It’s a question for the ages and one that BallinEurope has wondered about in contemplation for years. Last night’s post-game press conference following the Lithuania-Poland EuroBasket match saw an answer delivered, summing things up rather succinctly and satisfyingly.
With Team Lithuania head coach Kestutis Kemzura and BiE fave Martynas “Air” Pocius before the assembled media, a journalist on his first stay in this hoops-mad land went for the deep query: “Why is this country so passionate about basketball?”
Pocius answered first, “I think it comes down to just one word: Tradition.” The 25-year-old’s historical perspective on the matter goes back to 1991, when the then-newly independent country reassembled its own team, famously assisted by the Grateful Dead, guided by Sarunas Marciulionis and Arvydas Sabonis; the most visible reminder of these days is still apparent in the red, yellow and green tie-dyed gear the team still sports at public events and medal ceremonies.
Kemzura wished to correct his player a wee bit, musing that actually this tradition goes back far further, perhaps to 1935 or ’37. (“I wasn’t born then,” joked Pocius; “Neither was I,” retorted the coach, who is currently 41.) And in fact, in 1937, Lithuania won the second-ever European championship tournament now known as EuroBasket.
Basketball “is really close to our mentality,” philosophized Kemzura. “At one time, it was political – and you know what I mean. It was a chance to say to everyone, ‘We are small, but we are big.’”
And today, there’s nothing bigger on this planet than a Lithuanian’s love for this game…