly 10 seconds of play.

Olympiacos continued Greek supremacy over the EuroLeague in 1997. After Olympiacos had lost in the final in both 1994 and 1995, their new signing, David Rivers, proved to be the difference in 1997. Rivers averaged 27 points in the two games of the Euroleague Final Four, and Olympiacos beat Barcelona in the final, to win their first ever EuroLeague title.

In the ten years since the Euroleague Final Four format had been introduced, the club with the best regular season record had never won the title. That changed in 1998, when Kinder Bologna romped through the competition.

Winning rosters

FIBA European Champions Cup

FIBA European League

FIBA Euroleague

FIBA SuproLeague

Euroleague Basketball

Top scoring performances in finals games

  1. Žarko Varajić (Bosna Sarajevo) 45 points vs. Emerson Varese (in 1978–79 final)
  2. Vladimir Andreev (CSKA Moscow) 37 points vs. Real Madrid (in 1968–69 final)
  3. Dražen Petrović (Cibona Zagreb) 36 points vs. Real Madrid (in 1984–85 final)
  4. Sergei Belov (CSKA Moscow) 34 points vs. Ignis Varese (in 1972–73 final)
  5. Steve Chubin (Simmenthal Milano) 34 points vs. Real Madrid (in 1966–67 final)
  6. Earl Williams (Maccabi Tel Aviv) 31 points vs. Real Madrid (in 1979–80 final)
  7. Emiliano Rodríguez (Real Madrid) 31 points vs. Spartak Brno (in first leg of 1963–64 final)
  8. Juan Antonio San Epifanio (FC Barcelona) 31 points vs. Banco di Roma (in 1983–84 final)
  9. Wayne Hightower (Real Madrid) 30 points vs. Dinamo Tbilisi (in 1961–62 final)
  10. Mirza Delibašić (Bosna Sarajevo) 30 points vs. Emerson Varese (in 1978–79 final)
  11. Clifford Luyk (Real Madrid) 30 points vs. CSKA Moscow (in first leg of 1964–65 final)
  12. Frantisek Konvicka (Spartak Brno) 30 points vs. Real Madrid (in first leg of 1963–64 final)

External links

  • Euroleague Official Web Page
  • InterBasket Euroleague Basketball Forum
  • TalkBasket Euroleague Basketball Forum
  • Euroleague's Youtube Channel
  • Euroleague's Youtube Channel (Spanish)


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