Sasha? Really?

It’s perhaps the most famous Euroleague-related trivia question, and this season sees two more players in a quest to join the likes of a noted half-dozen, including some of the game’s all-time greats – would you believe that duo seeking to join this elite are named Sasha Vujacic and Jordan Farmar?

The €20,000 question is of course, “Which players have won both Euroleague and NBA titles?” Hint: There are six in total, and two are Americans. Guess before clicking “Read More…” to test your skills – BiE’s trusting you to stay away from Google searches and Wikipedia…

Both Farmar and Vujacic have taken NBA titles with the Los Angeles Lakers; with the former playing for the well-stocked Maccabi Tel Aviv and the latter on the nearly-as-elite Anadolu Efes, the double-title club could well become a quintet by the end of 2011-12 – figuring in the ever-increasingly likely possibility that this NBA season will be canceled altogether.

The elite list includes the following.

• Bill Bradley, Olimpia Milano/New York Knicks. Okay, so back in 1965-66, the big Continental title was called the “FIBA European Champions Cup,” but in the 21st century, Euroleague statmongers have the competition listed as contiguous with the “modern era” of EL play.

Whatever you call Bradley & Co.’s 1966 title, it can certainly be recognized as quite the feat. Not only was Bradley a 22-year-old graduate student who eschewed a season with the New York Knicks to become a then-rare American in European ball, his university was Oxford, from where he travelled to (occasionally) practice and typically start in games for Milano. The results? A Serie A title plus the team’s first-ever Continental title, the latter its last for 20 years until the arrival of … ah, you’ll see.

• Bob McAdoo, Los Angeles Lakers/Tracer Milano. Today listed as one of the Euroleague’s top 50 contributors of all-time, McAdoo chased up a somewhat inconsistent NBA career by jumping the puddle to play in Italy. Starting with Milano, McAdoo immediately enjoyed the championship success that had eluded him for so long in the U.S. In his first two seasons abroad – 1986-87 and1987-88 – Milano took back-to-back Champions Cup titles over Maccabi Tel Aviv. And 1988 was capped with a Milano triple crown, an accomplishment the team hasn’t achieved since.

• Toni Kukoc, KK Split/Chicago Bulls. Kukoc’s cross-continent ring-bearing is, BiE daresay, writes the Croatian’s name indelibly all over the pages of basketball history. Kukoc not only makes this list of the super-elite, but establishes himself as a key figure on the most dominant teams in both leagues quite possibly of all-time.

The legend of *those* Bulls of the 1990s is too well-known to be delineated heavily here, but in those years it may said that Kukoc established himself among the immortal sixth men in NBA history. For Jugoplastica/Pop 84 Split, all Toni did was lead his team to three consecutive Euroleague titles for a run matched only in the dawn of the Champions Cup when ASK Riga went back-to-back-to-back from 1958 to ’60: A feat that seems unlikely ever to be matched again.

In addition, Kukoc symbolized the then-new trend in the NBA’s attitude vis-à-vis European players, representing a shift from the Dominique Wilkins Factor, i.e. aged American player hawking past-his-prime wares and dominating Continental ball, to a strategy involving drafting players to let them develop further abroad.

Adding his contributions to the Team Yugoslavia squads of the late 1980s/early 1990s, one question comes to mind: How the hell is Kukoc not in the FIBA Hall of Fame?

• Zan Tabak, KK Split/Houston Rockets. Like Kukoc, Zan Tabak got his winning seasons with KK Split parlayed into selection at the NBA Draft. And like Kukoc, Tabak was soon thereafter playing for titles. Unlike his Croatian teammate, however, Tabak never quite carved a niche for himself with his first NBA team and was used sparingly with the 1994-95 Houston Rockets, playing in fewer than half the regular-season games and just 31 total minutes in the playoff run to the championship.

Tabak again reached the NBA finals with the Indiana Pacers in 2000, again watching the great majority of games from the bench. Between 1998 and 2005, Tabak returned to European ball to play in Turkey and Spain, but the highest team achievement he would reach in those years was Joventut Badalona’s surprising second-place finish in the Copa del Rey in 2004.

• Rasho Nesterovic, Kinder Bologna/San Antonio Spurs. Nesterovic was yet another player to enjoy the glory years of teams on both sides of the Atlantic, working his way through top European clubs – and reaching some unprecedented heights with a couple of them – before joining the Spurs in 2003.

Nesterovic’s superstar status in Europe (and certainly making him an attention-grabber among NBA scouts) came at the age of 19. Playing in the Slovenian national league in 1995-96, the soon-to-be FIBA Europe U20 tourney MVP averaged a double-double of 17 points and 14 rebounds for the SKL champions Union Olimpija. The following season, Nesterovic helped Olimpija into the Euroleague Final Four round, a final standing the club has yet to repeat.

After his inaugural season in Euroleague play, then free-spending Kinder Bologna managed to land the big man, filling out a roster that already included Antoine Rigaudeau, Predrag Danilović, Alessandro Frosini, Zoran Savić and Hugo Sconochini. (Plus John Amaechi and Zarko Paspalj would each contribute a season before Nesterovic’s three years with the team were up.) Thus was Nesterovic’s 1997-98 season was capped with Bologna’s first-ever Euroleague title.

Incredibly enough, Nesterovic’s ascension – and trophy collecting – was still not finished. After five solid seasons with the Minnesota Timberwolves, Nesterovic became one of the first in the long line of veteran European ballers playing in San Antonio. Nesterovic was given the task of filling David Robinson’s sneakers; in relishing the challenge all the Slovenian would do is start every game at center in the 2003-04 season and contribute a solid 8.7 points and 7.7 rebounds per game.

Missing a few games due to injury the following season, Nesterovic saw limited time in the Spurs’ 2005 playoff run that culminated in a championship; after one more season with San Antonio, Nesterovic would never get any closer to the NBA finals thereafter.

• Manu Ginobili, Kinder Bologna/San Antonio Spurs. The latest addition to the list, Ginobili became a prototypical post-Kukoc player, resisting joining the Spurs in 1999 to develop further in Italy after playing professionally in Argentina since the age of 18.

Ginobili may be credited with leading Bologna’s last true golden age, handing the city its only triple crown title in 2001 while earning Serie A and Euroleague Final Four MVP awards. While Bologna would take the Italian Cup in 2002 without Ginobili and Marko Jaric, the end of the 2002-03 season saw the once-mighty club suffer relegation due to financial circumstances, a blow from which the franchise has never truly recovered.

Gee, no wonder Claudio Sabatini is pursuing Kobe Bryant Ginobili so fiercely, eh…?

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