Russian Invasion

nenad krstic cska moscow

Russian teams are cracking this year. CSKA is in  the Euroleague Final Four but UNICS was also  close if another team than Barcelona stood on their way.

Spartak St. Petersburg and Khimki Moscow are  in the Eurocup Final Four but Lokomotiv Kuban would have a reasonable chance if not eliminated by the compatriot Eurocup hosts.

Even the moderate  Triumph Lyubertsy will fight in the Euro challenge semi final. Seems like we are witnessing another Russian Revolution in the name of basketball and with different weapons.

We can fairly say that the roots  of what we see today can be traced back until the beginning of the new millennium. Sometimes actions that have been taken in a systematic framework with a determined manner,  even though they are wrong, will give results, good or bad.

We as humans, can really feel the effects of these results. Many people criticize this, but actually the ones who has capital or money, invest in where they feel safe, the countries that they can count on and predict more or less what is going to happen in the near future there.

To give an example, a king who announces that he will execute 500 people tomorrow and actually does it when the time comes is actually, more ‘predictable’ than a merciful tyrannt,, who doesn’t make any statements about this absurd specific topic, release 30 people from jail and execute only 5 of the prisoners the next day.

For this same reason, a country like Russia Federation who has a plethora of natural resources and as a country, improving its production sector,   is a financially  safe harbor for an  investor  who wants to put his money in. For example, this years’ Eurocup host Khimki is financially backed by Russian credit and investment bank Promsvyazbank, who also  is the main sponsor of the Eurocup F4 action.

It is not new for us to see banks go into basketball business, we used to learn that from banks like  Unicaja, Caja Laboral and Montepaschi but wherever we look at, related with Russia, generally we see something about a bank or a gas firm.

After the painful structural reorganization from centrally planned to market economy, the general state  of the country was improving and this was automatically serving as a basement for the basketball to flourish again.

Especially, teams different  from CSKA started to make people now their names, beginning from the 2000s. Avtador Saratov was in Euroleague, Lokomotiv Rostov was the last finalist of Korac Cup in 2002. While CSKA was in a transition period, Ural Great filled the gap by clinching the title.

Khimki, started its operations in 1997 and teams like them especially had great achievements in the third tier level of European club competitions. In 2004, UNICS Kazan, in 2005 Dynamo St. Petersburg, in 2006 Khimki made the Euro challenge finals. One level below, called Eurocup Challenge in those days, Russian teams were again, the dominant side.

Then CSKA came back to the European scene again, thanks to Dusan Ivkovic. He helped not only the army club but the police club also, Dynamo Moscow was also established itself as a Russian powerhouse, UNICS and Khimki empowered themselves season by season. Of course there were ones, who did not catch up with this process; Dynamo St. Petersburg and after last season, Dynamo Moscow felt down, especially for finanical reasons stemming from the 2008 financial crises.

Of course, as once Nietzsche famously stated: “The thing that does not kill you, makes you stronger.” So did the crises. Many of the clubs learned from mistakes and came back with stronger financial backgrounds and now it seems like they know how to take their guards against such situations by making teams less dependent on individuals.

Many banks were bankrupt all over the world but in Russia, VTB Bank not only survived but started a new competition as VTB United, a league that contains teams from old Soviet region. For many, including  ex NBA players, the league became more favoured by players compared to Greece, Italy and even Spain and Turkey.

Even in  Ukraine, teams like Azovmash, Budivelnik and BC Kyiv, altough they have financial problems time to time, managed to hire respectable and successful coaches and started to advance for further stages in European competitions. Josep Berrocal, the ex assistant of Xavi Pascual from Barcelona, was the head coach of Budivelnik can be given as an example.

Coach of the coaches Bozidar Maljkovic is in control with the Lokomotiv team and before him, the Lithuanian prestigious head coach Kestutis Kemzura was in charge. Milano is not a city where the prices are cheap and their team, Armani Jeans is not a club that will try to minimize the salary that they will give to their coaches.

Their ‘saviour’ this year, Sergio Scariolo was the head coach of Khimki for a couple of seasons. Remember, Khimki called him when they fired Kemzura and reached the Eurocup final that year.

Of course, one of the main reasons that they find themselves in this kind of a picture is that they are a “big” country and they have a great heritage of basketball from the Soviet tradition. Big country means a lot of people and a lot of potential for consumer demand.

Basketball, once was an ideological medium now transformed itself into a commercial product. Moreover, in that region, there are still lots of land, villages or even towns that has been not discovered and waiting to be industrialized by the capital owners, the entrepreneurs, the construction or natural resources oligarchs.

In short, there are lots of opportunities. Ekaterinburg is now established itself as the third biggest city of the country with industrial investments  and since 2003, they have a place in Euroleague Women followers’ minds. What is more, Russia has a federal structure, which gives local governments a chance to find money and support the clubs of the region.

You can see how good relationships have Boris Gromov, the governer of the Moscow region with Khimki, from the news released in the official site of the club. It is worth noting that Shabtai Von Kalmanovic,  the founder father of a Spartak Moscow Vidnoe dynasty which lasted for 4 years and ended after him being assasinated, was working as a consultant of Mr. Gromov. We can see how Lokomotiv club improved its results, after the club changed home from Rostov to Krasnodar.

It seems like, the old Soviet region teams, the term was used to include Lietuvos Rytas or Donetsk, who used to play finals in the third tier Euro championships, evidently jumped to a higher level. UNICS Kazan won Eurocup title last year and 3 of the 4 teams in Eurocup Finals this year are from ex Soviet Region.

It is like a revolution, not transmitted from higher to lower levels but instead, coming from the base with a natural chain of events. Moreover, VTB United league is becoming a success story and probably, it is going to be united with BEKO PBL, which now serves as the premier national league where teams from Russian left behind federation backed Superleague, came together and formed in 2010.

The projected unification can be seen useful from the point of view of ULEB and can be assessed as a good way to improve the competitiveness level of Euroleague, however it comes with the danger of restructring the power formation which is now in the hand of South Europe the East and North.

So, the projected ‘East Europe Open Championship’ can go beyond Euroleague? ?t is a possibility. All in all, when BAA in USA started, there were already established professional leagues as ABL and NBL. After then, these two merged ,get into the BAA roof and formed NBA.

From the perspective of player quality both league were superior to BAA but the markets that they were selling products were too small. Charley Rosen, in his magnificent book “First Tip Off”, gave this as an explanation of the question  why BAA became the winner.

In conclusion, it seems like Russian finally  find a way to reach Mediterranean sea. As an alternative road compared to the one they archaichly planned to use over  Turkey, they decided  to reach  the Southern Europe, starting from Germany to France, Italy and Spain. May be they will manage to pass the Atlantic and reach the other shore, the New World? Who knows?