Žalgiris, the legendary basketball team of Kaunas, claimed a major scalp in the Euroleague regular season on Tuesday when they beat table-topping CSKA Moscow (79-74). CSKA happen to be Žalgiris’ biggest rivals of all time, too. It’s the first time we beat them in almost 17 years! Oh what a Tuesday night it was... Did we mention that Šarūnas Jasikevičius, the head coach, had to leave the field after receiving two technical fouls when there were still 9 minutes left? That was obviously inspiring for the team.
The mad coach. Photo by Linas Žemgulis.
Let’s find out why it’s such a treat to watch a Žalgiris game in their home at Žalgirio arena. We have come up with 10 reasons for that!
1. Basketball is Lithuania’s second religion. It just is. Of course, lot of people would love our footballers to do better, but for the past 80 years it’s basketball players who bring home the medals. Our national team has participated in 6 olympic games and a handful of brilliant players were members of the USSR team during the Soviet occupation. After dealing with that, we won bronze in Barcelona’1992, Atlanta’1996 and Sydney’2000. Our first European gold was scored in 1937 and we came second in the continent in 2015. The numerous achievements inbetween can be viewed here.
1937, the golden year
'The Other Dream Team' is a must-watch and highly inspirational documentary about Lithuania winning bronze in Barcelona.
2. Žalgiris is Lithuania’s oldest and best professional basketball club. It was formed during the WW2 in 1944.The team almost immediately became a power, winning multiple Lithuanian basketball championships and the USSR Premier Basketball League. For a small nation under the reign of an occupant, it was always super important to see its sportsmen doing that well; it was a resistance movement of sorts, so watching a game became a cult tradition. A significant amount of the team’s members make it to national teams every year.
Arvydas Sabonis, the most famous Lithuanian basketball player of all time, signing the autographs after - most probably - a successful game by Žalgiris some time in the 1980s. © RIA/Scanpix
3. The team is the most decorated Lithuanian basketball club ever, having won twenty-nine Lithuanian championships (1946, 1950, 1952, 1953, 1954, 1955, 1957, 1958, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016), five Soviet championships (1947, 1951, 1985, 1986, 1987), one Euroleague championship (1999), one Interconinental William Jones Cup (1986) and have reached the Lithuanian league finals every single season in league history.
Winning the Euroleague in 1999
4. The Žalgirio arena, opened in 2011, is the biggest and best equipped in the Baltics. Just recently it was also named the best Euroleague arena. It can fit as many as 15,552 basketball spectators - that's like 5% of the total population in Kaunas - and the attendance has beaten several international records. The arena is at least 90% full during international matches. Local matches are slightly less popular but that also means cheaper tickets – you can secure the best seats for as low as 9 euros. The arena is located in an island of Nemunas river and is one of the greatest examples of the 21st century architecture in the city.
5. It’s a family thing! The youngest Žalgiris fans are less than 1 year old and there’s definitely no age limit. It’s amazing to see young kids dressed all green and it’s also fascinating to see senior citizens screaming their lungs out during the most intense moments. In fact, there are couples who met because they were fans of Žalgiris and have kids who were born into that. How sweet!
6. Go green. The Žalgiris merchandising line offers everything from tshirts to dresses, including scarves and caps for all seasons. You can also buy calendars and lots of other goodies that work as souvenirs, too. The online shop is always open and you can visit the one on S. Daukanto street before an early mach. There’s a shop in the arena, too.
7. The Lithuanian national anthem is sung before every match, either local or international. It’s not always pitch perfect but what’s important is that the game is what brings people together and makes them feel united. The unity during the match inspires understanding and tolerance outside the arena.
8. The Green White Boys is the official fan club of the team. They always occupy the 116/117 sectors of the arena and it’s actually a lot of fun to sit around it. They begin their chants on the first second of the game and make sure the general audience doesn’t forget where it is throughout the match. Some of the cheers take on hits like “Thunder” by AC/DC so you can sing along, too.
9. Of course there are foreign players, too. We call them leggionaires. They’re always warmly welcomed, to say the least. Tyus Edney from the US, for example, was called “The Lithuanian God” after he helped the team win the Euroleague in 1999. If a former player happens to play against Žalgiris, he’s always greeted out loud without any puns intended before the match.
South Africa's Siyabulela Mlalandle is the head coach of the Žalgiris rugby team
Žalgiris is active on Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, Twitter and Snapchat. The next home game is scheduled for February 2nd – we’re meeting FC Barcelona.