MESS (Switzerland) – 35 years ago, the US city of Milwaukee hosted a very important event in the history of basketball.
This is where the first edition of the McDonald’s Open was held in October 1987.
The competition, which lasted over three days, caused quite a stir and is now seen as an opportunity to unite the basketball world.
The first of nine editions of this competition pitted the Milwaukee Bucks against Tracer Milan, the European champion, and the USSR national team, one of the most dominant teams in international basketball at the time.
According to the “round-robin” format, the NBA franchise beat its competitors to win the title assigned to winners.
This event began what will happen two years later, when the FIBA Congress decided to remove the word “amateur” from its name.
FIBA Secretary General Borislav Stankovic and NBA Commissioner David Stern shared the vision that basketball can grow globally only if the best players from all countries compete against each other.
Two years after the first McDonald’s opened, the International Amateur Basketball Association officially became the International Basketball Federation. A few years later, in Barcelona (Spain), NBA players represented the United States in the Olympic tournament within a team known to all: the famous Dream Team.
Prior to this, NBA players were not allowed to participate in the Olympic Games or the FIBA World Cup because they were not amateurs..
Stankovic (left) believes that competitions like the McDonald’s Open can unite the international basketball community
In Stankovic and Stern’s view, events such as the McDonald’s Open have the potential to show that when played by the best athletes around the world, basketball is more fun and interesting.
It was held from October 23-25, before the start of the NBA and European Championship season. The McDonald’s Open in the USA was broadcast on ABC TV, with two of the most famous commentaries in basketball, Gary Bender and Dick Vitale.
Volkov, Tikhonenko (first two from the left) and Marjuulonis (far right) played for the Soviet Union
Among the USSR team was the prestigious distributor Sarunas Marciulionis. Unfortunately, his colleague and fellow Lithuanian Arvidas Sabonis was unable to be present due to injury. The Soviets sent other talented players such as Ukraine’s Alexander Volkov and Russia’s Valery Tikhonenko.
All four were drafted by NBA teams, although there is a lot of uncertainty about their arrival in the North American League. In the 1986 NBA Draft, the Portland Trail Blazers chose the Sabonis and the Atlanta Hawks over both Volkov and Tikhonenko. The Golden State Warriors drafted the Marciulionis in 1987, four months before the first McDonald’s Open was held.
The four men distinguished themselves the following summer at the Seoul (South Korea) Olympics by helping the Soviet Union win the Olympic gold.
Tracer Milano landed at the McDonald’s Open with a stellar squad, led by former NBA star winger Bob McAdoo, inducted into the Naismith Memorial Football Hall of Fame in 2000. Mike D’Antoni – who later became one of the most famous NBA coaches in a row managing the Denver Nuggets Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, New York Knicks, Houston Rockets – he was the distributor for Tracer Milano.
Face Paul Bresci (Milwaukee) and Mike D’Antoni (Milan) at the McDonald’s Open
At the McDonald’s Open, the Bucks had to lay off a few regulars, but strong duo Terry Cummings and Jack Sekma were there.
The Bucks beat Tracer Milan 123-111, then the USSR national team in turn defeated the Italian club 135-108 in the second round.
Suddenly, it became the final match between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Soviet Union.
Milwaukee coach Del Harris felt all the pressure before facing the Soviets at home.
“We didn’t know before the match that we were going to win. We knew we were the favourites and we had no choice but to impose ourselves.he told the New York Times.
Sekma expressed the same sentiment to the Washington Post: The pressure was enormous. Failure against the Soviet Union was unimaginable. »
Although the final day’s confrontation was between an NBA team and a national selection, presenting the match on ABC gave the feeling of dealing with an Olympic final, with many excerpts from previous meetings between the USA and the Soviet Union, including in other disciplines.
Legendary USSR coach Alexander Gomelsky at the McDonald’s Open
To add even more spice, Bender spoke during the sequence, commenting: “Despite their differences, sport has allowed the two peoples to get to know each other and, at the same time, to discover each other a little bit more…”
The McDonald’s open party was a sight to behold. He was helped by the fact that politically different countries clashed on the last day. The Soviets held out throughout the first half, but the Bucks dominated the second half to eventually win 127-100.
“Four minutes after the end, I looked at the players and had nothing to say to them. We understood it was over. Everyone laughed for the first time. It was a huge relief.”Harris said.
USSR coach Alexander Gomelsky opposed the idea of seeing NBA players take part in the Olympics.
“If American professional players go to the Olympics, the competition is predetermined. The Americans will win every time and only other teams will be able to fight for silver and bronze medals”commented in UPI.
On the other hand, the participation of the NBA team on the international scene excited Stankovic.
“It brings out the best in our players. Only by facing stronger opponents can you advance”pointed out.
Sikma shares that feeling.
The biggest problem in the Soviet Union is the level of competition. The more she participates in competitive events, the more experience she accumulates and the better she becomes.”to caution.
Cummings (Milwaukee) tries to take on Bob McAdoo (Tracer Milano)
As history has shown, both Stankovic and Sika were right. There were eight more McDonald’s Opens that captivated audiences and allowed youngsters around the world to draw inspiration from the NBA players competing in FIBA competitions, particularly in 1992, when Michael Jordan, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird and the rest of the players were. The dream team performed at the Barcelona Olympics, the result of which was a logical gold medal.
Since then, hundreds of players from all over the world have passed through the NBA, and many NBA players from several countries have participated in the FIBA World Cup, Olympic Games, and FIBA Cup.
If at the time of the first McDonald’s Open fans wondered if foreign players could join the NBA one day, they now know it’s totally possible.
Denver Nuggets’ Nikola Jokic has been named the NBA Most Valuable Player for the past two seasons, and two years earlier it was the Greek Milwaukee Bucks forward who earned the honor. Before them, German Dallas Mavericks were elected Dirk Nowitzki in 2007, while Canadian Steve Nash was named MVP while playing under D’Antoni at the Phoenix Suns in 2005 and 2006.
Two foreign-born American players have also been recognized as such: Houston Rockets of Nigeria Hakeen Olajuwon (1994) and San Antonio Spurs insider Tim Duncan of the US Virgin Islands (2002 and 2003).
Many other international players have had an impressive career with their national teams and in the NBA, such as Spanish brothers Pau and Marc Gasol, Argentina’s Manu Ginobili and France’s Tony Parker. They all won the NBA title.
Today, the Dallas Mavericks can count on the incredible talent of Slovenian Luka Doncic, who is considered by many to be the best current player in the NBA.
And Gomelsky was wrong, because at the 2004 Olympics in Athens, the United States lost against Puerto Rico and Lithuania, and in the semi-finals, against Argentina, a future Olympic champion.
After the McDonald’s Open, the presence of NBA players in international competitions did not mean that other teams could only fight for silver and bronze medals.