Surely few of you were born 80 years ago. In 1935, precisely. Yet this is THE date, where it all began for continental European basketball. We are even going to be even more precise, in May exactly. It was in Geneva that the first EuroBasket in history took place. Today we are in 2015, it is in barely two months that the European championship will take place in France, 80 years after the first. We had to search to find archives dating from 80 years ago. And they exist! So let’s jump back in time and travel to May 1935. What was it like back then?
- A very different course than today
Placed under the aegis of the International Federation (FIBA), Euro 1935 was basically only a “test” and had above all been set up with the aim of the 11th Olympic Games which took place a year later. Berlin and where basketball was a new sport on the program. Finally, no country which will have participated in this Euro will be qualified for the Olympic Games, it is Poland which will represent Europe during the 11th Olympic Games.
During this first EuroBasket, there were therefore 10 participating teams: Switzerland, host country, Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, France, Hungary, Italy, Latvia, Romania and Spain. These 10 countries are the ten nations affiliated to FIBA.
First of all, the 10 nations play one match each which will serve as the preliminary round, the teams that win their match will qualify for the semi-finals. Except that… semi-finals 5, it’s not possible. So, it was necessary to reduce the number 4 and for that a support match was played. But unfortunately, at the time, we didn’t necessarily organize this in a fair way and fair vis-à-vis the 3 other teams, which themselves were directly qualified for the 1/2. This support match will oppose Switzerland to Italy, respective winners of Romania and Bulgaria by 33 points and 19 points difference. Switzerland will win. The teams defeated at the end of the preliminary round will compete in classification matches over the next two days to determine the ranking from 5th to 10th place, a method now used in youth competitions only.
The semi-finals will take place over one day and the two finals the following day.
- A totally different context and rules
Basketball in 1935 is certainly not basketball in 2015. Normal, 80 years separate us! Already, the number of players in the squad varied enormously, going from 7 to 11 for some teams. Moreover, this is not information but the meetings were played outside, most of the time on a dirt track despite everything covered. This is also what happened at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin since the basketball matches were played in the ”tennis stadium”. EuroBasket matches were officiated by a single referee. Moreover, there were only three officials for the entire competition. The matches could be played until very late in the evening: the preliminary round match between France and Czechoslovakia took place at 10:40 p.m. And at that time, people were there to see the matches, even almost 11 p.m. since you can see in the archives that there were 2,000 spectators for each match.
The scores were also much lower than now, so on the one hand because the players were technically less good (different ways of shooting, etc…). The playing time was not, moreover, the same. When it was created, basketball was played in four 15-minute halves.
Despite everything, you should know that certain rules already existed: walking, it was forbidden to move with the ball in hand and also to knock your opponent to the ground.
- And France in all this?
France was not a founding member of FIBA in 1932 (Argentina, Czechoslovakia, Greece, Latvia, Italy, Portugal, Romania and Switzerland). But despite everything, she participated in this first EuroBasket organized in Switzerland. It goes without saying first of all to present the players who were the precursors of basketball in France. No, no Tony Parkernor of Boris Diaw. Players unknown to French basketball fans and yet they counted enormously: Francis Rudler, stone bowl, Henry Hell, Charles Hemmerlin, Etienne Roland, Robert Cohu, Raoul Gouga, Jacques Flouret, Etienne Onimus, George Carrier. All these beautiful people were led by a coach: Teddy Kriegk. It is important to say that there was a coach, because some nations of this Euro did not have one such as Italy or Belgium.
France begins its Euro against Czechoslovakia for the preliminary round match. A match that the Blues will lose by two small points (23-21) which will force our French to play places 5 10 the two days that follow. The next day, they will sign the biggest offensive card of the tournament with a river score of 66 23 where Francis Rudler will be the best player of the meeting with 24 points, which is a lot for a player at the time. They are therefore qualified for the 2nd round of the classification matches against Italy and another 29-27 victory. It is therefore at the beginning of the evening at 8:50 p.m. that they will play the match for 5th place, won 49-30 against the Belgian neighbors.
France therefore finished 5th in the first EuroBasket in history. Despite the small 5th place, the French will manage the performance of placing 4 players in the 9 best scorers of the tournament: Francis Rudler 4th (11 points per game), Pierre Bol 6th, Henri Hell 7th (9 points per game for them) and Jacques Flouret 8th (8 points average).
We can summarize by the fact that France defended itself rather well during this first European tournament.
- The other teams of this EuroBasket 1935
The four teams going to the semi-finals are Latvia, Spain, Switzerland and Czechoslovakia. Spain wins the first semi-final organized at 9:40 p.m. and refereed by an Italian. A victory against Czechoslovakia by only 4 small points (21-17) while the two teams were tied at 10-10 at halftime. The second semi-final took place at 10:30 p.m. between Latvia and Switzerland. The host country will be defeated by the Latvians 28 to 19 with a very good game of Aleksejs Anufrijevs (12 dots).
The final will be played the next day between the two winners of the previous day. A final plays late in the evening since it is 10:30 p.m. when the match begins. A referee match by a Swiss and it is Latvia who will lead the whole match and who will logically win (24-18).
At the end of this tournament, he is a Spaniard Rafael Martin who will be read MVP and the tournament’s top scorer will be an Italian Livio Franceschini with an average of 16.5 points per game far ahead of the 15 points per game of the player who will follow him in the standings. So yes, the tournament MVP will not be a player from the winning team of the tournament which may seem strange to us humans of the 21st century. But at the time, we rewarded the best player of the tournament regardless of his team and in view of the archives of the matches played by the Spaniards it is indeed Martin who seems to be the most regular player in the competition.
- A style of play… quite different
At that time and until the early 1950s, we hardly dribbled, if at all. The attacking style of play was not the same at all. First of all, the defense was passive or at least described as a ‘resting moment’ so logically teams didn’t attack alike. The only two ways to get to the basket were passing a teammate or shooting, and this, until a long time. But it was also due to the balls which were not conducive to dribbling.
Today’s basketball, called ”spectacular”, developed mainly in the United States towards the end of the 1950s with the players we still know today, such as Bob Cousy, jerry west, Bill Russell or even Mr. Wilt Chamberlain. All former NBA players, which was the biggest basketball league at the time and still is.
- A EuroBasket that has indeed evolved over time
Two years later, the second EuroBasket in history took place and that year, an African team was invited: Egypt. It is this same country which, in 1949, will host the competition and will win it. In 1951, France organized for the first time the EuroBasket, Paris. Won by the USSR, this Euro marks the beginning of a long supremacy of the Soviet countries over European basketball.
1963 is the first year that an official MVP is named, whereas before it was only unofficial MVP named by the media. The first MVP of a EuroBasket will be a Spaniard (as in 1935), Emiliano Rodriguez.
22 years later, in 1985, in Stuttgart, the three-point line appeared in a European championship for the first time. We are therefore getting closer and closer to the NBA rules which are the example at the time in terms of basketball. It should nevertheless be noted that the 3-point line appeared 18 years ago across the Atlantic. It is a novelty which therefore takes the European championships towards a modernity that they had never known before. France organized the Euro for the second time in 1999. This EuroBasket marked the end of Yugoslav supremacy which lasted nearly 26 years with big names such as the late Drazen Petrovic or Toni Kukoc.
At the start of the 2000s, the European hierarchy was extremely divided between the countries of Central Europe such as Lithuania or even the great Greece of the 2000s and a little later, Spain which will experience its good years between 2007 and 2013 .
Arrived in the 2010s, it is the France of Tony Parker and Spain from Paul Gasol which offer us the most beautiful duels in European basketball since the duels in the Soviet era or even the Yugoslav era. From 2013, Spain’s EuroBasket supremacy faded, beaten in the semi-finals by France, this match marked the transfer of power between the two great nations. France, which will also host the EuroBasket in a month and a half.
And here we are, back on our feet and back in 2015 after this fabulous journey through the golden years of European basketball, starting exactly 80 years ago, in Switzerland where the first EuroBasket in history took place. A history of European basketball begins 80 years ago and has evolved enormously over time. Until arriving today in 2015 where, among others, Montpellier and Lille will take place, the 39th EuroBasket in the history of European basketball. To find the whole story of the first EuroBasket in history, a very beautiful Latvian film was made and named Dream Team 1935.
Just enough time to wish all readers a beautiful Euro with Inside Basket Europe and to thank all those who have read this file on the beginnings of EuroBasket.
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