Could there possibly be a better host city for the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four than Belgrade? Anybody who has seen home games of Crvena Zvezda and Partizan in the continent’s elite competition over the last few years is fully aware that the Serbian capital lives and breathes basketball and the locals have more than earned the right to watch the biggest event in European basketball in their own backyard.
Thanks to the passion and the knowledge of those fans, attending a game in Belgrade is a special experience – and now it is an experience that fans from all over Europe will be able to share and enjoy. Belgrade is steeped in basketball history, producing a dazzling array of great teams, players and coaches for more than half a century. This is the first time that Belgrade has hosted the Final Four, but plenty of other major basketball events have been staged in the city.
That started with the Women’s EuroBasket back in 1954. The games were played in an outdoor stadium in downtown Belgrade, Tasmajdan, and the Soviet Union was crowned champion. Seven years later the men’s version of EuroBasket followed, staged in the hall at the city fairgrounds. To the delight of the home fans, a Yugoslavia team coached by the legendary Aleksandar Nikolic won its first medal, claiming the silver after losing to the Soviet Union in the final.
Serbia's hometown heroes went one step further at EuroBasket 1975, which took place at the new Hala Pionir and saw a golden generation of brilliant players – including Kresimir Cosic, Dragan Kicanovic, Drazen Dalipagic and Zoran Slavnic – prevail in the final, again contested with the Soviet Union.
The first major event at club level to take place in Belgrade was the Champions Cup final in 1977. Reigning champion Mobilgirgi Varese was defeated 77-78 in a thriller by Maccabi Tel Aviv, which was roared on by some 5,000 traveling fans – many of whom celebrated their team’s victory by taking an impromptu bath in the cold waters of the River Danube.
Several more major events have been staged in the city since, including Diamond Ball in 2004. This was the first big tournament held at the newly-constructed Stark Arena and saw a Serbia and Montenegro team coached by Zeljko Obradovic triumph in the final against Lithuania. A year later Stark Arena also hosted EuroBasket, resulting in a victory for Greece in the final against Germany behind 22 points from Euroleague Basketball Legend Theo Papaloukas. The victorious team also featured current EuroLeague stars Vassilis Spanoulis and Nikos Zisis.
Now, for the first time, that same venue will also host the Final Four. And it promises to be a truly memorable occasion for a city which is tailor-made for staging such a prestigious event. With a combination of Belgrade’s hospitality, basketball culture, unique culinary traditions and spectacular setting at the confluence of the two rivers, this Final Four will be a wonderful chance for local and visiting fans alike to enjoy everything that the Serbian capital has to offer on the court, at the table and in the streets.