“Yugoslavia always puts together a good team,” Byron Scott said last week, when asked who the rivals could be in jeopardizing the US win Olympic gold in Tokyo. It really would have happened if the Yugoslavian team still existed.
Imagine Slovenian superstar Luka Doncic making up an impressive guard team along with Serbian Vasily Micic and Milos Theodosic. Byron Scots of all kinds would be amazed at the efficiency of Bogdan and Bojan Bogdanovic, and ask themselves if they are brothers, even though one is Serbian and the other Croatian. The two would have been assisted by Nemanja Bielica, while beneath the basket awaited an inconceivable front line in the form of MVP Nikola Jokic and the giant Boban Marianovic (Serbia), alongside Yusuf Norkic (Bosnia and Herzegovina) and Nikola Wojciech (Montenegro).
With this depth and quality, Euroleague stars like Nikola Milotinov, Vladimir Lucic, Mario Hazonia, Nemanja Nadovic, Kalman Perplich and Marco Godoric could have found themselves cranes, or just curlers.
Sounds a little scary, to say the least, and that’s even before taking into account the obvious presence of Nikola Mirotic from Spain and Jedi Osman from Turkey; Were it not for the disintegration of Greater Yugoslavia, it is doubtful that the Montenegrins and Macedonians would have left the representation of their homeland in the first place. One thing is for sure: the world basketball team map has changed beyond recognition following the disintegration of the blocs of countries in the Balkans and Eastern Europe.
But then the bloody civil war broke out, dismantling Yugoslavia into seven different countries. This dispersal was added to the disintegration of the Soviet Union into 15 independent states. Both of these moves had political, social, economic and military effects, and yes, also sporting ones.
The two largest empires of European basketball were spread over 22 countries, and how complete was their control of the industry The following data will testify:
* Until the last appearance of the Soviets as a united team, in Mondobasket in 1990, they shared with Yugoslavia six World Cup wins and ten more medals, while no other European country reached the podium at all.
Of the last 15 Eurobasket tournaments with the participation of the two (until 1989), they shared 13 European Championship wins and held 29 of the 45 medals awarded; Only one final was held without any of them participating, and seven finals brought them together head to head.
* A similar picture emerged at the Olympic Games: 13 of the 16 medals that went to Europe reached the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.
In the first years after the disintegration, two teams seized the reins: Serbia (which continued to be called Yugoslavia) in the Balkan bloc and Lithuania in the Soviet bloc. Although Croatia took three medals at the Olympics, Mondobasket and Eurobasket between 1992 and 1995, it has since disappeared from the podium without again; The Serbs won the European Championships in 1995, 1997 and 2001, and the World Cups in 1998 and 2002. The Lithuanians won three consecutive bronze medals at the Olympics, and in 2003 at the Eurobasket. Russia, which was supposed to be the natural way forward, looked enviously and returned to the European podium only in 2007 with David Blatt as coach.
The erasure of the two empires had two very significant side effects on the constant rivalry at the top:
The first – the scattering of the super talents and stars of both among so many teams, gave an opportunity to other countries to flourish. The breaking point came in 2005, precisely when EuroBasket was held in Belgrade. Greece won the title, and for the first time – none of the survivors of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union even reached the semi-finals (although they made up nine of the 16 participating teams).
There is no doubt that the Greeks benefited from the absence of a Yugoslavian model – who would have united in the same tournament, among others, the Diane Bodiruga, Igor Rakojevic and Marco Yaric of Serbia, alongside the Slovenian Jaka Lakovic, Sunny Bacirovic and Rosh Nestrovic, plus Nikola Vujicic , Marco Popovich and the Croatian Gordon Giriczek.
The biggest beneficiary of the event as a whole was Spain. Without detracting from the quality of the golden generation led by brothers Pao and Marc Gasol, Juan Carlos Navarro, Sergio Rodriguez, Jorge Garbahosa and others, it is difficult to avoid the question: Would they have won two World Cups and three European Championships between 2006 and 2015, if – for example – the Soviet Union Was still existent and manages to bind to another team stars like Ronas Jasikevicius, Ramonas Shishkauskas and the twins Dariusz and Krzysztof Lebrinowicz (Lithuania) alongside Victor Khriapa and Andrei Kirilenko (Russia) and Andreas Baidrinsh (Latvia).
In fact, since the break-up of the two blocs, the map of European Championship winners has been divided almost equally between the former Yugoslavs and Soviets (six wins) and countries from the rest of the continent (seven wins); Naturally, however, the remains occupied many more places on the way to the podium – and this is the second effect of erasing the empires.
It is possible that the following figure also has an effect on smaller teams, such as Israel. The blue-and-whites have not been able to qualify for the Eurobasket quarter-finals since 2003, and certainly this dismal result is necessarily related to the quality of the last generations in the team.
Also, but not only, because the number of places in the high stages has decreased: in the last seven tournaments, the Soviet Union and the former Yugoslavia have grabbed the majority of tickets to the quarter-finals (29 of 56); Had the two remained united, the number in question would have stood at 14 at most.
In the basketball tournament in Tokyo, Doncic will enjoy rock star status, and will meet with Slovenia Spain, Argentina and host Japan in the early days. Serbia, Russia, Croatia and Lithuania fell by the wayside and did not even reach the Olympics. And when you look at this bleak picture, it’s hard to avoid the thought that maybe Byron Scott was actually right.