- Dušan Duda Ivković
© Dušan Ivković 2021
Your first encounter with basketball?
I entered basketball world in the middle of 1950’s, and ,in the time, it was laughingstock in Yugoslavia. It was said that basketball was women’s sport , that was played with hands, not legs as football, that there were no fists and similar things in it that were adequate for men. I was attracted to basketball on the first sight. Maybe because of the fact, as , Bora Stankovic, long lasting FIBA Secretary General, pointed out, basketball is the only sport that has horizontal target. This requires particular skills. As a boy I had had an opportunity to watch our first basketball stars like Aleksandar Geca and Srdja Kalember from Crvena Zvezda, then Mirko Marjanovic, the famous center in Partizan , a great gentleman with whom I had a wonderful cooperation while I was young coach in Partizan. In those days when I started playing basketball, in 1955, famous Nebojsa Popovic brought Konjevic to Crvena zvezda, the first two meters high basketball player in Yugoslav basketball
In which sports, beside basketball, were you interested in your childhood and why?
Crveni krst and Radnicki are, so to say, my life. Since there was no television in my childhood, we went to watch all sports. I was almost the same height as boxing ring when I started to sneak and watch famous boxers, from Ljubinko Veselinovic in flyweight category, up to Bosko Nikolic in heavyweight category. I knew all boxing legends and I admired all of them, as well as football “masters from Danube” who practiced on our slag court, headed by Skobo Filipovic. This unseen, charismatic coach made a team that got prefix – “atomic”. I remember that they defeated the national team of Bulgaria with 4:0 in one friendly game. Skoba was the master of his craft and the evidence to that are the words of Cile Kovacevic, then-President of Radnicki, : “ Put him in prison and give him a football , he will learn convicts to play the best football.” Not to mention the handball master Boca Cvjetic, then David Kalinic and Vinko Kandija, who made a women’s handball team that stormed in Europe…. All big champions in boxing were made by legendary Siki Gakovic who prompted all fighters in an unbelievable way. Then Toma Hladni and Dule Sertic came. As every boy I tired many sports, and boxing was my first love. However, my father forbade me to practice boxing, and so when I was 12 I picked up basketball. My first teacher was Bora Cenic.
It seems that basketball was your destiny considering the fact that you were born (the youngest , fourth child) in a house that is practically opposite basketball court on Crveni krst. Although you could not inherit such gene from your father ( Ph.D. in Law) and mother (a poet).
We had very hard childhood. We had hard life. My father pre-war Ph.D in Law, the head of a typical family, was completely degraded in a new, communistic system. Very early he was on disability pension and he devoted himself to beekeeping and honey production. As a matter of fact the bees fed us. Because of that there are three symbols of our family bees, pigeons and basketball. I fell in love with pigeons and basketball with my brother Piva( Slobodan) who was not only the biggest coach I ever knew, but also an embodiment of universal talent: he painted, sang, played an instrument… He could be whatever he wanted. I have put our family story into our family crest that was made on my idea: two pigeons, Piva and I, then there is basketball net in the form of honeycomb and the bee, which gave us life. My mother would not be offended for not being there at first sight, but there is a lot of poetry in it, and it seems like mother's rime.
Talking about family , you are very proud of being related to Nikola Tesla?
My great-grandfather Trivun and Tesla’s mother, Georgina, were siblings. Tesla used to send a gold coin to every child that was born in our family. In my family I was the only child who did not get such coin as Tesla died on January 7, 1943, and I was born in November that year. In those hard years those gold coins saved us. I would like that at least one of them had remained, but my mother had to sell them.
How much is your brother Piva, to be named for your basketball love?
I started playing basketball with my brother, which was not supported by our father. Our father, who brought us up in a Spartan manner, used to say to our mother: “ I don’t understand why those two boys jump like monkeys and throw the ball into the basket.” Piva remained in the basketball and became the best and the most original coach, as he could make a star from an average basketball player. Although, he did not influence that much on me to become a coach, because, when I returned from the army in 1964, Bora Stankovic took him to OKK Beograd. Later we worked together, he led the senior team in Radnicki, and I led young categories. I have learned so much from him, even though we are total opposites. He is romantic, and I am realist.
Why didn’t you work in the field you were educated for?
When I enrolled the Faculty of Mining and Geology, we founded the club Univezitet. Bora Cenic was our coach. We travelled to London, Middle East… When I graduated Geology I was offered an engineer position in Sarajevo. But I have not worked a single day in the field I was educated for. I have chosen basketball and coaching, which, in some sense, is a mining work. As a coach I started to work in 1968, when I signed the first scholarship contract. Four years later, after I returned from the army, I independently coached junior team in Radnicki, and won the Championship of Yugoslavia. My first contact with the national team was in 1976 when I was Assistant coach to Luka Stancic at the European Youth Championship in Spain. The crucial moment for my career was my transfer to Partizan in 1977 when I was invited to be Assistant Coach to Ranko Zeravica. In the season 1978/79 I independently won triple crown- championship, Cup and Korac Cup - without Drazen Dalipagic who was in army at that time.
Like Serbian (Yugoslav) basketball, you have gone from an unknown to a world power. What was it like in your case?
No one has dreamed that we will be world power in basketball. We played in summer, and in winter it was not possible as there were no facilities for that. Our league moved into sport hall in 1967 and soon after that it became the best in Europe. Fantastic basketball, without foreigners, with domestic players who, according to in that time current regulations, could not go abroad before age 28 …. From 1979 to 1992 the champions of Europe were Bosna, Cibona twice, Jugoplastika three times and Partizan. The work in the clubs was very qualitative, nowadays basketball model was created then, Yugoslav basketball school, as we call it. However, I am worried because of the fact that the production of the players has decreased. This is due to the deficiency of the qualitative league and competitions in which we could give a chance to young players to improve themselves. In current circumstances it is not possible to create such stars as I was lucky to coach in several generations, like Dalipagic, Kicanovic at the beginning of my coaching career , then Petrovic, Paspalj, Divac and other top players in the 80’s and 90’s , or Teodosi and Bogdanovic at the end of my career.
How would you describe your behavior on the bench?
My behavior at the games was not acting, as many think. There is no time for acting. I have never used tranquilizers even though I seem very calm. My nerves are spent a long time before the game, during the exhausting days of preparations. The game managing is the best part of the work.
What is the biggest disappointment in your career?
The biggest disappointment, but also injustice I have experienced was in 1992 when owing to the sanctions imposed by UN, we could not participate at the Olympic Games in Barcelona. While we were preparing for Barcelona, we believed that policy would not interfere with sport, which according to the Olympic Charter should not. We practiced, believing that we would play final game with Americans, and then in Thessaloniki we were greeted with the decision that hurts us even today. I remember that day, while I was approaching the players in the hotel “ Panorama” , I had such a knot in my throat that I could not utter a word.
Behind you are 20 club trophies and six medals with the national team, four of them gold. What are you most proud of?
It’s hard to extract anything from all of that. I have already said - I have never done what I was educated for. Out of a great love for basketball, I started a coaching job and did it until I was 73, which is a huge privilege. It is difficult to say how happy I am, having in mind that I have trained entire generations of the world's greatest aces. So it would not be fair to reduce your entire career to one or two things. To be measured by medals and trophies, and those are the friendships that basketball brought me. Also, my heart is full when I see how some players are playing in the NBA now, to whom I also gave their teenage days a chance. For example, Korkmaz played the Euroleague with me in Ephesus at the age of 17. Michalis Romanidis was once the youngest debutant in the Greek championship, when I was coaching Aris, at the age of 15. If you ask me, what is the most impressive thing in my career? Probably the fact that basketball and God gave me the whole life to be surrounded by young, talented people who positively influenced me, but whom I - as they say - helped to become great people and great basketball players.
The top five you’ve coached?
The top five? Let's say: Dragan Kićanović, Dražen Petrović, Dražen Dalipagić, Krešimir Ćosić, Vlade Divac.
You used to be close to the NBA?
Don Nelson called me in 2002 to be the coach of the Dallas Mawericks, but I couldn’t accept that. I wanted to stay in Europe. By the way, I have a great cooperation with my American colleagues, and a close friend of mine is Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs.
You also had a great responsibility as the president of the World Coaching Organization. Today, as a member of the FIBA Technical Commission, you make sure that basketball goes the right way in the future.
A few of us who have a certain experience, to whom basketball has given a lot, have a chance to return something to our great, lifelong love, even today, when we are not in the center of interest. Basketball is in a huge crisis, above all in a relationship crisis. I welcome the idea of FIBA about "windows" in the World Cup qualifiers, I welcome the windows, as a chance to present the national teams to the domestic audience, who have not had the opportunity to play at home for 20-30 years. However, there was a huge gap, especially in terms of match dates. There is no unity between FIBA and the Euroleague. Some teams will qualify for the World Cup in such circumstances, and some have paid tribute to this schedule. An injustice was done to the players who came to the aid of the national team and placed in the World Cup, and others will play instead of them. As a member of the Technical Commission, I participate with great interest in order to improve this game, but I see a lot of people who do not have the capacity for great things. There are still a bunch of retired referees in those forums, people who have a very poor understanding of basketball. Let's be clear, they understand the rules well, but they managed to declare rolling steps and thus destroy one of the best movements in basketball… I am very happy to give certain suggestions, because I think I know and understand this game well. The happy circumstance is that the slogan "basketball for basketball players" is in force again, because it will lead to a better understanding, where the only goal is interest: basketball. And only basketball players can do that. Super aces. People with a lot of authority, such as those who today lead national alliances across Europe: Kirilenko (Russia) Danilovic (Serbia), Turkoglu (Turkey), Garbajosa (Spain), De Vicenza (Italy),… I hope these people very quickly to find a common language…