Basketball globalization was made a reality by Borislav Stankovic

2020-03-20T14:00:25+00:00 2020-03-21T16:22:11+00:00.

Giannis Askounis

20/Mar/20 14:00

This year, 2020, keeps on getting tougher for basketball.

By John Askounis/

Borislav Stankovic passed away at his home at Belgrade, Serbia. Indeed sad news for basketball fans worldwide. Committed himself to basketball for decades directly impacting the global growth of the sport.

Under his watch, the partnership between FIBA and the NBA was initiated. The overseas side featured David Stern as the NBA commissioner. The bridges between the East and the West built by the two men in various basketball areas hold strong and seem set for decades to come past their deaths within the first three months of 2020.

Dream Team

Stankovic’s crowning achievement was including NBA players into FIBA competitions. He opened the door back in 1989 when the FIBA Congress dropped the word “Amateur” from its name and the Fédération Internationale de Basketball Amateur became the Fédération Internationale de Basketball. A few years later, the Dream Team was born.

Team USA previously featured NCAA players in previous competitions, but its top NBA stars the likes of Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, and others made their way to the 1992 Olympic Games in Barcelona, while international NBA stars competed as well. That tournament was prepped and ultimately vindicated as a game-changing moment for FIBA tournaments and basketball overall.

Basketball was becoming a global sport. Nothing was about to stop its growth. Younger fans now enjoy major competitions between national teams with the top players available as a given.

The NBA obsession

No easy road for Stankovic, the New York Post recalls. He was determined to add NBA players to major international competitions from the late 1970s. However, the extra push provided by Team USA being held to the bronze medals in the 1988 Olympic Games was needed.

He always failed to grasp how FIBA was supposed to be running basketball and the NBA did not know what FIBA was. His constant effort for NBA players in the Olympic Games and the World Cups was completely ignored, not only by the NBA but within FIBA circles as well. In 1986, the FIBA Congress turned down his suggestion to allow NBA players in FIBA competitions.

The vote passed three years later, 56-13. Even then and even after the 1988 Olympics, few actually thought the NBA would give up its players during the summers. It wasn’t until Magic Johnson expressed his willingness to play for Team USA that the floodgates opened. However, most fans believe that wouldn’t be the case if the 1988 USA team won gold.

Connecting at multiple levels

Before the 1988 turning point and the 1989 adjustment to FIBA rules, Stankovic met with Stern in New York City. The best they could do at the time was to organize the inaugural McDonald’s Open featuring the Milwaukee Bucks, the Soviet Union national team and Tracer Milano. The tournament expanded to four teams pitting NBA sides against European, South American, and Australian clubs, and was held on a yearly basis up to 1991 and every two years up to 1999.

Stepping stones

In 1953, Stankovic launched his career as a basketball official by joining the Yugoslavian Basketball Federation, YBF. He only needed seven years to earn the Vice-Secretary General position in FIBA upon the proposal of the first Secretary General, Renato William Jones. After concluding his time with YBF in 1966 became the Deputy Secretary General in 1972.

Moved further up the FIBA ranks and was named the second Secretary General in 1976 holding the prominent role in the basketball governing body up to 2002. From 1988 to 2006 helped the sport as a member of the International Olympic Committee, IOC, as well. Since 2003 was FIBA’s Secretary General Emeritus.

As the Secretary General for 26 years and working closely with Stern signaled the modern era of basketball. Apart from bringing NBA players in the FIBA competitions, he is largely credited for launching the movement of international players to the NBA. As firmly stated above, nothing was going to stop the growth of basketball.


Stankovic was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 1991 and six years later into the FIBA Hall of Fame. For his contribution in women’s basketball, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame enshrined him in 2000. Countless awards and competitions sporting his name simply add on his worldwide recognition.

Committing to basketball

At a young age, Stankovic focused on tennis and table tennis. It wasn’t until his teenage years that circumstances pushed him to basketball. Before pledging himself to the sport as an executive, he helped Crvena Zvezda win its first two Yugoslav championships in 1946 and 1947 and played in the inaugural World Cup in 1950 representing Yugoslavia. He also coached following his playing career.