Friday will see the Baltic Basketball League final four tip off, while the Lithuanian Basketball League starts up its own domestic tournament next Wednesday, April 28. At this point, both seem once again inevitably headed to a final confrontation of those superpowers of Lithuanian ‘ball, namely Žalgiris Kaunas and Lietuvos Rytas.
In the BBL, the former still needs to get past BC Ventspils while L. Rytas must handle fellow countrymen Šiauliai; at home, the teams are the top two seeds – Both concluding in another chapter of Reds vs. Greens is all but taken for granted, however, and given the past 10 years or so, this seems highly probable.
Further proof of the fans’ devotion and these teams’ domination may be found on good ol’ YouTube, with clips from Žalgiris-L.Rytas clashes going all the way back to 2004 available for your viewing pleasure. We’ll get to those momentarily, but first, a brief history for the uninitiated.
Though they call this basketball association over there the “Lithuanian Basketball League” (“Lietuvos Krepšinio Lyga”), it could easily be referred to as the “Žalgiris/Lietuvos Rytas League.” Or even simply “The Žalgiris League.” You think the Chicago Bulls were dominant in the 1990s? Immediately following the LKL’s tipping off in 1993, Žalgiris took the first six trophies; the club has in total won 12 of the 16 total Lithuanian national titles.
You think the Los Angeles Lakers/Boston Celtics rivalry of the 1980s was awesome? Check this out: The other four LKL championship trophies *all* belong to – You guessed it – Lietuvos Rytas. Since upending the Žalgiris juggernaut in 2000, L. Rytas would go on to hoist trophies in 2002, 2006 and 2009.
Certainly making matters even more frustrating for the 11 other franchises in Lithuania is the fact that, in 16 years of existence, just four teams have played for the title: One of these, now-defunct Plungé Olimpias, appeared in the final best-of-five series just once; the fourth, BC Aisčiai (née Atletas), hasn’t played in the championship round since 1998.
In addition, the Baltic Basketball League has also been dominated by the twin Lithuanian towers. Since its formation in 2004-05, the title has come down to Žalgiris-L. Rytas five times. That’s right, math wizards: After next week, all six championship titles will have come down to these two. Even one more for ya: the pre-regular season Baltic Basketball League President’s Cup has been played for twice. While LMT Riga somehow managed to squeak by Žalgiris to lose to L. Rytas in 2008, 2009’s final saw Žalgiris dispose of their bitter rival.
The point here? These two clubs have one heck of a rivalry, maybe the single best rivalry in world hoops east of maybe Barcelona-Madrid. For those of you keeping score at home, as they say, the standings in championship and cup play is currently Žalgiris 9, Lietuvos Rytas 7 … things’ll really get hairy if L. Rytas manages to pull off both Baltic and Lithuanian wins.
Just one of many tight finishes to games in this rivalry could be seen in February 2004. Anybody who thinks this was “just another game” clearly doesn’t get the Žalgiris-Lietuvos Rytas thing. And oh yes, that no. 11 on Žalgiris is indeed Mr. Sabonis, therein a mere 39 years old.
In 2005, the teams inaugurated Lietuvos Rytas’ Siemens Arena; the hometown Reds crushed Žalgiris, 74-59, behind top scorer Fred House (!), who also contributed four (!!!) blocks.
For sheer insanity, little in basketball tops the legendary final half-minute of so of the 2007 LKL championship in which homers L.Rytas manage to score six points with no timeouts and without fouling. And then… (I believe the expression would be, “Aš myliu šį žaidimą!”)
Do Kaunas and L.Rytas’ fans respect each other? Sure, at least as much as do Liverpool and Manchester United supporters – as evidenced by this bit of a brouhaha breaking out between Red and Green backers during the BBL quarterfinals in 2008, which was hosted by perhaps Lithuania’s distant third-best club, Šiauliai.
Here’s a game from the 2008 LKL finals, a nail-biter at 91-90 to L.Rytas. BiE doesn’t know about you, but i’m grooving on that Lithuanian funk soundtrack.
(Ultimately, Žalgiris took it all that year, though.)
While that ending in 2007 was fantastic, check out L.Rytas methodically erasing a 14-point lead in the late third/early fourth quarters against Žalgiris to get the blood flowing.
In 2009, L.Rytas took the BBL championship over You-Know-Who behind the insane play of Chuck Eidson: 41 points, eight rebounds, eight assists. (No, BiE can’t explain nor justify the Boston soundtrack backing this video.)
The view from the stands in Kaunas preceding a Zalgiris 83-78 LKL win in September. Please note the BallinEurope does not necessarily endorse some of the activity in this video, including attempting to stomp out a flare on a wooden floor whilst wearing a suit.
The last time the teams met this season was in early April; Lietuvos Rytas topped Žalgiris, 90-81 at home, to clinch the no. 1 seed going into the LKL playoffs.
I don’t know about the rest of you, but BiE definitely has some pity for Šiauliai and Ventspils: Surely nothing short of say, Olympiacos, could keep these two squads from going another 15 bloody rounds.
As for Žalgiris and Lietuvos Rytas fans, send those video links! BallinEurope cannot get enough of this interminable courtside war.