Spain, France, Spain, and Slovenia: thus goes the honor roll for the last five European Basketball Championships (short: EuroBasket), which until 2017 were played every 2 years.
Going back, we note that European basketball has been dominated mainly by two nations, both of which have now disappeared: the USSR and Yugoslavia. With 13 and 8 victories respectively, they were without a doubt the masters of European basketball – winning a total of 21 of the first 30 editions until 1997. To intersperse the Soviet and Yugoslavian dominance by winning the remaining 9 editions were Latvia, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Greece, Germany, Italy, and… Egypt!
Yes, you read it correctly: the Egyptian national team has won a European title. But how is it possible?
EuroBasket 1937 and 1947
The story begins in 1937 when eight nations took part in the European basketball games played in Latvia, including Egypt. At the time, there was no African basketball federation and the Egyptian team had to “exile” to Europe in order to play basketball.
But why was basketball so popular in the North African country? The game was imported to the country by the Italian-Egyptian player Carmine Paratore, better known as Nello, who founded the Egyptian basketball federation in 1930. Over the 1937 tournament in Latvia, the Egyptian squad only collected defeats and finished last their mini-group, behind Lithuania, Italy and Estonia.
Ten years later, Egypt tried again, presenting itself at the 1947 Eurobasket, which was played in Czechoslovakia. Even without their coach Nello, put in jail by the English due to the outbreak of the war, the Egyptian team won all the games in their group: against Belgium, Poland and even Italy, thus qualifying for the second phase. In the second group stage, they manage to defeat Poland and Bulgaria, but are forced to surrender to the overwhelming power of the Soviet Union, who went on to triumph for the first time in their history. In the bronze medal match, the Africans beat Belgium, winning an incredible bronze medal.
EuroBasket 1949 in Egypt
Once the war was over, Nello went back to taking care of Egyptian basketball and preparing for the 1949 edition of the EuroBasket.
The tournament was played in Heliopolis, a wealthy district of Cairo between 15 May and 22 May. Not many teams participated in the tournament, seven to be precise: France, Greece, Turkey, the Netherlands, Syria, Lebanon and the hosts, Egypt. Many nations gave up, including Italy and the USSR which didn’t want to play on the English colony’s soil.
Due to the small number of teams, the tournament was played out in a single round. The hosts started off strong and easily won against Syria, Holland, Lebanon, Turkey and Greece. From the very first matches, it seemed clear that the race for the trophy will be a two-horse ordeal between Egypt and France.
On the last day of the tournament, the two favorites finally meet. In a memorable match, Nello’s Egypt smash the opposition with a deciding 56 to 36 victory over the French.
Egypt becomes the champion of Europe!
Two tournaments later, in 1953, history seems set to repeat itself.
The USSR is hosting its first ever EuroBasket and Egypt is still among the list of participants.
In the first group stage, the Egyptians start off strong and easily defeat West Germany, France and Sweden. Having clinched first place in the group without too many problems, it seems that the African team can repeat the 1949 victory, but in the second phase Egypt falls flat. The scoreboard reads five defeats and one victory (against Italy) that condemn the team to last place, finishing eighth in the competition.
Thus ends Egypt’s adventure in EuroBasket. Since 1962, FIBA Africa, born just a year earlier, will give life to the African basketball championships, which the Egyptian team will go on to win 5 times.