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Why you should watch more of EuroBasket than just Slovenia

Great basketball in an unrivaled professional environment

Slovenia v Lithuania: Group B - FIBA EuroBasket 2022 Photo by Alex Gottschalk/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

By Mette Robertson (@M_Robertson100)

EuroBasket is underway and Luka with his Slovenia team is the center of attention for many fans and especially Americans. But EuroBasket is so much more than that. Besides this competition being the best EuroBasket tournament in history, it offers important insight into the traditions and culture of multiple European nations with long histories of high-quality basketball. And with that comes a unique chance to learn more about your favorite NBA-player.

The history of Europe and the European nations span centuries and many are intertwined. Wars created alliances and enemies, cut countries in half and much of today’s local culture is often directly affected by conflict created by past generations.

You might ask yourself: Why is competing on national teams so meaningful to Europeans?

If you aren’t aware of the history and of the importance of national pride in Europe, it’s hard to understand why over 30 European NBA-players, multiple superstars and the reigning NBA MVP are all spending their summer competing for their country. But to them, national competition trumps all and there’s a reason for that.

A good example is Slovenia. The fact that Slovenia was not an independent country but part of Yugoslavia until 1991 certainly affects the national pride and significance the players, team and fans place on EuroBasket. The same can be said for Lithuania, which was part of the Soviet Union until 1989, and Germany, which had to find a way to be a country and be proud of their nation again after World War II.

If you’re not watching as many games as possible, you’re missing out on learning about your favorite NBA-player, and you’re missing some of the best and most entertaining basketball I’ve had the pleasure of enjoying. Here are 5 teams to watch and an interesting tid-bit to illustrate the significance of basketball for each country:


Following World War II, the US government sent the Harlem Globetrotters to Germany in 1951 to help counter communism as part of the cultural Cold War. The game drew 75,000 spectators which set a world record for the largest crowd to watch a basketball game at the time. Today, basketball is one of the most popular sports in Germany.

Players to watch:


Lithuania has a long history of basketball at a high level, and it is among one of the only (maybe the only) country that ranks the sport as number one in popularity.

In 1941, Eurobasket was planned to take place in Lithuania, but the Second World War put an end to that. The same year, mass Soviet deportations from Lithuania, which was part of the Soviet Union at the time, began. Juozas Butrimas, who was a Siberia deportations survivor later wrote in his memoirs:

“Our whole sports club was falsely accused of participating in an anti-Soviet Lithuanian resistance organization. In Siberia, we built a regulation basketball court. Basketball allowed us to have dignity, to retain our sense of humanity. How did I survive? Basketball gave a lot. They didn’t bury me there”.

Players to watch:


France is one of the countries with the longest history of active basketball in Europe. The first European game was held in Paris in 1893. At that point, as so often throughout history, the youth were enticed to play basketball because they idolized American culture. French teams were among the best in Europe in the 1930s and post-World War II period, but lost to the US at the Olympics finals in 1948.

Players to watch:


A little further south in Spain, basketball didn’t gain popularity as early. It wasn’t until 1921 that a priest, who had just returned to Barcelona from Cuba, introduced the sport with success. In Cuba, the priest, Eusenio Millán, had seen people playing the new sport and thought it would be an ideal sport to play in Spain where the winters can be cold.

He introduced basketball in a school in Barcelona, where he was a teacher and in 1922 he founded the basketball team Layetano. From that point on, the growth of teams across Spain was exponential and today basketball is one of the most popular sports in the country.

Players to watch:

  • Juancho Hernangomez, Toronto Raptors
  • Willy Hernangomez, New Orleans Pelicans


Slovenia was not an independent state until June 1991, where it became the first republic to split from Yugoslavia and become a sovereign state. Before this, Slovenian basketball players represented Yugoslavia.

The Slovenian star, Jure Zdovc, who was inducted into the Slovenian Athletes Hall of Fame in 2015 and a two-time member of the FIBA European Selection, was the only Slovene on the Yugoslav national team in 1991 who went on to play for the Slovenian national team afterwards as well.

During the violent events leading up to the June 1991 independence, Zdovc withdrew from the Yugoslav national team during EuroBasket, just before the semifinals. Yugoslavia was the defending world champions at this point. Zdovc withdrew to protest the Yugoslav Government’s military action in Slovenia. Zdovc supported the independence movement and had been pressured to quit, he told the media.

Zdovc had been calling his parents in Ljubljana, where some of the heaviest fighting was reported. That was how he learned of the bombing of the airport near Ljubljana. The 24-year-old player also canceled his wedding. “You can’t get married, when there’s a war going on,” he said.

Players to watch:

This is just a short introduction to the significance of basketball for 5 of the 24 teams participating. Pick a favorite, watch their games, learn more about your favorite NBA-player and enjoy some of the best basketball the world has to offer.

Alja Sotlar has been an important contributor to the research of this article.