Yet another year full of exciting events in Lithuanian basketball flew past faster than the midnight express. In the meantime, the Lithuanian league (LKL) celebrated one of the most successful seasons in its history, despite being surrounded by some minor controversy once again.
The color in fashion – after a two year break – was green again, as Zalgiris gave the city of Kaunas a chance to celebrate the superiority over Lietuvos Rytas, who were denied the chance to complete the club’s first ever three-peat. And although the season might seem to have been very calm comparing to the circus that last year’s finals turned out to be, that was not the case.
It seems that controversy is exactly what people have become to expect for and just tend to view it as a given when talking about Lithuanian basketball and especially Vladimir Romanov, the controversial owner of Zalgiris, who saved the club from bankruptcy two years ago, but has almost self-willingly made himself a public villain.
The man-in-command for the Greens veered away to creative writing with public letters about the ‘pervert minds in Lithuanian basketball’, ‘slave referees’ and eventually ‘defeating the devil’. As if that wasn’t enough, Romanov himself admitted he was close to throwing punches at Marcus Brown after the club’s only loss in Vilnius.
Although the big boys had their share of fighting, the rusty Lithuanian basketball system was finally given a sturdy impulse for change, as Rudupis finally managed to squeeze onto the podium, taking the bronze medals and ending Siauliai’s seven-year predominance over the other smaller teams.
What separated this edition of the LKL is that the league was finally competitive and, unlike in many previous years, there was something to fight for with Siauliai’s roster being reasonably weaker following the departures of Mindaugas Kuzminskas, Deivydas Gailius and Arvydas Siksnius.
For once, medals were up for grabs. And, perhaps feeling exactly that, many teams found some extra cash to bring home some very decent Lithuanian players from abroad – Aurimas Kieza, Rolandas Alijevas, Martynas Mazeika, Mantas Ruikis and a couple of others, a class above the usual talent in the Lithuanian league.
Attendance numbers are shocking for a reportedly basketball-mad country like Lithuania – which it’s not, but perhaps another time about that – with the average gates at only 1147 for the season. The faces at the top are familiar: Zalgiris with an average of 3656 spectators and Lietuvos Rytas, which drew 2469 fans per game. The good thing is that the league-wide numbers are on an increase and many teams have taken on-board professionalism both when it comes to building a team and working with the fans.
Teams like Juventus Utena, Neptunas Klaipeda, Rudupis Prienai and Techasas Panevezys have transformed themselves into attractive organizations, which have a nice future ahead of them. For others, it would be time to realize that we’re living in a modern day and age before the train is out of sight and start serious work instead of the day-by-day approach to things. If there’s ever going to be a time when someone is going to give Lietuvos Rytas and Zalgiris a bigger challenge, it will definitely take a much more serious approach and, at least in the nearest future, lots and lots of luck.