By FIBA Europe.
The German basketball community was shocked Sunday night by the news that EuroBasket 1993 MVP Christian Welp, one of the most emblematic players in the nation’s history, died from a heart attack.
Welp passed away at the age of 51, close Seattle in the USA, where he spent most of his life, and is survived by his wife and three children.
The 2.13m center had 106 international caps but will forever be remembered as the man whom has thus far delivered Germany their only gold medal in a major tournament.
Welp had already made his debut with Germany at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1984, but was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers in 1987 and consequently could not play with the national team.
According to regulations at the time, NBA players were professionals and international competitions were only open to participation by amateur players, meaning those playing in leagues in the rest of the world.
Welp returned to Europe in 1990 to play for Bayer Leverkusen, while in any case the rules famously changed at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, when the USA participated with their ‘Dream Team’, so he was cleared to once again pull on the national team jersey.
Germany were the hosts of EuroBasket 1993 but never entered any podium discussion, as the consensus even during the early stages of the tournament was that qualifying to the quarter-finals would be a very satisfying result.
Welp however poured in a game-high 23 points to lead Germany past Spain 79-77 in an overtime drama in the quarter-finals, scored a team-high 15 points in the semi-final against Greece and saved the best for last, quite literally.
Russia were leading Germany 70-68 with less than five seconds remaining in the gold medal game in Munich when Welp received in the low post, made the basket and drew the foul.
He converted the and-one play, Russia missed the desperation three-point shot from half-court and while the final buzzer was still sounding off, the big man run from the court straight into the locker rooms, unable to contain his emotions.
— Dt. Basketball Bund (@DBB_Basketball) March 2, 2015
“I am shocked and very sad,” said Svetislav Pesic, who was the German coach on that famous day.
“His merits for German basketball are indescribable, he had led us to the European title.
“I have already spoken with several players from that EuroBasket team. We are all very, very sad.”
Welp played for the national team until his retirement from action in 1999, while after parting ways with Leverkusen in 1996 he also played for Alba Berlin, Olympiacos and finally Viola Reggio Calabria in Italy.
The German legend went on to serve Germany in the role of assistant coach and was on Dirk Bauermann’s staff when they reached their second final in history, at EuroBasket 2005 in Belgrade.
“A phenomenal player, great coach and even better person is gone too soon,” said Jan-Hendrick Jagla who at the beginning of his career, had played for Germany in the qualifiers for that tournament.
“This is a tragic loss for the European Basketball family,” FIBA Europe President Turgay Demirel said. “In addition to being a remarkable player and trailblazer, Chris was a great ambassador to the world for German and European Basketball. I extend my deepest sympathies to his family and friends during these difficult times.”
“European and world basketball is a lot poorer today after the tragic loss of Christian Welp. Our thoughts are with his family. He was a great personality and was inspiring as a player, with many great achievements,” stated FIBA Regional Director Europe, Kamil Novak.
Welp’s NBA career only lasted from 1987 until 1990 as he suffered a knee injury early in his rookie season with Philadelphia and suited up in just ten games.
He was traded to San Antonio Spurs the following year before spending a season at Golden State Warriors, playing in a total of 109 games and averaging 3,3 points and 2.4 rebounds during his three years in the NBA.
Welp remains the all-time leading scorer of University of Washington Huskies and is fondly remembered in Seattle as he led the team to three NCAA final tournament appearances, in tandem with fellow German legend Detlef Schrempf.