|The jersey that Predrag Danilovic made famous has been retired by Virtus Bologna|
Predrag (Sasha) Danilovic earned European basketball legend status immediately upon his retirement at the turn of the century, but on Sunday he received an honour only a select few can aspire to, even among legends.
The 44-year-old Danilovic, who had been a talismanic player of Partizan Belgrade and took over as president of the Serbian powerhouse in 2007, can now pride himself of being considered an emblematic figure in the history of two of the most storied European clubs.
Virtus Bologna, which Danilovic led to one Euroleague crown (in 1998) and four Italian League titles, retired on Sunday during a special ceremony, their number 5 jersey, which the Serbian sharp-shooter wore for most of the 1990's.
Fans in Italy had nicknamed him 'the Czar' for his imperial-like shooting style as he released the ball from an almost impossible-to-block height.
"I don't know if I expected so many people," Danilovic said as he was standing at the centre of the court and looked around at the stands of a sold-out Unipol Arena ahead of Bologna's home game with Roma.
"Let's say that I was certainly hoping to see all these people, we've done some pretty beautiful things together and people still remember them after all these years.
"I think all clubs should honour their past heroes, there is no better feeling than this, I will always be grateful to Virtus."
|Predrag Danilovic at the 1999 Euroleague Final Four in Munich|
Danilovic was a 2.01m shooting guard at a time where this was still a novelty in world basketball.
He was not the fastest guard off the dribble and was not the world's best defender, but he possessed one of the most fluid - and effective- shooting styles ever seen on a basketball court.
For years, opposing defenders knew that they only stood a chance if they prevented him from firing off a shot, because once the ball left his fingertips, whether it was as he was coming off a screen or after having created his own shot, it would almost inevitably drop in.
He conquered the first of his four EuroBasket gold medals in 1989 as a 19-year-old member of the Yugoslavia Dream Team that included the likes of Drazen Petrovic, Toni Kukoc, Vlade Divac, Jure Zdovc, Dino Radja and Zarko Paspalj.
"My generation was made of phenomenal players, today certain young players are committing mistakes perhaps because of their managers or even their parents, who put the wrong ideas in their head," Danilovic commented on Sunday.
Following a second EuroBasket title two years later in Rome, the last tournament before Yugoslavia's break-up, Danilovic went on to capture the first of his two Euroleague crowns and earn Final Four MVP honours.
It came in the historic final of Istanbul in 1992, as Sasha Djordjevic (the new coach of the Serbian national team) drilled a three-pointer from nine metres out right at the final buzzer and the youthful Partizan side in Zeljiko Obradovic's maiden season as head coach downed Joventut Badalona, 71-70.
Danilovic moved to Virtus at the height of their epic rivalry with cross-town powerhouse Fortitudo and propelled them to three consecutive Italian Serie A titles.
|Predrag Danilovic at EuroBasket 1999|
He made the jump to the NBA in 1995 and averaged 12.8 points, 2.4 rebounds and two assists per game during his two seasons at Miami Heat but, as he confessed later, he never managed to adapt to the American way of life and longed to return to Europe.
Danilovic's second spell at Virtus lasted from 1997 until his retirement in 2000 and was adorned by one more Italian domestic title and the first of Bologna's Euroleague crowns, which came in 1998 after the Italians defeated AEK Athens 58-44 behind 13 points from the Serbian sharp-shooter.
"Well, all titles and all trophies (I won with Virtus) remain unforgettable to me, but perhaps the two above all are the two of 1998, because of the way we won," he said.
In the dying seconds of the last game in the 1998 Italian play-off finals between Virtus and Fortitudo, Danilovic hit a triple and drew the foul from another legend, the American Dominique Wilkins.
The Serbian had torn his ACL, but still converted the four-point play to gift the win and the title to Virtus.
Danilovic retired somewhat prematurely at the age of 30 and surprised then Virtus coach Ettore Messina by anouncing his decision at the end of a practice session.
"I had not thought about it, but I felt my instinct telling me it was the right thing to do at that moment," the Serbian legend revealed on Sunday.
"Once I told Messina and Roberto (Brunamonti) I felt so well, as if a weight had been lifted off my shoulders, I realised I had already had enough [of a career]."
"The fact remains I actually trained very well that evening," he concluded jokingly.