By Aris Barkas/ firstname.lastname@example.org
Dusan Ivkovic will be missed. His career is full of accolades and trophies. A coach since 1977, his rise to one of the icons of European basketball passed first and foremost from the bench of the Yugoslavian national team.
Before winning the EuroLeague twice, Duda was synonymous with the excellence of the Yugoslavian national team, which won the Eurobasket of 1989 and of 1991 and the FIBA World Cup 1990.
The triumph of Yugoslavia in 1990 marked the end of the “amateur rule” in international basketball. It was the last big FIBA tournament in which NBA players were not allowed to compete. The roster included among others Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc, Vlade Divac, Zarko Paspalj, and at point guard Ivkovic’s heir as the most dominant basketball coach in Europe, Zeljko Obradovic.
However, one year later, that team was a victim of the breakup of Yugoslavia. Slovenian point guard Jure Zdovc was notoriously forced to leave the team without notice during Eurobasket 1991, announcing to Ivkovic with tears in his eyes that the Slovenian government, which had claimed the country to be independent from Yugoslavia on July 25, had ordered him to do so.
Still, even without players from Slovenia and Croatia, which included Hall of Famers Drazen Petrovic, Dino Radja, and Toni Kukoc, Dusan Ivkovic has marked the possible matchup against the Dream Team in the 1992 Olympics. It was a game with obvious significance for Yugoslavia and not only for political reasons.
That could have been the pinnacle of Dusan Ivkovic’s career. “If not for the war, I believe that we would have beaten the Dream Team”, he said recently in one of his interviews with the Greek national television. “While other players were taking photos with the Americans, Jordan, and the rest, we were working for that game, because I believe that we could have beat them”.
That match-up almost happened in 1992, but once more politics interfered. While Dusan Ivkovic and the Yugoslavian national team were already on training camp, on July 22nd of 1992, the United Nations decided that its resolution prohibiting sports contacts with Yugoslavia allows individual athletes from that country, but not teams, to compete in the Barcelona Olympics.
That was the end of an era and remains one of the biggest “what ifs” in European basketball.
The Yugoslavian national team returned to the European top, winning Eurobasket 1995 again under Ivkovic. The national team ultimately changed its name in 2003 to Serbia and Montenegro and to Serbia in 2006.
Still, the dominance of the Yugoslavian national team of the early 90s couldn’t be replicated and nothing was the same.
Dusan Ivkovic was the keeper and the embodiment of this legacy. And since his last days, he defined himself not only as a Serb but also as Yugoslavian.