Eurobasket History – The 40’s

The post-war years

The Second World War had had a huge impact on Europe. Not only were many countries facing huge economic difficulties, but the map had changed and notably, Lithuania and Latvia the championship’s first winners, had been annexed to the Soviet Union.

FIBA wanted to organise a European Championship in 1945 and hoped to use sport as part of Europe’s healing process. Unfortunately most national federations had disappeared and the majority of the players had been conscripted into the armed forces.

Nonetheless, in 1946 FIBA chose Switzerland as the host and the European Championship came back to Geneva.

The First Jump Shot?

The 1946 championship was a landmark in the participation of Italy’s Giuseppe Stefanini. Not only was he on of Europe’s top players, but the first to employ the jump-shot as an offensive weapon.

1953 European Championship action - Soviet Union vs Hungary
The Soviet Union made a dramatic entrance on the European hoops scene in the 1940’s

Other than Stefanini, the other outstanding player of the era was Czechoslovakia’s Harold Mrazek. The 193cm center was still considered to be the best European player of all-time 15 years after the 1946 championship, in which he led his side to the gold medal.Enter the Behemoths

1947 saw the first appearance of 2 countries who would have an enormous impact on the global basketball scene in the next 50 years, the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia.

Yugoslavia struggled at first and would not become a regular medal contender until 1961,when Alexander Nikolic led the team to a silver.

The Soviet Union, on the other hand, took to international competition like a duck to water. The luxury of being able to choose players from Latvia, Estonia, Ukraine, Lithuania etc was employed to the full by the Soviets. A record 14 countries entered the 1947 Championship and the Soviets steamrolled through the competition, winning their 6 games by an average margin of 25 points.

They opened with a 50-11 defeat of Yugoslavia, and closed with a 56-37 victory over 1946 champions, Czechoslovakia.

A Curious Side-note

The 1949 European Championship is significant for being the strangest of all the championships. For starters, it did not take place in Europe and the host nation was Egypt. In addition, of the 8 participants, only 5 were actually European teams.

After the Soviets had won the 1947 title, it was their right and responsibility, as dictated by the rules at the time, to host the next championship. However, the Soviets declined and refused to be the organisers.

Czechoslovakia had been 2nd in 1947, but they had hosted the last event and as such the honour fell to the bronze medallists, Egypt.

At the time, air travel was still expensive and not entirely safe. In the same year, Torino’s football team had lost all its players in a plane accident and as such the teams were less keen to travel by plane. The result was that from Europe, France was the only strong side to register, while Greece, Holland and Turkey were all championship rookies. In order to avoid a disaster, Syria and Lebanon were also persuaded to enter so that the final number of teams was 8.

As a result, the 1949 European Championship was undoubtedly the weakest in the history of the competition. Egypt won the title, France finished second and Greece third.

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