Basketball - more than a game

 

Serbia went to the FIBA Basketball World Championships with high hopes. And rightly so. After making a superb comeback at the European Championships in 2009 to win silver, Dušan Ivković’s “kids” (as he calls them) knew they were a force to be reckoned with. With an almost identical line-up to the 2009 team, they found themselves in a relatively tricky preliminaries group. Unexpectedly, they lost to Germany by one point (perhaps because of the absence of Teodosić and Krstić who were banned for their part in the fracas at the pre-tournament friendly with Greece). They rose up to defeat Argentina, beating them 84:82 and winning their group, to set up a last 16 game against Croatia. That was supposed to be an easy win, considering the form and the quality of the players, but a game between these two rivals in any sport is much more than just a game. Serbia trailed for most of the game but eventually came out on top in a tense finish to win by a single point, 73:72. In the quarter-finals, the reigning World and European champions, Spain, were waiting. Our “kids” were not at all awed by their opponents’ stature, and led throughout the game. The experienced Spanish side bounced back towards the end, but then, with the result at 79:79 and with 25 seconds remaining, Miloš Teodosić, who had been quiet for the whole of the game, took the ball. Cool as a cucumber, he held the ball and leapt from about 9m to shoot a 3-pointer, and sealed Serbia’s victory 82:79. The stuff of legend.

The semi-final match against the hosts, Turkey, was another extremely tense one. Serbia led for most of the game, but towards the end, the referees changed the course of the game generously in Turkey’s favour with some unreasonable decisions. Even with these additional “opponents” the young Serbian team was on course to win, but at the very end, the referee sent captain Krstić off for a non-existent foul, failing to award an additional free-throw when Veličković scored in the dying seconds having been blatantly kicked by the Turkish defence. The Turks had the last attack and scored in the last four seconds, winning two points, although the scorer, Tunçeri, stepped outside the court. Even mild mannered Dušan Ivković blasted FIBA (the World Basketball Governing body) and the organisers for openly taking sides.

Turkey went on to lose in the final, easily beaten by the USA. Our team was in the third place play-off against a very good Lithuania, but failed to overcome the theft of the previous evening and lost.

It is widely believed that Serbia was the only team who actually stood a chance of beating America, but, in the end, the influence of politics and big money seemed to dominate.

The London 2012 Olympic Games are the next opportunity for the natural order of things to prevail and Serbia WILL win that gold. One thing’s for sure: we will be there supporting our “kids”.

by Dragan Obrenović