BORISLAV STANKOVIC_31 Masterminds of European Basketball

EBLibrary

Good coach,

great director

Borislav

Stankovic

I

am guessing that a few people might be a little

surprised by this inclusion: Borislav “Bora”

Stankovic, FIBA Secretary General Emeritus, a

coach?

The surprise might even be a little bigger if I

tell you that he won three Yugoslav Leagues and

a national cup with OKK Belgrade, plus one Italian

League with Orasonda Cantu. And that in doing so

he became the first foreign coach to win the title in

Italy.

In total, over 13 seasons, he coached 241 games

in the Yugoslav League with Zeleznicar Belgrade,

Partizan Belgrade and, of course, OKK. Add to that

the cup games and the EuroLeague. In Italy, he

coached 66 games plus the cup and EuroLeague. So

he amassed more than 300 games as a coach, even

though his work at FIBA would later overwhelm his

accomplishments on the bench.

Already as a player, Borislav – known as Bora to

almost everybody – showed his talent for coaching.

At Partizan, he was a player-coach, and when

he was not one of the starters at Crvena Zvezda,

he went to Zeleznicar to be, again, player-coach.

However, his true coaching career started in 1953

when he was signed by OKK. When the first foreign

coaches taught courses in Yugoslavia, Bora

was one of the best pupils. He took notes on

everything said by Veselin Temkov of Bulgaria,

Istvan Kamaras and Ferenc Nemeth of Hungary,

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Vladimir Stankovic

and Henri Hell of France. He also passed the pertinent

physical education courses organized by Bora

Jovanovic, the former Yugoslavia national team

coach. And at OKK Belgrade he started to build a

great team.

Korac

Bora showed great vision in choosing players. He

took some talents from other teams, like Miodrag

Nikolic from Radnicki and Trajko Rajkovic from Zeleznicar.

However, the key development was the arrival of

Radivoj Korac, after the coach of the junior team, Dragan

Glisic, one day told Stankovic:

“Listen, Bora. I have a great kid on the team. We

won a game in which we scored 56 points... and he

scored them all! His name is Korac, Radivoj Korac.”

Bora didn’t have to be told twice. He called Korac

to the first team, and in the first round of the 1958

season – played on outdoor courts between April and

October – OKK Belgrade rolled to a 105-67 victory

against defending champ Union Olimpija Ljubljana

with 25 points by the young Korac. A star was born.

At the end of the season, OKK was the Yugoslav

champion with 16 wins from 18 games, and Korac was

the top scorer with 633 points (37.2 points per game).

Bora won his second league title a couple of years

later with a 14-4 record, and Korac was again the top

scorer with a mammoth 39.2 points per game! That

same year, OKK won the double by beating Olimpija

Ljubljana in the Yugoslav Cup final.

While coaching at OKK, Bora was also working as

a veterinarian and at the same time had become Secretary

General of the Yugoslav Basketball Federation.

Due to those many duties, and an ultimatum from

some of the federation directors, Bora decided to

leave the OKK bench to his friend Aleksandar Nikolic,

who won the 1963 league. But for the 1964 season, he

returned to coaching with OKK and won his third title

with a 15-3 record. Of course, Korac was still scoring

like mad, with 33.8 points on average.

Stankovic first met FIBA Secretary General William

Jones at the 1950 FIBA Basketball World Cup in Buenos

Aires. With time, their relationship grew tighter as

Jones had seen in Stankovic a smart man, who spoke

many languages, was skilled, hard-working, and held

in high regard on both sides of a Europe that was

divided by two ideologies. Stankovic was one of the

founders of the first EuroLeague, in 1958. In its second

edition, he participated as a coach. He guided OKK to

the semifinals but was eliminated by Akademik Sofia

by a difference of 7 points. The second attempt, in the

1960-61 season, didn’t end well as OKK was eliminated

by Antwerp because they refused to play the game

in Belgrade. The Belgian team was already in Belgrade

when news arrived of the mysterious death of Patrice

Lumumba, the prime minister of the Democratic Republic

of Congo, a former colony of Belgium, causing

disturbances around the city’s Belgian embassy. The

Belgrade police could not guarantee the safety of the

visitors and Antwerp won by an official 0-2.

Neither was Bora lucky in his third attempt, during

the 1964-65 season, because the obstacle in the

semis was mighty Real Madrid, with an “endless”

second game in which OKK Belgrade used a modified

clock to try to come back from a 23-point deficit. OKK

won 113-96 behind 56 points from Korac, but it was

not enough. On January 14, 1965, incidentally, OKK

defeated Alvik of Sweden in the eighthfinals 155-57

behind 99 points from Korac!

Italy

OKK Belgrade’s good results caught the attention

of Gianni Corsolini, the general manager at Orasonda

Cantu. He offered Stankovic $1,000 a month, housing

and a car. Compared to what Bora was making

in Belgrade, that was a fortune, but he didn’t say yes

because of the money. He wanted to show, especially

to himself, that he was a good coach and that he could

do it away from home. It was a big challenge, but also

a good opportunity. Arnaldo Taurisano, his assistant

in Cantu, told me:

“Bora was a revelation for us all. He was smart,

polite, specific and liked discussion. He arrived not

speaking a single word of Italian, but in three months

he talked just like us. He was not a great demonstrator,

but he was a great manager of player personality. He

was a master at putting everyone where they shined

best. He was always nervous and suffered through

Borislav Stankovic

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Vladimir Stankovic

each game, but he knew how to be focused and give

good advice during timeouts.”

Bora built a competitive team, but with very few

players. He played with three big men: Alberto Melati,

Alberto De Simone and Bob Burgess, his great signing.

The previous season Burgess had played for Real

Madrid, who wanted to naturalize him as a Spanish

player, but he rejected it. Stankovic used his excellent

relationship with Robert Busnel, the French coach

who was at the helm in Real Madrid, to sign Burgess.

He arrived with an ankle injury, but recovered and

played great.

Ahead of him were three guards, including the

young Carlo Recalcati, who was the team’s top scorer

with 18.4 points. Cantu won the league with an 18-

4 record. In the EuroLeague, the team reached the

quarterfinals, but finished third in the group behind

Zbrojovka Brno and Standard Liege. The top trophy

simply avoided Bora’s hands, but it wasn’t much later

that he would be the one handing out this very trophy

to the champions.

Stankovic says his coaching philosophy was “very

simple.” A few years ago, I visited him in Belgrade and

he discussed this philosophy:

“From my playing days, I knew that we are not

all the same, we don’t share the same features and

skills and, therefore, we cannot do the same things. A

coach must study his players and find a role for everyone

and adapt his own philosophy to the possibilities,

and not the other way around, which is insisting on

others applying the coach’s ideas even if they cannot

make them happen. That’s why my idea was that on

offense, the most talented player should always be

the one to shoot. When I saw Korac, I never doubted

he would be our best player, our offensive weapon.”

Game of His Life

During that visit I paid to him in the Belgrade neighborhood

of Banovo Brdo, I saw the manuscript of his

autobiography, which bears the title “The Game of

My Life”. He was working with the prestigious Serbian

journalist Aleksandar Miletic to produce a book, written

in first person, with many details of his private life,

70 years of basketball, and the path he walked from

his beginnings as a player to becoming the top director

of world basketball.

Readers of the book, which was later published in

2017, will discover that before basketball, Bora played

tennis and table-tennis, that his mother was Czech,

that his given name comes from a great Serbian

writer with the same name, that during World War

II he lost 14 family members, and that communists

executed his father, among many, many other things.

It is emotional, dramatic, precise and contains many

previously unknown details.

His story is, at the same time, the story of Yugoslav,

European and world basketball. In 1991, Stankovic

was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball

Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts, as

a contributor to the sport, and in 2007, he entered the

FIBA Hall of Fame.

Bora Stankovic, a unique man and part of basketball’s

heritage.

Borislav Stankovic

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