The team of Yugoslavia played their first official match and was defeated by the host team of Romania at the Balkan Games held in Bucharest on September 22, 1946. The Yugoslav team players were: Popovic, Gec, Tajner, Srebrenik, Stojkovic, Kobali, Nikolic, Demsar, Dimic, Pitoni and Tertan.
Stevica Colovic was the first coach to replace Bora Jovanovic. His team’s debut in European Championships (1947 in Prague) fully coincided with their potential. They were placed next to the last among 14 participating national teams.
An army of enthusiasts embarked on a pioneering endeavor of developing a serious basketball movement, but those who, as a rule, are seen as the most deserving and recognized as mostly indebted for the breakthrough of Yugoslav basketball and its appearance on the world’s scene are the famous quartet: Nebojsa Popovic, Radomir Saper, Aleksandar Nikolic, and Borislav Stankovic.
As Italy had withdrawn its participation, Yugoslavia was invited to take part in the First World Championship held in Buenos Aires, in 1950. In the premiere match played against Peru (27:33), as recorded in the basketball history of World Championships, Nebojsa Popovic was the one who scored first points from a free throw line.The longest game “plavi” have ever played was the match against Israel at the 1953 European Championship in Moscow. After regular time that ended 55:55, even four extra periods were played until the final score of 57:55. Mirko Marjanovic was the one who scored decisive points in this dramatic match.
The turning point in the development of Yugoslav basketball was the moment when professor Aleksandar Nikolic took the reins of the national team. It marked the beginning of a new era in the national team’s preparation for competitions. In the 1960 Rome Olympic Games, the team comprising M.Nikolic, Kandus, Lokar, Daneu, Gordic, Kristancic, Djerdja, Petricevic, Dragojlovic, Radovic, and Djuric took a very good, 6th position.
Yugoslavia won their first significant medal, the silver one, in Belgrade on May 8, 1961. It was in the Belgrade Fair facilities especially adapted for the occasion. The Rome Olympic Team members Kristancic and Djerdja were replaced by Ajzelt and Troskot who made a history and became the national sports heroes. The top scorer of the European Championship was Radivoj Korac.
The 1963 World Championship saw the team of Yugoslavia placed before the USSR team, whereas four years later in Montevideo, Brazil, the Yugoslavs finally finished before the host team of Brazil, but behind the USSR with Zeravica as head coach instead of Nikolic. The key players were still Korac, Daneu and Djuric.
Vladimir Cvetkovic’s calm hand took the Yugoslavs from a free throw line (in a win against the USSR) straight into the Olympic Finals. “Plavi” had arrived to Mexico in 1968 as a team combined of experienced players (Korac, Daneu, Rajkovic) and the ones whose time was soon to come (Cosic, Sholman, Plecas, Skansi).
Radivoj Korac, the magnificent scorer of “plavi”, was killed in a car crash on June 2, 1969 near Sarajevo. He was famous for his unmistakable left hand field shots and two-hand shots from a free throw line. A European Cup played for almost three decades was named after him.There were only three professional basketball coaches in Yugoslavia just before the 6th World Championship. However, all three were on the national team bench: Ranko Zeravica as head coach, and Lecic and Lazic as his assistants.
Ljubljana and the 1970 World Championship gold medal (Tvrdic, Simonovic, Jelovac, Trajkovic, Zorga, Kapicic, Daneu, Cosic, Sholman, Plecas, Chermak, Skansi – Zeravica), marked the beginning of the third and most successful era of the Yugoslav basketball – the era of titles.
With a 7:0 score against “the rest of Europe” in 1973, the team of Mirko Novosel took their first Old continent crown. This Championship launched into the basketball orbit a new generation of players later named the “golden boys”: Kicanovic, Dalipagic, Slavnic, Jerkov, Delibasic, Zizic.
In the XIX European Championship final game, Kicanovic played an unforgettable game. Just after he had got an injection because of a knee injury, that is, straight from the doctor’s box, cheered by exhilarated audience, he walked out onto the Belgrade Pionir court and poured into the Russian “zbornaya” basket 22 points, also contributing two key points for the final 86:84 for his team. Another hero of the game was Cosic, with 16 points and 18 rebounds.
On a “neutral ground”, in Liege, the USSR was defeated by 76:61 for the Yugoslavs to win their third European gold medal in a row. Led by the unmistakable ingenuity of professor Nikolic, “plavi” displayed the game tactics that was almost perfect.
Kica, Moka, Praja, Cosa, Zele, and Mirza took the world title in Manila in 1978 by winning all 10 of the 10 games played. Even so, the Yugoslavs defeated their bitter rivals, the Russians, who were beyond their reach for decades – twice. In the Finals, they won for the 11th consecutive time since 1974, before 32,000 spectators.
Dalipagic and Cosic are among the only six players ever winning four World Championships gold medals. The other four are: Sergey Belov, Belosteny (USSR), Amauri and Ubiratan (Brazil).
The “European Team of the Decade”, as recorded in the history of Olympics, again knocked down all their rivals and climbed the throne with Ranko Zeravica at the helm in the 1980 Moscow Olympics (without Americans).
The players holding records in the matches played for the national team: Cosic 303 (17 yrs), Dalipagic 243, Jelovac 240, Sholman 226, Knezevic 219, Plecas 215, Radovanovic 214, Kicanovic 213, Daneu 209, Zizic 186, Knego 180, Slavnic and Delibasic 177, Jerkov and Chermak 168.
The Yugoslav basketball again experienced the days of glory in Zagreb (EC 1989). Five days – five victories! Their average point difference was 100,4:78,4, that is, 22 points average difference per game! The top basketball players such as Petrovic, Kukoc, Paspalj, Radja, Divac, Danilovic in one team guaranteed a success. It was really the team beyond belief and their performance unforgettable!
At the very spot where the Yugoslav national team had once made a moderate debut, the team of the country that was about to be torn apart to its constituent republics (Croatia, B&H, Slovenia, Macedonia, Serbia and Montenegro) superiorly won the 1990 World Championship. The entire sports world was looking forward to a ‘dream finals’ of the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.
In 1991, Rome saw the repetition of the Zagreb event: five straightforward victories. The basketball magicians, who missed the Slovenian Zdovc in the semi-final and final games, this time had Djordjevic by their side. The players, who had no idea they would never play together again, well deserved the standing ovations in their last game played before the Palaeur’s spectators.
After a three-year break (read ban) and absence from international competitions, and few “out of public eyes” matches in Greece, the coach Dusan Ivkovic undertook to return the blue squad to the paths of old fame. With a joint effort of Greece, the host country of the 1995 EC and FIBA, “plavi” were given an extra chance to qualify for the final tournament.In one of the most thrilling finals, and for our players, perhaps, the most difficult one, “plavi” succeeded to defeat two bitter rivals: the first, Lithuania, and the second, 18,000 Greek fans that supported them. In an outstanding performance of the whole team, especially that of Djordejvic (41 points, three point-shots 9/12), the gold medal was back in their hands. The dunking of Danilovic in the face of Sabonis is the action that could be repeated all over again in any sporting commercial.
The new old 1995 Champions were welcomed in Belgrade as national heroes. More than 100,000 people cheered their idols and celebrated with them “the conquest” of Athens.
From the moment the sports embargo was lifted, that is, since the Yugoslav team started practically from zero until they qualified for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Finals, they achieved even 15 uninterrupted victories.
A long awaited match between Yugoslavia (Serbia & Montenegro) and Croatia took place in the 1997 European Championship. The winner was decided by Djordjevic’s last shot. Running in full speed across the whole court, he attempted a three-point jump shot just before the last whistle of the game. Exactly the same as he did with his club Partizan in Istanbul, in 1992.In the 30th EC Finals there was only one team: Bodiroga, Danilovic, S. Obradovic, Loncar, Djordjevic, Rebraca, Bulatovic, Savic, Tomasevic, Topic, Beric and Radosevic. The “Azzuri” remained at a safe distance (61:49).
The Yugoslavs were seen off to the 1998 World Championship with anxiety, but they again showed their rich talent and victorious spirit. Bodiroga and Rebraca complemented each other’s game just as Kicanovic-Dalipagic duet had done it before. The Russians, the successors of USSR, were defeated twice.
Dejan Bodiroga was the tournament MVP elected by media representatives. Before him, the same title was awarded to Toni Kukoc (1990), Drazen Petrovic (1986), Drazen Dalipagic (1978) and Ivo Daneu (1967).Zeljko Obradovic won a historic double success: the World Championship title (1990) as a player and then again as a coach (1998). The Yugoslav coach Svetislav Pesic will later succeed to get his collection of titles: after the European cadet and junior and the World junior titles, he will also take the European and World Championships senior titles (2001/2002).
“Yugoslavia Back on the Basketball Throne”, “They Ruled the Finals with Perfection”, “They Exhibited the Greatest Talent, Depth, Defense, Names – the Best of Everything”, “Decisive Was Their Talent, the Great Inexhaustible Talent of Yugoslavia Between Baskets” – were some newspaper headlines after the Istanbul success.
After the 2002 Indianapolis World Championship and defeating the team USA composed of NBA professionals on their ground, the Yugoslav (SCG) basketball players well deserve to be called the “Nobel Prize” winners in basketball. With 9 points scored in the last 137 seconds in the finals against Argentina that had a 66:74 lead, Bodiroga tied the result and secured the overtime that would bring the Yugoslavs back to the world throne for the fifth time.
“I couldn’t have wished for a better farewell party”, Borislav Stankovic said after the thrilling finals, that was his last in the position of FIBA Secretary General. For the last time presenting medals as FIBA Secretary General, one of the founders of the Yugoslav handed over the gold medals to the players of his homeland.‘Plavi’ won at the Olympic Games, World and European Championships a total of 33 medals: 14 gold, 12 silver, and 7 bronze. They were Olympic Champions once (1980), World Champions five times (1970, 1978, 1990, 1998 and 2002) and eight times European Champions.