When looking back on EuroBasket history Lithuanian Modestas Paulauskas may deserve the title of “Mr October” following his efforts almost half a century ago.
Modestas Paulauskas pictured on film at the 1973 EuroBasket in Spain.

On this day in 1973, the 28-year-old bowed out of his fifth consecutive tournament with a fifth medal as a Lithuanian in the USSR team.

The Soviet’s commenced the tournament undefeated throughout the group stage games before mild crowds at the Pabellón de Ausias March in the Spanish city of Badalona.

Amongst the team’s highlights was its second game, a climatic affair against Czechoslovakia (57:55), while its encounter with Turkey was far from climatic (79:53).

However as the top teams travelled to Barcelona for the semi-finals the unthinkable took place.

The USSR, a superior basketball nation aiming for its 9th straight EuroBasket title, was unable to defeat the host nation as Spain embarked on its final in 38 years.

The Spanish came from behind to defeat Paulauskas’ side 80:76; snapping the Soviets 14 game winning streak at the tournament.

As expected the USSR would not leave empty handed, claiming the Bronze medal in convincing fashion by defeating Czechoslovakia 90:58.

After four Silver medals Yugoslavia pipped its first tournament title while American-born Spaniard Wayne Brabender clinched the MVP title for his efforts in the finals.

More importantly, basketball historians will look back on this tournament raising the question...

Where does Paulauskas sit with his Lithuanian counterparts at International level?

1939 EuroBasket MVP Pranas Lubinas in Kaunas
1939 EuroBasket MVP Pranas Lubinas in Kaunas

On this day in sport the Kretinga born king of the court was the only Lithuanian male to have won a EuroBasket title, an Olympic Gold medal and a FIBA World Championship.

However the latter tournament was only introduced in 1950, more than a decade after inaugural Olympic champion Pranas Lubinas guided Lithuania to consecutive EuroBasket titles in 1939.

As the Soviet flag was raised on Lithuanian land in the 1940s an on-court political movement for Independence was born as Žalgiris Kaunas duo Justinas Lagunavičius and Stepas Butautas guided the USSR to their first three EuroBasket titles and a final at their maiden Olympic games.

Fellow Žalgiris heroes Kazimieras Petkevičius and Stasys Stonkus took a step further at the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, Australia by claiming back to back Silver medals.

Interestingly, it was not until this year that the Lithuanian Athlete of the year award commenced therefore we are unable to make this comparison with these stars and Paulauskas.

Lithuanian players in 1947 - Kazimieras Petkevičius (15), Stepas Butautas (4), Justinas Lagunavičius (9), Vincas Sercevičius (11), Vytautas Kulakauskas (12). Photo courtesy of the Kaunas library.
Lithuanian players in 1947 - Kazimieras Petkevičius (15), Stepas Butautas (4), Justinas Lagunavičius (9), Vincas Sercevičius (11), Vytautas Kulakauskas (12). Photo courtesy of the Kaunas library.

Sadly these four contributors would all be deprived of a FIBA World Championship appearance as well due to the fact that the USSR did not make a tournament appearance until 1959.

We then look to the post-Paulauskas era of Lithuanian basketball yet we are again surrounded with questions.
NBA draftee Arvydas Sabonis claimed all three top International championships by the age of 24.

The 221cm giant may have gone on to add more silverware if not for an injury plagued career; however he is still considered the greatest basketball talent from Lithuania not only for his ability but also his resilience.

Another disadvantage Sabonis shares with fellow superstars Šarūnas Marčiulionis, Rimas Kurtinaitis, Rimas Kurtinaitis, Valdemaras Chomičius and Sergėjus Jovaiša in this International comparison was the Soviet boycott of the 1984 Olympics.

Theoretically, had the USSR travelled to Los Angeles for this event would this Lithuanian group have claimed an extra Gold medal?

We will never know.

Lithuanians in the 1988 Olympics.
Lithuanians in the 1988 Olympics.

I may have only been five years old at the time, but I can vaguely picture the heartache of my Australian-Lithuanian family members as Šarūnas Jasikevičius missed a near impossible shot in the dying stages of the 2000 Olympic semi-final against the US.

Here we have another “what if?” moment, you’d agree an Olympic gold medal would have looked nice next to Jasikevičius’ 2003 EuroBasket Championship and MVP title.

Then there’s my (1990s born) generation and our hope.

This hope is 213cm tall and can be found roaming around the courts of Toronto throughout this winter in North America.

By the age of 19, Jonas Valančiūnas had guided Lithuania to four Gold medals at junior level including a maiden U19 World Championship in 2011 before 18,000 in Riga, Latvia.

Now that he has experienced the three senior International tournaments for Lithuania, time will only tell if he is able reach the heights of Lubinas, Petkevičius, Sabonis and Paulauskas in the years to come.

EuroBasket MVP Šarūnas Jasikevičius in 2003.
EuroBasket MVP Šarūnas Jasikevičius in 2003.

Until then, only statistics can help us compare Lithuania’s top talents at International level:

Modestatas Paulauskas (1945-)

Olympics: 1 Gold (1972), 1 Bronze (1968).
EuroBasket: 4 Gold (1965, 1967, 1969 & 1971), 1 Bronze (1973).
EuroBasket MVP: 1 (1965).
FIBA World Championships: 2 Gold (1967 & 1974), 1 Bronze (1970).
Lithuanian Athlete of the year: 7 times (1965-67 & 1969-72).

Pranas Lubinas (1910-1999)

Olympics: 1 Gold (1936 for USA).
EuroBasket: 1 Gold (1939 for Lithuania).
EuroBasket MVP: 1 (1939).

Kazimieras Petkevičius (1924-1997)

Olympics: 1 Silver (1952).
EuroBasket: 3 Gold (1947, 1951 & 1953).

Stepas Butautas (1925-2001)

Olympics: 1 Silver (1952).
EuroBasket: 3 Gold (1947, 1951 & 1953).

Kazimieras Petkevičius (1926-2008)

Olympics: 2 Silver (1952 & 1956).
EuroBasket: 1 Gold (1947), 1 Bronze (1955).

Stasys Stonkus (1931-2012)

Olympics: 2 Silver (1952 & 1956).
EuroBasket: 1 Gold (1957) & 1 Bronze (1955).

Sergėjus Jovaiša (1954-)

Olympics: 2 Bronze (1980 & 1992).
EuroBasket: 2 Gold (1981 & 1985), 1 Silver (1987), 1 Bronze (1983).
FIBA World Championships: 1 Gold (1982).
Lithuanian Athlete of the year: Nil.

Valdemaras Chomičius (1959-)

Olympics: 1 Gold (1988), 1 Bronze (1992).
EuroBasket: 2 Gold (1979 & 1985), 2 Silver (1987 & 1995), 2 Bronze (1983 & 1989).
FIBA World Championships: 1 Gold (1982).
Lithuanian Athlete of the year: Nil.

Rimas Kurtinaitis (1960-)

Olympics: 1 Gold (1988), 2 Bronze (1992 & 1996).
EuroBasket: 1 Gold (1985), 1 Bronze (1989).
FIBA World Championships: 1 Silver (1986).
Lithuanian Athlete of the year: Nil.

Šarūnas Marčiulionis (1964-)

Olympics: 1 Gold (1988), 2 Bronze (1992 & 1996).
EuroBasket: 2 Silvers (1987 & 1995), 1 Bronze (1989).
EuroBasket MVP: 1 (1995).
Lithuanian Athlete of the year: 4 times (1987 & 1989-91).

Arvydas Sabonis (1964-)

Olympics: 1 Gold (1988), 2 Bronze (1992 & 1996).
EuroBasket: 1 Gold (1985), 1 Silver (1995), 2 Bronze (1983 & 1989).
EuroBasket MVP: 1 (1985).
FIBA World Championships: 1 Gold (1982), 1 Silver (1986).
Lithuanian Athlete of the year: 4 times (1984-86 & 1996).

Saulius Štombergas (1974-)

Olympics: 2 Bronze (1996 & 2000).
EuroBasket: 1 Gold (2003), 1 Silver (1995).

Šarūnas Jasikevičius (1976-)

Olympics: 1 Bronze (2000).
EuroBasket: 1 Gold (2003), 1 Bronze (2007).
EuroBasket MVP: 1 (2003).
Lithuanian Athlete of the year: 1 times (2003).

Jonas Valančiūnas (1992-)

EuroBasket: 1 Silver (2013).

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