Latvian hockey on the rise?
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10-31-2012, 10:26 AM
Join Date: Apr 2012
Originally Posted by
It is not emerging. Basketball has always been very popular here. After all in the beginning of 30s we were the first in Europe to play official game between national teams (Latvia vs Estonia), one of the 7 first founding members of FIBA and the 1st European champions in 1935... The second one, in Riga 1937, was won by Lithuanians and in 1939 the event took place in Kaunas where Lithuania barely won in the final. Almost all people (including me) still think that Lithuanian referees cheated with play time during the final seconds of that game that allowed them to win. There was even an international scandal between the two countries because of it in 1939.
Then in early 1960s ASK Riga club was dominating European club championships in basketball. Certainly still in 60s hockey lost in popularity to basketball. Then came Balderis and pretty much he and Tikhonov, along with some internal struggles in basketball community in Latvia (with VEF emerging next to ASK as the top club), lifted hockey up to the prominence.
The next time basketball was dangerously close to hockey in popularity was at 2006-2007, before KHL where we didn't have strong hockey league or a strong hockey club, while some Latvian basketball league games (between arch rivals in Riga, Barons Riga and ASK Riga) could draw about 6000 or bit more spectators in Arena Riga, if we played Zalgiris or Rytas in Baltic league, even packed arena... But again, then came Dinamo Riga and some problems in basketball community started with unmotivated players etc. and hockey again was nr. 1 on all fronts.
Though if you look at national federation revenues in Latvia then football is obviously nr.1 due to FIFA being so rich and giving their federations big amounts of money, basketball is nr.2 and it's still the most loved 'government' sport and hockey is nowhere near these two (also probably because the lobby is not working as Lipmans' federation is sh** compared to basketball).
Basketball is a strong competitor, Andris Biedrins drafted 11 at 2004 NBA Entry draft is still the highest drafted Latvian in North American professional leagues and Dairis Bertāns holds nr.4 spot behind Zemgus and Ozolins, selected 42 at 2011 NBA Entry draft. Of course they are the only two drafted players but NBA draft also has only 2 rounds, so... And some oter good youngsters are growing up. But the same can be said about hockey now.
But in short: basketball has always been up there, close to hockey or in past even more popular, and no doubt there are still people in Latvia who would consider it to be nr.1 instead of hockey just because it is played by pretty much every young kid growing up in Latvia. I was on my highschool's basketball team (sucking badly at center) but my only relation to hockey is love for it and the fact that I can stand on skates... The funny thing is that 90% of hockey fans in Latvia are probably better at basketball than hockey
Great post with a lot of historical info.
Fascinating about basketball in Latvia and Lithuania. Maybe it was that local derby that fueled the popularity over the years?
I wasn't even good enough to be on the highschool basketball team, but then again they became Danish and Nordic Champions and played at the EC in Israel (I seem to remember). so I went for the volleyball team instead and proudly went out in the group stage.
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