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FIBA Champions Cup for men's clubs-origins and early history (1958-2000)

L'Equipe is widely credited for birthing the idea of 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 European Championship in Bulgariamarker. FIBA Secretary General William Jones set up a Commission consisting of Borislav Stanković (SFRY), Raimundo Saporta (Spainmarker), Robert Busnel (Francemarker), Miloslav Kriz (Czechoslovakia) and Nikolai Semashko (Soviet Unionmarker) to come up with a proposal.

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

Clubs from Eastern Europe (not to say from the former Soviet block) 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 Tbilissi), but also managed to reach the final four times in the first six years (twice Akademik Sofia, once Dinamo Tbilissi and ASK Riga).

Soviet player Janis Krumins (2.18 m) was the man in the middle for ASK Riga’s initial threepeat, as he was an unmatched dominant force inside.

The 60's, 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 in semi-final by Riga.

The two following years, the Spanish champions 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, beating the Czechs of Spartak Brno.

However, that season, the USSRmarker champions did not participate because the national team (made of 90% of players from CSKA) was preparing for the Olympics. Anyway, this season was a big twist for European basketball as it marked the beginning of the domination of the “wealthy” Western European clubs.

Then, until 1969, Real Madrid and Olimpia Milano, then called Simmenthal, shared the title of the best European team. Madrid could rely on players like Clifford Luyk, the first naturalized American player with such a big role, Emiliano Rodriguez, Miles Aiken, Bob Burgess and later Wayne Brabender.

Meanwhile, Milan, 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 candidate for the United States presidency. Bradley, who was studying at Oxfordmarker as a Rhodes Scholar, took advantage of his year in Europe to give decisive help to Milan.

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 fellow teammate, big center Vladimir Andreev (2.15 m), exploded for 37.

The '70s, Varese-Meneghin Dynasty

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

The Italian 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. Madrid, CSKA, the enthusiastic Bosna Sarajevo and the upand- coming Maccabi Tel-Aviv were the other champions of the decade.

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

In 1971, CSKA won its last European title until 2006, beating Varese, thanks to Sergei Belov’s 24 points. After a tough win against KK Split in 1972, Ignis Varese won one more time against CSKA in spite of Sergei Belov. He was once again the dominant scorer with 36 points in the championship game.

In the 1974 final, Varese, after almost securing the win, was upset by Real Madrid on an unbelievable late surge led by Brabender and 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 its five European crowns. A big surprise to the world of European basketball. At last, in 1979, the Yugoslavian school of basketball began to dazzle Europe. Bosna Sarajevo, led by a young coach (28 years old) named Bogdan Tanjevic, beat Varese in Grenoblemarker, France. The great performances of its shooters, Žarko Varajić (45 points) and Mirza Delibasic (30 points), offered its first European crown to Yugoslavia.

The '80s, Italy and Yugoslav dominance

What could have been the decade of Maccabi (six finals but only one win), eventually became a triumph for Italian basketball (seven finals 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 basketball. First, Cibona Zagreb, led by the phenomenal Drazen Petrovic, won two times in a row (1985 and 86). Then, the up-and-coming Jugoplastika/POP 84 Split, won three consecutive titles (1989, 90 and 91), revealing the talent of players such as Dino Radja, Toni Kukoc and others (Zoran Savic, Zoran Sretenovic, Velimir Perasovic, Zan Tabak...).

In 1982 and 1983, Cantù, traditional runner-up of the mighty Varese in the Italian League, won its two European titles, thanks to the young and talented Antonello Riva (16, then 18 points). 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 Drazen Petrovic.

“Little Mozart” scored 36 points against Real in the 1985 championship game and added 22 against Arvydas Sabonis and Zalgiris 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 (Kukoc, Radja, Savic 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 the FIBA EuroLeague.

In 1992 Partizan Belgrade's young duo of Sasha Djordjevic and Predrag Danilovic led the underdogs to a title, the fourth consecutive for a Yugoslav club. Danilovic was the 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 French side Limoges stunned the Toni Kukoc-led Benetton Treviso in the final.

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

Olympiacos had a chance to tie the game at the free throw line, but Yugoslav star Zarko Paspalj made one of two and Badalona held on for the win.

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

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

The 218 cm ran the length of the court to block Barcelona's Jose 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 Greek champions.

Olympiacos continued Greek supremacy over the EuroLeague in 1997. Having lost in the final in 1994 and 1995, new signing David Rivers proved to be the difference in 1997. Rivers scored 55 points in the Final Four and Olympiacos beat Barcelona in the final to win their first ever EuroLeague title.

In the ten years since the Final Four format was 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

Champions Cup

European League


FIBA Suproleague

ULEB Euroleague

Top scoring performances in Final 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) 33 points vs. Real Madrid (in 1979-80 final)
  7. Wayne Hightower (Real Madrid) 32 points vs. Dinamo Tbilisi (in 1961-62 final)
  8. Emiliano Rodríguez (Real Madrid) 31 points vs. Spartak Brno (in first leg of 1963-64 final)
  9. Juan Antonio San Epifanio (FC Barcelona) 31 points vs. Banco di Roma (in 1983-84 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)

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