EUROBASKET OFF THE COURT
The Final Round of EuroBasket 2011 in Kaunas had everything a basketball fan can dream of.
Five action-packed days of quality basketball, some of the brightest stars in the world on the court, thousands of great fans in the stands and a plethora of basketball-related satellite events and happenings all over the city.
Those five autumn days in Kaunas left everyone with enough of fantastic basketball memories to last for a lifetime.
None of this would have been possible though, without the contribution of one unlikely star, an unsung hero that could not ever aspire to winning a medal.
|FIBA Europe Secretary General Nar Zanolin inspects the Kauno Arena |
This hero did not score a single basket, could not jump for a rebound and could definitely not move fast on defence, but attracted so much attention and positive comments that one could say it almost felt as if it was the sixth player in the All Tournament Team of Navarro, Gasol, Parker, Kirilienko and McCalebb.
The newly-built Kauno Arena was one of the brightest stars of this EuroBasket.
No one, from the moment they took their first steps inside the Arena, had any doubts this was the most appropriate stage for an event as huge as EuroBasket 2011.
Just like with the development of a talented young player though, it was not always a smooth ride for the NBA-style Arena.
|The construction is formed, but there is still a lot of work to be done both inside and out |
Works began in October 2008 and for the first months it involved little more than shaping the terrain in order to support such a massive construction.
The Arena started taking shape in April 2009, with its impressive frame now clearly visible from the riverbank.
Progress was continuous, but in times of a world economic crisis concerns were raised that it was not fast enough, and the Arena could be at risk of not meeting the completion deadline.
One of the people who never stopped believing that the deadline would be met and the new Arena would be the bright venue of EuroBasket 2011 it turned out to be, was FIBA Europe Secretary General Nar Zanolin.
|FIBA Europe Secretary General Nar Zanolin during one of his winter visits, at the surrounding areas of the Arena|
In the run up to the EuroBasket, Mr Zanolin visited the site several times, to inspect the progress of the works and keep informed about the latest developments.
But, perhaps as crucially, to keep morale high and inject more of a "can-do" attitude to the already enthusiastic about the project people of the Lithuanian Basketball Federation and the Local Organising Committee.
"What is the cause of the delay," Mr Zanolin asked during one of his visits to Kaunas last winter.
"Well, the money is in Vilnius and it needs to be here," he was told.
The following day, in a meeting with Lithuanian government officials in the capital Vilnius, the FIBA Europe Secretary General inquired as to the exact nature of the problem.
"It is a bureaucratic issue, transferring the money from here to Kaunas," came the reply.
"Well, if that's the problem, put it in my car and I will personally drive it there," Mr Zanolin offered.
The offer never materialised, but it did not need to, as the very next day the funds arrived indeed to Kaunas and work resumed.
|The inaugural ceremony before the first game to be played in the Kauno Arena, the Lithuania v Spain friendly in August |
This light-hearted exchange though demonstrates the attitude of everyone involved in this project, and the reason why this bright star made all our EuroBasket memories possible.
The inaugural game at Kauno Arena, a friendly game between hosts Lithuania and EuroBasket title holderss Spain, took place on 18th August in front of an ecstatic 17,000-strong crowd.
A few days later, on 14th September, some of them along with several thousands from all around Europe, would return to watch Spain again and witness the first competitive game in the Kauno Arena, the EuroBasket Quarter-Final between the champions and Slovenia.