REAL MADRID - OLYMPIAKOS
A friendship and rivalry that has lasted for the last 15 years will have another Episode next Monday in the first game of the Euroleague. Sasha Djordjevic: 'Euroleague is a great idea. Now it is the players' time to fulfill our part of the show' Dino Radja: 'The Elite of every sport is more of a business every day, and the new competition has all the points to join show and business'
By Vladimir Stankovic
More than 15 years ago, Svetislav Pesic, who at the time was the head coach of the Yugoslavian Selection of junior teams, began to build a golden generation. In the Cadet European Championship in Ruse (Bulgaria) Yugoslavia became the champion, and four kids were the absolute protagonists: Vlade Divac, Toni Kukoc, Dino Radja and Aleksandar Djordjevic. A year later, in the Junior European Championship, the same team did the same and won with authority. The climax of this team arrived when they won the World Championship in Bormio in 1987, where they defeated twice the powerful American team, which was full of players that would become well-known NBA figures.
The four of them began playing in the former Yugoslavian Selection at the same time during the European Championship that took place in Athens (Greece) in 1987. The head coach of the Selection at that time, Kresimir Cosic who died before his time, picked them all (Divac had already played in the World Championship that took place in 1986, in Spain) and his election was right. They won the bronze medal after two failures in a row in the two previous championships. This was the first step towards the total recovery of Yugoslavian Basketball. Divac, Kukoc and Radja won the silver medal in the 1988 Olympics in Seoul (S. Korea), the gold medal in the 1989 European Championship in Zagreb, and they became World Champions in 1990 in Buenos Aires; later Djordjevic joined them again in the 1991 European Championship in Rome, the last competition in which the former Socialist Yugoslavia took part.
At the same time, the four players were rivals in their own clubs. Radja and Kukoc were playing in Jugoplastika of Split (one of the best European teams ever), and Djordjevic and Divac played in Partizan of Belgrad. When they went to play abroad, the rivalry went on, most of all between Radja and Djordjevic. This rivalry will have another chapter next Monday at the opening game of the Euroleague.
'Many things have happened during the last fifteen years. Political affairs have put a distance between us. We don't call each other but when we meet again and again in the courts it's like an old friends meeting. Nobody can steal those wonderful years from us. I'm very glad to play against Dino once again" says Aleksandar Djordjevic, Real Madrid's playmaker.
From Athens, this is Dino Radja's reply: 'Among many other things, Basketball, and sports in general, gives you the chance to make lots of new friends in different cities, countries or even continents. I know Sasha perfectly well, we have played a lot of times against each other. I know his qualities as a player very well, and I consider him the leader of his team, Real Madrid, but I hope I can continue winning most of the games I play against him'.
Djordjevic admits: 'It's true that in Yugoslavia, Jugoplastika was a more successful team than Partizan, but it was not that way in Italy. I remember two games in the Korac Cup Final between Philips and Messaggero, we won both games. And I scored 30 points in one and 37 in the other'
'Yes, they beat us in that Final, but I insist, my teams have won most of the games in which we have played against each other' insists Radja.
Their rivalry continued when Djordjevic was playing in F.C. Barcelona and Radja was in Panathinaikos. Radja played in the Boston Celtics during four seasons and Djordjevic stayed in the Portland Trail Blazers for only six months, but they didn't come across each other there.
They have very similar opinions about the new season they are just beginning and the new Euroleague: 'With the new rules and this new competition, a new era begins for European Basketball. The Olympics in Sydney have shown the strength of our Basketball, and that the American Teams are not unbeatable anymore. It's only a matter of days when they are defeated by an European Team', says Djordjevic.
'It is logical to expect a new NBA-style league in a medium-term period organized by the big European Cities, and this Euroleague is only the first step towards that new competition. I don't share the opinion of those who say that the Euroleague is only a competition for the richer clubs. In all sports and all systems there's a logical hierarchy. After the NBA you have the CBA and the other commercial leagues, plus the NCAA. The concentration of quality is essential for progress. Sports are every day more of a business and I think that the new Euroleague has all the points to join show and business'.
Djordjevic expects a great deal from the new league 'FIBA has made a big mistake by signing a contract against the will of the major clubs and much more by not understanding their position and proposals. We have great teams in our league and now it's our turn to fulfill our part of the show. I think that next year the level will be even higher, and that teams such as the French ones, the Turkish ones, Partizan and Panathinaikos will join us'.
Both Djordjevic and Radja share the same opinion on which are the teams to be considered favorite to win the Euroleague: 'The same as always: Olympiakos, Real Madrid, Barcelona, Kinder, Paf…' says Djordjevic. 'I agree with that, but now it's too soon to talk about favorite teams. For instance, my team has six new players and it wouldn't be fair to expect that this time plays at 100% from game one. We need a little time to adapt ourselves to new systems, but I'm used to that kind of pressure because I have always played in teams that were expected to succeed in the competitions where they played, except for when I was in the NBA'. Djordjevic adds 'The same can be applied to me, and I hope to satisfy all the expectations with one or more Championships at the end of the season'.
Djordjevic: 'It is quality that has to prevail over nationality'
Sasha Djordjevic has a clear opinion about the conflict that is taking place in the Spanish ACB League because of the status of some players: 'We must destroy at once all the barriers put by the Institutions. It is quality that has to prevail over nationality. Only this way sports in general will be able to satisfy all the expectations put on them'.
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