When basketball came to Europe, Latvia was one of the first countries to play the game and even won the gold in Eurobasket 1935 and silver in Eurobasket 1939. Sadly, Latvia did not have any chance to prove its power on a basketball court between 1939 and 1991 as it was occupied by the Soviet Union. Those 50 years of occupation destroyed Latvia’s dominance in basketball and it had to hide in the shadow of the Lithuania national basketball team. Latvia didn’t participate in international competitions and the best achievement in Eurobasket was 8th place twice in 2001 and 2015. Naturally, Latvians were not happy with those achievements and always wanted to see more from their team. Then along came Kristaps Porziņģis
Kristaps Porziņģis, the 4th pick in the 2015 NBA drafts by New York Knicks, is one of the best young players in the world. At the age of 22, Kristaps is already a key player for New York Knicks and also one of the most dominant center/power forwards in the whole of Europe. This Latvian giant has become a symbol of the Latvian basketball revival, best illustrated with the stunning play that Latvia has demonstrated in Eurobasket 2017. If Kristaps Porziņģis avoids injuries and keeps practising hard, it is clear that he will become an all-star in the NBA and the best ever Latvian basketball player. For now, Latvia becomes an elite European basketball team when Kristaps Porziņģis is wearing the jersey with three stars and Latvia’s name on it.
Latvia started Eurobasket 2017 in group D, facing some of the strongest European teams, including Serbia and Russia. With the dominant ball skills of Kristaps Porziņģis, perfect coaching of Ainars Bagatskis, and determination of the whole team, Latvia managed to win four times and only lost to Serbia by a slight margin, finishing second in the group. The fact that Latvia beat Russia and Turkey is impressive, but everyone who saw how great the Latvian national basketball team played would agree that it became the dark horse of the tournament.
Many people thought that Latvians might choke against Montenegro because many of the team are very young and not yet ready to play in such important games. Coach Ainars Bagatskis and his players proved everyone wrong and Latvia thrashed Montenegro 100-68, showing the world that it was already among the best International teams again.
Eurobasket 2017 is still underway and Latvia will have to beat even stronger teams, including Slovenia and Spain, in order to win medals. However, even if Latvia fails to win medals this year, it is clear that we will see this nation fighting for the highest positions in the basketball world for at least 10 more years. It looks like Lithuania will no longer be the only dominant power when it comes to basketball in the Baltic States, and every basketball fan in the world should start following Latvian basketball today.