The EuroLeague is the strongest continental competition for clubs in Europe. It is the equivalent of the UEFA Champions League in football. It gathers the best European teams who compete with each other for the main prize. The maiden edition of the competition happened in 1958 when Rigas ASK saw off Bulgarian Academic in the final, winning both legs on the occasion.
We have asked the football experts at NewJerseySafeBetting to put together everything you should know about the history of the competition, changes of formats, and the teams/players/coaches who have left the biggest mark in EuroLeague.
Early beginnings and Russian dominance
The teams from the Soviet Union have won all of the inaugural six editions of the competition. Rigas ASK won the opening three campaigns, losing the final of the fourth to the likes of CSKA Moscow. Dinamo Tbilisi were another popular and strong outfit as they managed to clinch the title in the first EuroLeague final played as a single leg. They dispatched Real Madrid 90-83 in Geneva in the 1961/62 season.
Real Madrid emerging as a formidable force
The first non-Soviet trophy came in the 1963/64 season when Real Madrid defeated Czechoslovakian Spartak ZJS Brno on points difference (a 20-point win at home). Real Madrid then defended the crown by beating CSKA Moscow the following year.
The next season (1965/1966) marked the full change of the format in the finals as Simmenthal Milano secured the maiden Italian title by beating Slavia VS Praha 77-72 in a single leg in Bologna. Real Madrid then went on to win two more titles by beating Simmenthal Milano and Spartak ZJS Brno in the next two years.
We then come to the point when Varese suddenly became a major factor in European basketball. They have won five trophies in seven years from 1969 to 1976. The Italian heavyweights then lost three successive finals. It is worth noting that Maccabi Tel Aviv won their inaugural trophy in 1976/77 in Belgrade, beating Mobilgirgi Varese by a single-point margin. Yugoslavian Bosna (Sarajevo) won their lone title in 1978/79 in Grenoble, beating who else but Varese.
A decade of dominance for Italian and Yugoslavian teams
From 1981/82 to 1991/92 season, all titles went to either Italian or Yugoslavian clubs. Cantu, Milano, Jugoplastika, and Cibona claimed two trophies each during the span, while Roma, POP 84, and Partizan managed to get involved with a single title each.
Greeks and Lithuanians joined the party in the 1990s
Panathinaikos and Olympiacos won their first EuroLeague trophies in successive years, both teams beating Barcelona in the finals of the 1995/96 and the 1996/97 campaigns. Zalgiris got their first EuroLeague silverware in 1998/99 when they saw off Kinder Bologna in the final in Munich.
The recent history
Panathinaikos, Maccabi Tel Aviv, Olympiacos, CSKA Moscow, Real Madrid, and Barcelona have represented the dominant forces in European men’s basketball in the most recent history. These teams usually met each other in the finals regularly. Fenerbahce ruined their party by clinching the trophy in the 2016/17 final in Istanbul, while Anadolu Efes got the second title for Turkey by beating Barcelona 86-81 in the 2020/21 final in Koln.
Real Madrid are the most successful team in the history of the competition
Spanish giants are the only team with a double-digit number of EuroLeague titles. They have won the competition ten times throughout history. They added eight more losses in the finals. Only Maccabi Tel Aviv have collected more runners-up finishes (nine). CSKA Moscow sit in second place with eight trophies, while Maccabi Tel Aviv and Panathinaikos have six apiece. We also have to mention Varese who stand at five.
The most notable players
Janis Krumins and Sergey Belov have been the top scorers of the EuroLeague final on three occasions apiece. Krumins did so while playing for Rigas AS in the inaugural three finals of the competition, while Belov was a CSKA Moscow star back in the early 1970s. Other players well worth mentioning are Toni Kukoc and Vassilis Spanoulis who have been proclaimed MVPs of the finals on three separate occasions each. Dejan Bodiroga and Dimitris Diamantidis got the prestigious reward twice apiece.
The most successful head coaches
Zeljko Obradovic is by far the most successful head coach in EuroLeague history. He has won the competition as many as 9 times as a manager. To get some perspective, the second-best in this category is Ettore Messina with only four titles. The Italian manager is level with Pedro Ferrandiz, Bozidar Maljkovic, and Alexander Gomelsky. Among multiple-title-winners, we have to mention Aca Nikolic and Pini Gershon with three trophies each, as well as Dimitrios Itoudis, Dusan Ivkovic, Zeljko Pavlicevic, Valerio Bianchini, Evgeny Alekseev, Pablo Laso, Sandro Gamba, and Lolo Sainz who have all won the competition twice.