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.
In their final EuroBasket appearance as Yugoslavia, Dejan Bodiroga and Co. claimed the title.
The Balkan giants marched through the competition with an undefeated record, punctuated by an impressive 78-69 triumph over Turkey in the final.
A close game throughout, Svetislav Pesic’s men finally took control of the game with an 11-2 second-half run.
Bodiroga scored 18 points and Peja Stojakovic added 15.
Yugoslavia celebrated a perfect finish in Europe as shortly after, the country would be divided for official sporting events.
While the 2001 EuroBasket marked the end of Yugoslavia as a team, it was also a launching board for Dirk Nowitzki’s rise to individual stardom on the international stage.
The German star had previously averaged 15.2 points per game at EuroBasket 1999. In 2001, he stepped up his game to the tune of 28.7 points a contest and led Germany to the semi-finals.
But his efforts would not be enough as Germany suffered a heart-breaking loss in overtime to Turkey in the semi-finals and then lost to Spain for bronze.
In the latter setback, Nowitzki tallied an astonishing 43 points and 15 rebounds, capping a remarkable tournament, which would be just the start of a tremendous international career.
Another notable performance in that game was that of a young EuroBasket debutant by the name of Pau Gasol. His 31 points and 10 rebounds led Spain to the bronze medal and paved the way for a journey that would lead to a World Championship title in 2006.
2001 to 2003 demonstrated how basketball changed politically.
Yugoslavia no longer existed and a country that emerged post the fall of the Berlin Wall came out on top.
Lithuania won the gold medal in 1939 and then several of their players contributed to the USSR’s gold medal runs that began in 1947 and culminated in 1985.
Lithuania’s gold medal performance in 2003 marked the first time that a former Soviet Republic claimed European gold.
|Sarunas Jasikevicius (Lithuania)|
Lithuania’s backcourt combination of Arvydas Macijauskas and Sarunas Jasikevicius were the heroes for Lithuania.
Macijauskas tallied 20 points in the quarter-final win over world champions Serbia & Montenegro and then poured in a team-high 21 points against Spain in the final.
Jasikevicius also came up big in that game with 10 points and nine assists.
The Baltic outfit didn't enter the tournament with the same amount of hype surrounding other sides who boasted famous NBA players.
Spain had Gasol, France Tony Parker and Germany Nowitzki.
That’s not to say some of the NBA stars didn’t perform exceptionally.
Gasol tallied 36 points in the gold medal game and finished with a tournament-best 25.3 points per game.
Andrei Kirilenko and Nowitzki also put on brilliant individual performances.
Lithuania didn’t have NBA stars. But they did have their rich basketball tradition, fantastic team play and a relentless competitor in Jasikevicius, who was named the tournament MVP.
He did not have glamorous scoring statistics, but he proved to be the ultimate leader in dishing out an impressive 8.2 assists per game to go along with 14 points per game.
He also left EuroBasket 2003 with something the NBA stars didn’t – a gold medal.
EuroBasket 2005 was held in Serbia & Montenegro and unarguably witnessed the highest competition level ever for a European Championship.
|Greece - EuroBasket 2005 Champions|
A legitimate ten teams could have been considered medal contenders and Greece - one of the unlikely challengers - upset Russia and France in the quarter-finals and semi-finals respectively and then defeated Germany in the final.
Just 18 years after point guard Panagiotis Yannakis led his side to a EuroBasket title at the 1988 edition in Greece, the “Dragon” guided his country to another gold medal, this time as a head coach directing traffic from the sidelines.
In order to do so, the Greeks had to win four do-or-die games.
They passed the first test by beating Israel 71-67 in the elimination round. In the quarter-finals, Greece got off of to a slow start and trailed 13-2 early on. But Theo Papaloukas came off the bench and scored 23 points to lead Greece to a 66-61 triumph over Russia.
In the semi-finals, Greece demonstrated why the game is never over until the final buzzer sounds.
Trailing 58-51 with just over one minute remaining, it appeared the Greek team had no chance to pull out the win.
But the French missed four critical free throws over the final 38 seconds and NBA star Parker committed a crucial turnover leaving the door open for Yannakis’ men.
Nikos Zisis, the 2005 FIBA Europe Young Men’s Player of the Year, made four clutch free throws and Papaloukas made some key plays down the stretch to get Greece within striking distance.
Dimitrios Diamantidis then delivered the knock-out blow that will put his name next to Argyris Kambouris as one of the most high pressure shots made in Greek basketball history.
Trailing by two with just 11 seconds remaining, Diamantidis received a pass from Zisis and drilled a three-pointer to put his side up by one with just over three seconds to play.
France gave the ball to Antoine Rigaudeau who dribbled to midcourt and attempted to launch a desperation shot. Guarded closely by Greece, he was called for traveling as time expired setting off a joyous celebration from Greek players and thousands of their fans in attendance.
Riding the emotion of their semi-final victory, Greece went into their gold-medal game tilt with Germany on a high.
And they carried it all the way to the podium in Belgrade.
In front of a raucous pro-Greece sold out crowd of 20,000, they used their trademark of teamwork, solid defence and strong outside shooting to win in convincing fashion, 78-62.
While Greece was the team that made headlines in 2005, Germany’s Dirk Nowitzki was the player that stole the show as top individual performer.
Nowitzki was phenomenal throughout the competition, posting a tournament-best 26.1 points per game and second-best 10.6 rebounds per game as he claimed the MVP award.
Like all great players, Nowitzki stepped up and made big shots when the game was in doubt, such as his game-winning jump-shot with three seconds remaining in the semis against Spain.
|Pau Gasol (Spain)|
One of the more memorable moments from EuroBasket 2005 was when Nowitzki was pulled out of the gold medal game with 3:22 to go in the fourth and the outcome of the game no longer in doubt. Nowitzki received a thunderous standing ovation, many of whom were Greek fans but appreciated the terrific all-around play of a basketball legend. Nowitzki hugged everyone - team-mates, coaches and physios and waved to the crowd.
EuroBasket 2007 found the eyes of the basketball world on hosts Spain. Not surprising considering they came into the tournament as the reigning World Champions and odds-on favorites.
The Spanish played their Preliminary Round games in Sevilla where there were plenty of home fans to cheer them on. The support was good for a pair of easy wins but their final game against Croatia was an entirely different story.
Marko Tomas buried a three-pointer with 3.1 seconds remaining as Croatia stunned Spain and took first place in the group. Spain finished second, followed by the surprise package from Portugal who defeated Latvia to send the Baltic side crashing out of the tournament.
Spain did not let the loss to Croatia get them down as action moved to the Spanish capital of Madrid. Easy wins over Greece, Russia and Israel helped them top their group and head into the Final Round.
The most impressive team thus far though had been Lithuania who came out on top in close games against Germany and Italy to enter the Final Round with a perfect 6-0 record.
They moved to 7-0 with another hard fought win, this time over the giant killers Croatia, who had followed up their big win over Spain with a surprising loss to Israel. Still, the Croatians had managed to slip into the Final Round before their loss to Lithuania relegated them to the 5th-8th place games.
Meanwhile, Russia had hit their stride and they were the ones to knock Lithuania off their perch with a convincing 86-74 win in which Andrei Kirilenko scored 29 points and grabbed eight rebounds.
He was on his game again in the Final as the Russians faced hosts Spain, who were determined to reward their loyal fans with a gold medal.
For much of the game it seemed that they would do just that.
Pau Gasol and company led 22-11 after one quarter and looked well on their way to the top of the podium. But the Russians hit back and trailed by only one when point guard J.R. Holden stole the ball from Gasol with 24 seconds left, drove into the lane and buried a jumper that gave his team the lead with 2.1 seconds on the clock.
The Spanish called a timeout to set up a play and in the end it would again be Gasol in the spotlight. The big man got the ball 15 feet from the basket and just missed as Russia celebrated the 2007 EuroBasket title.
|Pau and Marc Gasol celebrating EuroBasket 2009 gold|
After their shock loss to Russia in the 2007 final, Spain were back with revenge and their first-ever EuroBasket gold on their mind.
But the heavy favourites started slow, with one loss each in the first and second group stages against Serbia and Turkey respectively.
When it mattered most, the Spaniards had found their rhythm, kicking out a previously undefeated French side built around Tony Parker in the quarter-finals.
In the meantime, Slovenia were looking like a team to-beat, going into the semi-finals with only one loss to their name and an impressive win over Croatia in their quarter-final clash.
They would meet a youthful Serbian side, excellently coached by the legendary Dusan Ivkovic, who had decided to lead Serbia back to glory without a host of star names such as Igor Rakocevic or Marko Jaric.
In what was arguably the best game of the tournament, an outstanding Milos Teodosic took the game to overtime with a three-pointer, before the Serbs went on to win it 96-92 behind 32 points of Teodosic.
In the other semi-final Spain had little trouble with Greece and La Roja proved to be on a roll, also dominating Serbia in the gold medal game and fulfilling their dream of a first EuroBasket gold medal.
Pau Gasol was named tournament MVP, being joined on the All-Tournament team by team-mate Rudy Fernandez, Teodosic, Erazem Lorbek of Slovenia and Greece's Vassilis Spanoulis.