They Came, They Saw, They Silvered

26 Sept. 2013: a different version of this piece (and the previous one) runs today at, a fine English-language site for all things to do with Chinese basketball. The name roughly means “hoops is cool”. Check it out. waxed excited and nostalgic about tiny Lithuania and its out-sized basketball history here. The Green (and gold) Giants powered and shot their way to a chance to win their fourth European championship last night (3 am China time), and their shot at a first title in ten years. We were not quite so Kleiza-obsessed, though he was a Toronto Raptor for awhile, as to chance the frustrations of live-streaming in Dalian in the middle of the night, but we were up at the crack of nine to find out what happened.

The opponent was France, and Tony Parker happened. He only scored 12 in the final, but was the MVP of the competition as France won its first-ever European championship with an 80-66 win over the Little Country That Could. (And apparently still Can.) Parker’s San Antonio Spurs teammate Boris Diaw, still playing clever, quirky basketball years after becoming an NBA punchline for his less-than-sculpted physique, was also a funky scoring and passing machine. Portland Trailblazer Nicolas Batum was also instrumental in the massive second-quarter run that all but decided the match.

Kleiza makes his hooping money these days in Istanbul rather than the NBA, but he, rather than the Toronto Raptors’ Next Big Thing, Jonas Valanciunas, was the main man for Lithuania and its selection to the tournament all-star squad. (Parker, host Slovenia’s Goran Dragic (NBA Suns), Croatia’s Bojan Bogdanovich, and Spain’s Marc Gasol (Grizzlies) were the other choices.) One veteran member of the Letuvia squad was moving in his invocation of “this generation”, their pride in being worthy heirs to their country’s great basketball tradition. Lithuania last won in 2003, but flamed out badly on home soil in 2011, and no doubt took some heavy criticism from fans expecting the next Arvydas Sabonis and Sarunas Marciulionis to lead the green and gold. and its crack team of basketball writers and researchers (!) can’t be too disappointed in France’s gold-medal breakthrough, especially since it gives Parker and Diaw the title that, by all that is good and holy, should have been theirs last June in the NBA final. (But then, Parker already has a couple of those rings.) We also confess to a soft spot pour les choses francaises, and despite his rather American name, TP9 was born and raised there and speaks with a sophistication in his second language that most NBA players cannot in their first.

Still, we were pulling for my friend Ignas’s home squad. Fun Fact: Lithuania’s first two European championships were in 1937 and 1939, which answered my question to Ignas about whether all this excellence came from the the Sabonis era, though no doubt his greatness raised the game there to new heights (pun intended). Not-So-Fun Fact: Lithuania’s championship drought from ’39 to ’03, of course, is mainly explained by its having been absorbed by the Soviet Union in the wake of the Second World War, and its greatest sportsmen competing in red. Once they could again compete for Lithuania, Sabonis was an injury-wracked shadow of himself, though Marciulionis was the 1995 EuroBasket MVP in Lithuania’s silver medal run. Gotta love the little guy!

Comment (1)

  1. Ignas Vycas

    Congratulations to France! (It’s worth noting that this is the first ever Gold Medal for them in the European Championships.) They played better than us, and deserve the gold medal.

    It’s a weird feeling (a sad feeling!) after winning the silver medal. Usually it’s either bronze (or gold in 2003) so we end the championship with a win and a smile on our faces. Silver is better in the long run, but we need some time to start appreciating it. Nonetheless, it’s a big victory for Lithuania! We didn’t play well in the group stages, winning only by a few points with sloppy play, so nobody really expected us to make it that far.

    Well written, great read!

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