Since Limoges had taken home the 1993 title with a game based on defense, many European teams throughout the years had adopted this style of play.
But in 1999 a squad of little green men had other ideas. Scoring 78.7 points per game, the best offensive numbers of the season, Zalgiris surprised all its opponents and finished the regular season with an impressive 12-4 record.
After winning the EuroCup in 1998, Kaunas showed everybody it could have the same kind of
success in the EuroLeague. But in the playoffs, when defense takes over, it seemed like the
Lithuanians would have to change their style of play. They did not. In the first and second round of the playoffs, they even managed to score more points (80.5) than the regular season as the two teams from Istanbul, Ülker and Efes Pilsen, were both swept.
Olympiakos was treated the same way in the semi-final. For the last game, Zalgiris faced defending champion Kinder Bologna, the best defense of the regular season with only 60.9 points allowed per game.
The Italians were trying to become the first team since Split to win back to back championships. Despite a 27-point effort from Antoine Rigaudeau, Kinder found no answers tothe Lithuanian’s fast paced and spectacular brand of basketball.
Tyus Edney, winner of an NCAA Final Four in 1995 with UCLA (along with Jiri Zidek also a
Zalgiris player), was named MVP after directing the uptempo offense throughout the season.
In a country where basketball is a religion, Zalgiris’ triumph had a tremendous impact on the population. The prime minister of the country, who travelled with the team to Munich, danced on the floor along with the players!
The president of the country who was in Washington for the 50th anniversary of NATO was applauded by his colleagues in the White House. The plane that was supposed to take the
players back to Vilnius, the capital of the country, decided to stop at Kaunas for fear that the international airport of Vilnius would be paralysed by the fans.
Eventually the team was introduced to the parliament for a Zalgiris special day.
A few months later many of the players from Kaunas left the team to join Europe’s richest clubs, but for one magic season, Zalgiris had proved that showtime can be synonymous with victory.