The Nikolai Semashko Trophy

by Vishul Malik

Every four years, national teams gather for the EuroBasket championship to crown the best squad on the continent. Since the 1995 edition, the Nikolai Semashko Trophy has served as FIBA Europe’s…

Infographic of the Nikolai Semashko Trophy

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Every four years, national teams gather for the EuroBasket championship to crown the best squad on the continent. Since the 1995 edition, the Nikolai Semashko Trophy has served as FIBA Europe’s grand prize – and the most sought-after for any team outside the World Championships or Summer Olympics. Thanks to EuroBasket’s standing as the premier competition outside of the major international events – though the FIBA Americas tournament is becoming more competitive – the trophy could be considered one of the most famous in the sport of basketball anywhere in the world, especially as a result of a growing television audience. History The tournament was first launched in 1935 and, after a brief hiatus for World War II, has been held every other year since 1947.  In each case, it is the qualifying tournament for the next worldwide basketball championship, either the FIBA World Championships or Summer Olympics, depending on the year.  From the very start, the trophy assumed an air of importance within the sport on par with soccer’s reverence for the World Cup. In 1995, after the Germans had claimed the original trophy in 1993, the president of the German Basketball Federation proposed a new prize be created to reflect the grandeur of the tournament.  Much had changed since the first design debuted, including a larger field of competing nations and greater number of games in any one tournament.  FIBA Europe commissioned Gunter Schoebel, the same man who had designed the FIBA World Cup, to provide a unique trophy for the next tournament. It was decided the new award would be named after the influential Russian basketball official and referee, Semashko, and Schoebel, a master gold and silversmith, came up with a wide sterling silver goblet on a marble base.  The large bowl is supported by a squat, sweeping stand leading to the square slab beneath.  The design is simple and elegant, giving the Nikolai Semashko Trophy a unique look among championship hardware.  What’s more, the 24 jewels spaced evenly across the rim add a touch of royalty – something basketball’s Kings of Europe certainly deserve. Best Teams Soviet Union (1957-71) At a time when European basketball was really getting its feet set in the wake of World War II, the USSR emerged as the dominant force in the region athletically for well over a decade.  Well-drilled defensively and ruthlessly efficient on the offensive end, a rotating cast of players claimed eight straight titles.  The state-run basketball program helped young players learn the system from the moment they joined the program, creating a powerhouse churning out new prospects from year to year and creating a recipe for success.  In fact, only a single third-place finish in 1955 and refusing to host the 1949 event keeps them from having won 13 in a row beginning in 1947.   Yugoslavia (1989-97) As the Soviet Union began to crumble and Communism fell across the continent, the Yugoslavian republic – despite suffering its own fractures as the Eastern bloc disappeared – asserted itself as the major player throughout the ‘90s.  Free scoring and fast, they gained a reputation for sharpshooting wings being fed by lightning-quick point guards in the mold of Sarunas Jasikevicius, the captain of the 1995 team, and NBA World Champion Tony Kukoc.  But for a poor performance in 1993 and semifinal losses in 1987 and 1999, the country would have matched the Soviet Union’s run of eight consecutive championship triumphs. Spain (2007-11) In the modern game, the quality of basketball has improved drastically.  Thanks to a widening stream of players making their way to the United States to ply their trade in the NBA, it is increasingly difficult for a team to survive as a favorite from one tournament to the next.  The Spanish, however, have bucked the trend over the last three tournaments.  Finishing runners up to Russia in 2007, the Gasol brothers (Marc and Pau), and exciting fresh faces like the electric Ricky Rubio, have stepped up to claim back-to-back victories in FIBA Europe’s premier event.  With a rising crop of top talents filtering up through the ranks, you can be assured Spain will be in the hunt for the Nikolai Semashko Trophy for years to come. Winners Former Republic of Yugoslavia (3; 1995, 1997, 2001) Spain (2; 2009, 2011) Russia (1; 2007) Greece (1; 2005) Lithuania (1; 2003) Italy (1; 1999)

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