Involved in yet another chat with yet another basketball enthusiast yet one more time about the all-time greatest basketball team, i quickly realized that any discussion of the topic never extends beyond the borders of the United States of America. And while the list of Greatest NBA Players of All-Time basically writes itself – Jordan, Bird, Magic, Wilt, Oscar Robertson, Bill Russell, etc. etc. – much more open to argument might be an attempt to formulate the all-time European squad.
Below runs a blueprint for BallinEurope’s Dream Team Europe roster, the all-time greatest European basketball team never assembled. Perhaps we’ll break this down country by country when feeling a little braver, but for the time being, here’s a list of invitees to the all-time training camp for Europa’s upcoming fantasyland battle against Team USA’s All-Timers.
(Yes, quite a few big men may be playing slightly out of position at forward here, but surely the sacrifice can be made for international all-time play. Besides, if Dino Meneghin were around in the 2000s to take on the Shaquilles of today’s basketball world, i’d sooner put him at power forward and let Arvydas Sabonis lean on the Big Stopgap for most of the game…)
• Sarunas Jasikevicius. Surely Jasikevicius makes this team; the only question is whether he is simply the greatest Euroleague guard ever. Though his NBA career was a bit of a washout (gee, his time was totally wasted with the Golden State Warriors in 2007; imagine that), few have dominated Euroleague play like the latest great Lithuanian. Titles with three different teams should be enough proof, but his individual achievements in The Continent’s league alone include two All-Euroleague first team nods, one final four MVP, and inclusion in 2007’s “35 Greatest Euroleague Players” list. Oh, and he was named “Mr. Europa” in 2003 after his FC Barcelona team took the Spanish league title plus the Euroleague title while Team Lithuania won Eurobasket.
• Sarunas Marciulionis. The first Lithuanian national ever to play NBA ball was drafted an incredible 127th overall in the sixth round (!) of the 1987 NBA Draft. All the Golden State Warriors got out of him was four seasons of play in which he was twice runnerup for the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award – and this after eight years with Statyba Vilnius (today BC Lietuvos Rytas). Marciulionis also guided the Soviet Union to the gold medal in the 1988 Games in that team’s last Olympic performance and is credited with “almost single-handedly resurrect[ing] the Lithuanian national team.” Indeed, this work alone should get Marciulionis into some kind of multinational marketing hall of fame for creation of one of the oddest pop culture meldings ever: international basketball plus the Grateful Dead. Devotion, man.
• Tony Parker. So technically, Euroleague records have Monsieur Parker down as an American citizen, but come on: Tony *is* the face of Team France these days, French is his native language, and the truth is Dream Team Europe is short on guards. While the astute in America knew that Parker was something special after the FIBA U18s in 2000, not even Greg Popovich could have guessed he’d be this good: His CV already includes a 2001-02 NBA all-rookie first team award, three All-Star appearances, an NBA Finals MVP award, the Euroscar European player of the year award and, perhaps most importantly, a key role on three NBA champions. And he’s only 27.
• Drazen Petrovic. Ah, Drazen: He who demolished the European barrier in the NBA, he who was so far ahead of his time, he who suffered a tragic death at far too young an age … he was the best.
• Boris Diaw. Already known for his heroics in international play for Team France, 2005 saw Diaw come into his own in the NBA, earning the nickname 3-D for that well-loved propensity of the best European players to excel in all aspects of the game. It remains to be seen what getting relegated to the Charlotte Bobcats will do to Boris’ career, but here’s to thinking he’ll make the most of it.
• Pau Gasol. Dogged by teammate Kobe among innumerable other for lacking killer instinct and/or stamina, Gasol proved the doubters (Lakers fan yours truly included) wrong in last season’s NBA championship series. Today, Gasol The Elder makes for a fitting symbol of Spain’s golden generation of basketball players.
• Toni Kukoc. Often set in the shadows of Those Great Chicago Bulls memories behind Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen (not to mention oddball Rodman) and unfairly remembered by many for his withering under Pippen’s crushing defense in a 1992 Olympic game, Kukoc was an absolutely vital part of the dominant 1990s Bulls. Those who saw him will never forget his brilliant passing, his awesome 1997-98 season as sixth man (15.7 points, 5.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists per game), and his redeeming 16-point, 9-assist performance against the Dream Team in the ’92 gold-medal game.
• Dino Meneghin. Meneghin’s ridiculous longevity – A playing career lasting 29 years? Who besides Gordie Howe and George Blanda could approach this in any sport? – gets him onto any all-star team such as this. In the course of his legendary career, Meneghin played in 13 Euroleague finals, winning seven; his teams won the Italian League title 12 times; and with Team Italy, he took the 1983 Eurobasket title and the silver medal at the 1980 Olympic Games. In 1991, Meneghin was officially called “the greatest European basketball player of all-time” by the big league.
• Dirk Nowitski. Detlef who? Nowitski has become the face of German basketball and it should be some time before any Deutschlander takes over the mantle of “Greatest German Player of All-Time” away from Deadly Dirk. Despite the seeming inevitability of Nowitski’s retirement from NBA ball without a title, his career stats (22.7 ppg, 8.6 rpg, just 27 games missed in the last 10 seasons) should get him into the NBA Hall of Fame easily.
• Dino Radja. A key member of Team Yugoslavia’s own dream teams in the late 1980s and early 90s, the well-travelled Radja thrilled fans all over Europe and in the US. Despite ignominious exits from the NBA and Panathinaikos, Radja’s numbers everywhere – voted second-best player in Europe in 1991; 21.5 ppg for Virtus Roma in 1992-93; averages of 16.7 points and 8.4 rebounds per game with the Boston Celtics in three seasons, just for a few examples – earn him a spot among the greats
• Detlef Schrempf. One of the key components of those star-laden 1990s Seattle Supersonics, Schrempf actually won his first title in America as a senior in high school. After four years with the University of Washington, in which he may have turned in the best-ever college career by a European and earning an all-tournament team nod for Germany in Eurobasket 1985, Schrempf would go on to an NBA career featuring three All-Star bids, one relatively close championship bid (Hey, it was the Bulls, after all), and becoming the first European player to score 15,000 in the NBA.
• Vlade Divac. I can still recall the line from a hostile Los Angeles sportswriter when the Lakers had Divac to fill the gap left in the wake of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s retirement: “The Lakers have traded a Cadillac for a Yugo.” Divac then spent most of his career proving his detractors wrong — or at least inaccurate. Divac ended up a dependable starter for three playoff franchises: the Lakers, Charlotte Hornets and Sacramento Kings before he called it a day with the team he’d played in his only NBA Finals with in that rookie season.
• Arvydas Sabonis. One of the good things about multinationalism in sports: The likes of Sabonis will never fly under America’s radar again. What most US fans knew about Sabonis, until he entered the NBA at the age of 30 (!), was assembled from remembrance of the Olympic clashes between Team USA and the Soviet Union. What NBA fans saw of Sabonis’ career with the Portland Trail Blazers was a huge, if a bit slow, dude who could shoot from anywhere on the floor. And even into his mid-30s, Sabonis was one of the (extremely) few who could shut down Shaq with defense. If more of us had seen him play in the 1980s for Zalgiris, Sabonis would surely be included in many more “great centers of all-time” discussions.
• Rik Smits. When Larry Bird took over as coach in Indiana, the Pacers were transformed into a team which lived and died by perimeter shooting. With four guys out deep, who was there to nail rebound after rebound against the likes of young Shaquille O’Neal and crazed Dennis Rodman? That’s right: The no. 2 overall pick in the 1988 NBA Draft, Rik “The Dutchman” Smits. Despite chronic foot problems, Smits still managed a fine 12-year career of 12,871 points, 5,277 rebounds, and 1,111 blocks mostly as a Robin to Reggie Miller’s Batman.
So there are 14 prospective players for immortality. However, All-Time Dream Team rules stipulate that only 12 may be active for all-time tournament play. Right, then, BallinEurope readers: Who gets left off? Has anyone been forgotten from this practice squad? Who among the uninvited has been snubbed?
And most importantly, how would this team fare against an American dream Dream Team?
Update — Five more players added to Dream Team Europe roster before training camp. Also: Who should coach Dream Team Europe?
– written by Os Davis