Basketball coach Željko Obradović has been at the top of European basketball for over 30 years. No other coach has as many EuroLeague titles as the nine won by the Serb. This year, he is aiming for gold with Belgrade’s Partizan team, which faces Madrid’s Real in the quarterfinals of the toughest club competition in Europe.
Obradović’s statistics in EuroLeague playoffs (or its predecessor) are fantastic, as the former player has won 20 of 21 series as a coach. The only loss came in the spring of 2006 against the Spanish club Tau Cerámica, now known as Baskonia, with Obradović’s Panathinaikos losing 1-2.
If we consider all competitions, both for club and national teams, Obradović has been in the finals 63 times, winning 44 of them. He has triumphed 28 times out of 42 finals where the champion was decided in a single game.
Obradović is known for his brilliant tactics and has managed to lead his team to victory even when the odds were against them. For instance, in 1992, Partizan advanced as the last team from their group, but went on to defeat Bologna – the winner of the other group – in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, they surpassed Milano Philips and faced Joventut in the final.
If Partizan finished the regular season in fourth place in Group B, then Joventut topped the same group, winning both previous meets. But that didn’t matter anymore in the finals, as Partizan snatched the EuroLeague title in 71-70. Note: it was Obradović’s debut season as head coach!
In 1997, Obradović, who had won the World Championship as a player and an Olympic silver medal, coached Serbia to win the European Championship. In the final, held in Spain, they defeated Italy, the only loss of the tournament for the latter. By the way, Italy managed to defeat their opponent in the group stage with a score of 74-69. In the final played in Barcelona, Obradović’s Serbia won 61-49.
It is also noteworthy that Obradović has repeatedly won the EuroLeague right after switching teams. If we leave aside his debut season with Partizan, as he did not switch teams but moved from playing in the team to coaching it, he won the EuroLeague in his first season with Joventut (1994), Real Madrid (1995), and Panathinaikos (2000). Obradović returned to Partizan last summer, when the team played in EuroCup, the second-strongest club competition in Europe. The ongoing EuroLeague season is the first one after his return to his old love.
Finally, a story of how Obradović became a coach. It all started suddenly, and we need to go back to the summer of 1991. The 31-year-old Obradović was preparing for the European Championship as Yugoslavia’s point guard. He was not only the team’s playmaker but also the captain and its oldest member.
Obradović was supposed to fly to Germany for a training tournament, but Partizan’s managers invited him to a meeting. The Serbian himself has recalled that the discussion lasted until five o’clock in the morning, and finally the Partizan bosses were able to convince Obradović. Although he asked to be allowed to play at the Euros, the club wanted him to start coaching immediately.
He went to the airport to inform his teammates and head coach Dušan Ivković of his withdrawal from the team, leaving everyone stunned.
The step was made easier by the fact that Obradović was helped by Aleksandar Nikolić, one of the best coaches in history, also nicknamed “basketball professor”. Partizan’s first season under Obradović’s helm ended wonderfully, as in addition to the Euroleague, they triumphed in the Yugoslavian Cup and the championship.
The rest – as the saying goes – is history.