The Soviet Dynasty
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.
Stipas Butautas was the Soviet’s top scorer in the 1951 championship, but it was in the height department where they really outmatched their opponents. In 1955, the 218 cm center Janis Krumins made his debut in an era when most centers just about reached the 2 metre mark.
|218 cm Soviet center Janis Krumins dwarfed most of his opponents|
Krumins cannot be compared to the athletic 7-footers running the floor today, but his size was certainly intimidating. By 1959, the Soviets had Krumins, the 208cm Petrov, 204 cm Zubkov and the 201 cm Volnov and Korneev and the result was complete dominance.
The Great Outdoors
Most of post-war Europe was still in a re-building phase and that posed problems for an indoor sport such as basketball. Other than the 1951 championship, each of the remaining tournaments were held in football stadiums as there were no indoor facilities able to host basketball.
The exception was Paris in 1951. The venue was the Vel d’Hiver, a 12,000 seat velodrome (indoor cycling was a very popular sport in France).
Moscow, Budapest, Sofia and Istanbul were the next 4 hosts and all used football stadiums. In most cases the court was on a raised stage, almost akin to a boxing ring, in the middle of the pitch, so that all spectators were able to see the game.
And in some cases, there were plenty of spectators. Before the days of television, live sport was a huge draw. 35,000 fans turned up to see games in Moscow, while 48,000 saw the final of the ’57 championship in the Levski Spartak Stadium in Sofia, Bulgaria.
Weather was of course a factor but on the whole ,the championships were not affected by rain. There were some worries in Moscow as the event was held in late May, but fortunately the weather remained sunny.
The last European Championship to be held outdoors was Istanbul in 1959, after which, FIBA introduced a rule ensuring that all host nations must have indoor arenas.
A Blip on the Soviet Map
For all the dominance of the Soviet Union, they could not complete a clean sweep of gold medals in the decade. The lapse came at the 1955 championship in Budapest, Hungary.
18 nations registered and competed, a record number. It meant that 89 games had to be squeezed into just 12 days of action.
The championship was also notable because the 30-second shot clock was introduced for the first time. The new rule had an immediate effect on tactics and coaches completely changed style, from a slowed-down possession game, to a fast, quick shooting game. Consequently, scoring went up and Poland’s 140-44 victory over England is a record that stands to this day.
|The 1951 European Championship in Paris was the only event in the 50's to be held indoors|
The first test for the Soviets came against Czechoslovakia. After 32 consecutive European Championship wins, the Soviets lost 81-74 and Czechoslovakia was immediately hailed as tournament favourites.
The Czechs went on to beat home side Hungary, setting up a Soviet Union-Hungary clash which would decide the silver medal.
The match was of huge interest to the home team Hungarians and they triumphed 82-68, sparking scenes of national celebration. The Hungarian team were hailed as heroes, on the same pedestal as the football team, which at the time, was also dominating Europe.