The day that European basketball changed

2017-08-05T14:42:22+00:00 2017-08-06T15:45:14+00:00.

Aris Barkas

05/Aug/17 14:42

It’s been already 25 years since the Dream Team appeared in Barcelona’s Olympic Games. That’s when basketball became a real global sport. However, if you try to pin point the time when the game really changed in Europe, you have to go back to 1987.

By Aris Barkas/

Beating the USA – at least until the 2002 Mundobasket disaster for the hosts of the event at Indianapolis – was the holy grail for every national team. It was an era during which basketball wasn’t that popular in most parts of the world, with very few exceptions, and the best case scenario was competing for second fiddle behind football (ed. note: soccer if you are a US reader).

This is still a reality in most places around Europe, however it’s obvious that basketball’s status changed after 1992 and can be compared only to football. The NBA glamour combined with the local talent around the world turned the tables. And while the Barcelona Olympics and the Dream Team remain the popularity milestone, the on-court milestone for Europe is the 1987 FIBA World Championship for junior men.

Yes, there’s also the 1972 Olympic final in Munich and the 51-50 win of the Soviet Union over the USA, which is recorded as the first ever loss since the sport began Olympic play in 1936, but that remains one of the most controversial events in Olympic history. And after all, it was a game between US college players against grown men.

Held in Bormio, Italy, the 1987 FIBA World Championship for junior men was the first time that a US team which included future stars failed to get the job done against equal competition. It was not a bad team. On the contrary, it included Larry Johnson, Gary Payton, Lionel Simmons, Scott Williams and Stacy Augmon among others.

Still Yugoslavia won the tournament undefeated, beating the USA 86-76 in the final behind 21 points by Vlade Divac and 20 by Dino Radja. Tony Kukoc and current Serbia NT coach Aleksandar Djordjevic were also among the stars of the team, which was coached by Svetislav Pesic, a world champion also in the 2002 Indianapolis Mundobasket tournament. Those four players were already part of the senior team, which won the bronze medal the same year in the Eurobasket 1987 behind Greece and Soviet Union.

With the same core of players and having Drazen Petrovic as the leader, Yugoslavia went on to win Eurobasket 1989, Mundobasket 1990 and Eurobasket 1991. That was it. By 1991 the break up of Yugoslavia as a country was a fact and then war followed. During Eurobasket 1991 Slovenian Jure Zdovc was asked by the Slovenian goverment to leave the Yugoslavian team which finished the tournament with 11 players. Eurobasket started on the 24th of June and Slovenian independance was declared on 25th of June 1991.

Pretty much the same Yugoslavian team lost to Larry Bird’s Boston Celtics in the 1998 McDonalds open 113-85 with Larry Legend scoring 27 points.

Still the big question remains. If there was a united Yugoslavia present in the 1992 Olympics what could have happened in the final against the Dream Team?

The logical answer is that the result would have been the same. However, the half time score in Bormio 30 years ago was 43-40 for the US, so you never know…