History / History of basketball

By catching or throwing the ball, a man gets transformed, becomes different, lighter and nicer, exceeds his own powers and gets closer to the state of weightlessness and a flight up high, to a triumph of his body and at the same time, to a victory over it.

– Ivo Andric
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From Willand to Liberation

The October of 1923, when William Willand, the US Red Cross (Salvation Army) Envoy came to Belgrade, is considered to be the first encounter of Serbia with basketball. In addition to other American sports of that time, basketball was also demonstrated to the attendees of the seminar, mainly scholars, teachers of physical education and members of the SOKO (Society of Gymnastics and Sports). Supported and assisted by the SOKO Association, during his two-month visit, Willand held seminars attended by a lot of curious people who wanted to get acquainted with this game, completely unfamiliar to them. Before leaving, Willand left behind all basketball equipment, hoops and balls. The equipment was installed in the school yard of the Belgrade Second Men’s High School that was located in the place where the building of a daily newspaper Politika stays today. The students continued to play basketball.

At the beginning of 1930s, due to the openness of the SOKO Association for team sports, as well as a desire of the state to promote sports through the schools, basketball got a new impetus. Almost all basketball activities in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia of that time were carried out by the SOKOL Association, whereas its members tirelessly worked on the elaboration of basketball rules and improvement of the playing and training conditions. The new sport finally got its generally adopted name “kosarka” (basketball).

The national championship, so called “Svesokolski slet”, organized in Borovo in 1940, undoubtedly represented a crown of basketball competitions before World War II. A total of 170 men and women players took part, divided in a four age category groups. Belgrade “Matica” Women’s Team won the title after winning the game with a bizarre 2:0 score, due to adverse weather conditions. The only points were scored by Ruzica Radovanovic.

The greatest credit for the development and improvement of basketball in Belgrade before World War II goes to Zdenko Pavic, Head of the SOKO department for competitive games, and his wife Vera, who promoted basketball both through the SOKO and the schools’ sport. In addition to establishing the SOKO basketball team, he was one of the main organizers of the secondary schools’ basketball tournaments in Belgrade by the end of ‘30s in the last century. He also translated the basketball rules and worked at the construction of basketball courts and basket supports and backboards.

The first basketball clubs were established as sections within football clubs just before the outbreak of World War II. However, a considerable increase in the founding of clubs took place right after the occupation of the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, in spring 1941. The first ones were Matica, Omladinac, Sask, Izbeglice, SK 1913, followed by BASK, BSK, MITIC, OBILIC, BTK, BOB. The players were former members of SOKO and students (M. Stefanovic, N. Popovic, I Dimic, Sokolovic, S. Saper, B. Aksentijevic…) as well as a group of refugees, top basketball players, who had to flee to Belgrade from the war (Neferovic, Tesin, Putnik, Ronac, Madjeruh…) During the occupation, basketball in Belgrade was played on Tasmajdan and Kalemegdan, as well as on the courts of SK 1913 and Topcidersko brdo (Topcider Hill – now stadium of the football club Crvena Zvezda). The Belgrade Championship was organized in September 1941 and the Serbian Association of Basketball and Volleyball was established in the spring of 1942. In less than a year, the Association had 23 member clubs, whereas the basketball and volleyball games of that period had around 15.000 spectators. The President of the Association was Svetislav Bata Bulovic, a participant of Mr. Willand’s Seminar in 1923.

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1924 – Belgrade Seminar Participants

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1940 – The Team of Matica at the Championship in Borovo

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