Turkish Airlines Euroleague
May 20, 2013
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MUNICH 1999: A SURPRISE IN GREEN
ZALGIRIS 82-74 KINDER BOLOGNA
The same competition formula brought with it several new teams to the Euroleague in 1999. Zalgiris Kaunas of Lithuania entered for the first time among the top 24 teams, as did Fenerbahce of Turkey, Avtodor Saratov and Samara of Russia, Tau Ceramica and TDK Manresa of Spain, Red Star of Yugoslavia, and an historic returnee, Varese of Italy. It was the year of the rookies. One of them, Zalgiris, led by a young Tyus Edney and a veteran Anthony Bowie, managed to dethrone defending champion Kinder Bologna by 82-74 in the grand final in Munich, Germany. Before that, in the semifinals, Zalgiris destroyed Olympiakos, the champions from 1997, by 87-71, while in a duel of Bologna teams, Kinder stopped Teamsystem, 62-57. Zalgiris had shown its great quality in the first phase by winning its group (8-2), adding a 4-2 balance in the second phase for a total record of 12-4. In the playoffs, the Lithuanians eliminated Turkish giants Ulker and Efes Pilsen 2-0 each. In the final, despite 27 points by Kinder's Antoine Rigaudeau (a final-game record shared with Zoran Savic, from 1991), Zalgiris dominated. The winners were a brilliant mix of Americans perimeter stars (Tyus Edney and Anthony Bowie), Lithuanian talents (Saulius Stombergas, Tomas Masiulis, Eurelijus and Mindaugas Zukauskas, Dainius Adomaitis, Darius Maskoliunas, Kestutis Sestokas) and center Jiri Zidek of the Czech Republic, who had won an NCAA title with Edney at UCLA four years earlier.
Zalgiris 82-74 Kinder Bologna
3RD PLACE GAME
Olympiakos 74-63 Teamsystem Bologna
Kinder Bologna 62-57 Teamsystem Bologna
Zalgiris 87-71 Olympiakos
INTERVIEW: SAULIUS STOMBERGAS, ZALGIRIS
The blond "German", as Saulius Stombergas is nicknamed in Lithuania, was one of the few Zalgiris players in Munich whose name was already familiar to the basketball world. A year before, Stombergas had stunned everybody by scoring 35 points against favorite Stefanel Milan in the title game of the Saporta Cup in Belgrade. In Munich, he was less prolific, averaging 11 points over two games, but Zalgiris did not need great individual exploits to win the title, because up to eight players shared the load. After Munich, Stombergas would play another two European finals - the 2000 Saporta Cup with Kinder and the 2001 Euroleague with Tau Ceramica - before returning to Kaunas. His 39 points, including 9-for-9 three-pointers, in a 2001 Euroleague playoff road game at AEK Athens shows how prolific Stombergas remains. His memories of Munich were prolific, too.
How do you remember the Final Four tournament in Munich?
"It was really a great atmosphere in the city for those few days we stayed there. I knew that Munich was a big venue for soccer, and FC Bayern first of all, and the Final Four coincided with an important Bayern game in Munich. Nevertheless, it turned into a basketball city in those days, too. Basketball was in the air everywhere... We had some time to stroll around the downtown, and there were noisy throngs wearing colors of their teams everywhere. The teams, notably the two from Bologna, were archrivals but their fans were very friendly with us. It was really nice that the Greek and the Italian fans in the Munich streets would recognize us, call us by name and greet us cordially. The tournament itself was organized according to the best German standards, and on court there was creme-de-la-creme of European basketball. Obviously, I was tremendously happy we were there, too. That was a great basketball fiesta, and it was crowned, for us, by a great victory. That is the memory of a lifetime."
What was the key to Zalgiris victory in Munich?
"We joined the Euroleague after winning the 1998 Europe Cup, and that gave us some confidence and an impetus to continue going for big wins. Still, at the beginning of the season, we did not even dare to dream about winning the Euroleague. The goal set for us by the club was just to make it to the playoff stage. Fortunately enough, we had a very good team that year - Anthony Bowie, Tyus Edney, Mindaugas and Eurelijus Zukauskas, Dainius Adomaitis, George Zidek, Darius Maskoliunas, Tomas Masiulis, Kestutis Sestokas - also by virtue of the NBA lockout. We had some problems of team chemistry in the regular season, but when we finally accomplished the task and qualified for the post-season games, there was no more outside pressure and suddenly everything had become much easier than before. We played easy-rolling games, and our performance improved day in and day out. To my mind, the big teams somewhat neglected us in Munich. They were strong and rich, they had famous coaches, they had recently won the Euroleague. We were almost nobody to them, a kind of tag-along. On the other hand, we were aware that for most of us that might be a unique opportunity to grab the title, and that was another big stimulus. We played almost at the top of our possibilities there, and we did it. Nobody could stop us."
In your two games you were opposed not only by two European superteams, first Olympiakos and then Kinder, but also by big crowds of their extremely ardent fans in the stands. Did it have any effect on your performance?
"We had occasionally met very ardent fans before, too, but the Olympiahalle arena was a real hell's atrium. They said there were some four or five thousand fans from Greece and Italy in the stands. However, there was also one corner painted green, and that was where our fans stood. They were not as numerous as the others, but they rooted for us as loud as they could. It was the first time that we had more than a thousand Lithuanian fans when we played abroad, and that was really great. During the games our eyes would often spot out that green patch in the stands that was giving us tremendous feedback. Quite curiously, when we played the final game against Kinder, we had a few thousand fans more: after Fortitudo had lost in the semis, all their fans who did not leave for home rooted for us. So, in the final game we felt as if we were playing in Kaunas."
What were your personal missions and accomplishments in those two games?
"Frankly, I do not remember well if I had any special mission in those games. I just remember that before the semis game against Olympiakos we had a meeting and Coach Kazlauskas focused on restraining Dragan Tarlac, who seemed to be a major threat to us. Despite our efforts he scored 15 points, but we were doing much better as a team and we won easily, 87-71. There was one additional circumstance that affected positively our resolve in that game. At the end of the pregame meeting, our press officer told us that the Olympiakos coach Dusan Ivkovic had made a statement in which he described Zalgiris as the underdog of the tournament and was just focusing on his team's chances in the final game. 'We, underdogs?! OK, we'll show them who is the underdog here!' was Anthony Bowie's reaction. He was really furious, and when the game started he immediately took the reins into his hands and made several very important baskets. We jumped ahead, calmed down, and then all of us played great. But Anthony was absolutely unstoppable, he poured in the game-high 19 points. Dainius Adomaitis had a great night too, 15 points, I scored 10 points. It was an easier win than we anticipated, and that gave us further confidence for the final game versus Kinder. We played our game and they seemed groggy when we led by 15 at the halftime, and then even increased the gap to 18. But then Hugo Sconochini dunked a resurrection dunk and they were alive again by the end of the game. We shut down Predrag Danilovic, but Antoine Rigaudeau could not miss from three (5 for 7). They were tremendously experienced, but we wanted too much to win that night, and we beat them, 82-74. Anthony was again our top scorer with 17 points, Tyus added 14, Minde (Zukauskas) and I each scored 12."
Can you compare the emotions of the year before, when you were the protagonist in the Saporta Cup, to those of the 1999 Final Four, when you were one of several important players?
"Both victories were important to me, but the Euroleague championship was undoubtedly an incomparable achievement. Some teams in the Europe Cup were very strong indeed, but you cannot compare the two competitions in general. The Euroleague has no comparisons with any other competition in the continent. It is top-notch basketball. In the 1998 Europe Cup finals, I had a great night and my teammates noticed it immediately and helped me too, that's all. In the 1999 Final Four, we had a better team, with a few great players who could do extraordinary things on the floor, but coach Jonas Kazlauskas requested good teamwork first of all and not individual exploits. Obviously, we were fortunate enough to have Tyus Edney at point. He could beat any single opponent using his quickness and perfect technical skills, but he was very important for the teamwork too. Tyus used to take on a lot of attention from the opponents and that created more freedom to the rest of us. He helped us to utilize our best qualities during the game, and that was very important, in the Final Four especially. Tyus deserved the MVP title that he was awarded in Munich, but at the same time he never tended to overshadow his teammates."
How did they accept you in Lithuania upon returning from Munich?
"Oh, it was really great. Thousands of fans waited for us to come at the Kaunas airport, there was a great jubilation in the town for three days. Then we had a month of various gala meetings, receptions (including one by the country's President Mr. Valdas Adamkus), award ceremonies, TV appearances and so on. It was also tiring, still we humbly and happily accepted it."
Champions: 1958 to 2012
See a list of all the champs
List of teams, players, coaches
50 Years of European Basketball
Through the decades
Interview: Aleksandar Gomelsky
Interview: Emiliano Rodriguez
Interview: Dino Meneghin
Interview: Mickey Berkowitz
Interview: Zeljko Obradovic
The best of the 2000s
All the Final Fours
Interview: Mike D'Antoni
Interview: Dino Radja
Interview: Toni Kukoc
Interview: Zoran Savic
Interview: Predrag Danilovic
Interview: Richard Dacoury
Interview: Jordi Villacampa
Interview: Arvydas Sabonis
Interview: Panagiotis Giannakis
Interview: David Rivers
Interview: Antoine Rigaudeau
Interview: Saulius Stombergas
Interview: Oded Kattash
Interview: Manu Ginobili
Interview: Ibrahim Kutluay
Interview: Dejan Bodiroga
Interview: Sarunas Jasikevicius
Interview: Nikola Vujcic
Interview: Theo Papaloukas
Interview: Dimitris Diamantidis
Interview: Trajan Langdon
Interview: Vassilis Spanoulis
Interview: Gianluca Basile
Interview: Dimitris Diamantidis
Interview: Vassilis Spanoulis