Kaunas Žalgris: The History of the Most Influential Basketball Team in Lithuania

Siauliai versus Zalgiris | © WikiCommons
Siauliai versus Zalgiris | © WikiCommons
Photo of Kasparas Asmonaitis
22 October 2017

Lithuania’s second largest city, Kaunas, has many things to be proud of, including rich history and delicious food, but there is one thing that stands out, and that is basketball. Kaunas Žalgiris, the local basketball team, is the reason why locals love basketball so much and think of it as something more serious than just a game.

The oldest and most decorated club in Lithuania

Kaunas Žalgiris was founded in 1944 and is the oldest active basketball club in Lithuania, and one of the oldest in Europe. Throughout the years, Žalgiris has won 42 championships, including the legendary victory in 1998-1999 EuroLeague versus mighty Kinder Bologna. There are only a handful of clubs that managed to win the EuroLeague, making Žalgiris one of the most recognised and respected clubs in Europe.

When Lithuania was still part of the Soviet Union, Žalgiris competed in the domestic Soviet Union league, where Moscow CSKA was its biggest rival. Thousands of devoted fans gathered to watch Žalgiris battle against Moscow CSKA, as it meant more to the people than just a basketball game. Every Lithuanian knew that Žalgiris was indirectly fighting for independence, and beating Moscow CSKA was a victory for Lithuanian fans and the whole independence movement.

After Lithuania regained independence in 1990, Žalgiris joined the local Lithuanian league and won it 19 times ever since, always reaching the finals. Žalgris’ dominance in Lithuanian club basketball was, and still is, something that no one can dispute.

Golden State Warriors against Kaunas Žalgiris | © WikiCommons

Today, Žalgiris is one of only 11 clubs that have a EuroLeague A-Licence, which guarantees their place in the most prestigious European basketball tournament. It looks like Žalgiris’ legacy is yet to reach its peak as the club still manages to surprise its fans and win even more trophies!

Eight of 13 Lithuanian basketball players who ever played in the NBA also played for Žalgiris, which only demonstrates how important Žalgiris is for Lithuanian basketball in general.

Notable players

Arvydas Sabonis is, without a doubt, the biggest star to ever play for Kaunas Žalgiris. Sabonis is considered to be the best Lithuanian basketball player of all time, and his legacy has left a huge mark in the world of basketball.

Šarūnas Jasikevičius is Žalgiris’ current coach. He also played for the team in his early career. Šarūnas Jasikevičius is probably the best Lithuanian point guard ever, and one of the best point guards that European basketball has ever seen.

Paulius Jankūnas is the most notable Žalgiris player who is still playing for the club. He is one of the most talented and popular EuroLeague players and his legacy is set to remain in Žalgiris’ history for many years to come!

Paulius Jankunas | © WikiCommons

Before leaving to play for the NBA in America, Žydrūnas Ilgauskas was a proud member of the Žalgiris team.

American Tanoka Beard played for Žalgiris from 2003 to 2008, and is one of the fans’ favourite foreign players. He also holds the record of the best ever performance in the single EuroLeague game.

Another talent American basketball player, Tyus Edney, played for Žalgiris for just one season, but he helped the team win the EuroLeague, and was named the final’s Most Valuable Player.

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