While much of European basketball’s history has been surrounded by the dominance of just a handful of countries, the start of the 21st century has exemplified the power of basketball across the continent with three different champions.
The beginning of the 1990’s saw major political upheaval across Europe, as communist regimes began to collapse and the iron curtain gradually disintegrated.
The effect of this change on the basketball landscape was profound, as it led to the collapse of the two basketball superpowers, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.
The 1980’s saw basketball’s talent pool replenished with players who would go on to become legends of the game. Drazen Petrovic, Arvydas Sabonis, Nikos Galis, Detlef Schrempf, Fernando Martin were just some of the names who emerged during the 80’s and brought basketball roaring into the modern era as we know it.
If Yugoslavia had been nipping at the Soviets’ heels in the 60’s, in the 70’s they tore a huge chunk out of their dominance. After the decade was over Yugoslavia had won 3 gold medals, to 2 for the Soviets and established themselves as Europe’s premier force.
The Soviets established an almost total control over European basketball in the 1950’s. they won 4 out of 5 European Championships and finished third in 1955. Their overall tally in the decade was played 49, won 47, lost 2. Both losses came in the 1955 championship.
Until 1961, the European Championship was open to any country who wished to register. The result was that more and more teams wanted to play and the competition was becoming difficult to organise.
The Second World War had had a huge impact on Europe. Not only were many countries facing huge economic difficulties, but the map had changed and notably, Lithuania and Latvia the championship’s first winners, had been annexed to the Soviet Union.
Just 2 years after its creation in 1932, the young International Basketball Federation reached a landmark achievement in having basketball included as an Olympic sport for the 1936 Games in Berlin. Preparation for the Olympics were key and in 1933 it was decided that a European Championship would be held as a test event.