In Lithuania, basketball is like a … religion, it is the most popular sport in this country with a rich basketball history.
In the 1930s the Lithuanian men’s national basketball team won the EuroBasket tournaments prior to World War II, in 1937 and 1939, causing a massive impact in Lithuanian society and a basketball popularity spike. Since then, despite Lithuania’s small size, with a population of just almost 2.9 million, the country’s devotion to basketball has made them a traditional force of the sport in Europe.
Following the country’s annexation by the Soviet Union during the war, Lithuanian players frequently formed the core of the Soviet national team, and the Lithuanian people strongly supported local club Žalgiris, particularly against Russian squads.
The home of 12 players who made it into America’s basketball league, the NBA, Lithuania is a country where kids grow up shooting for the basket. In the current season, there is Mindaugas Kuzminskas playing for the New York Knicks, Jonas Valančiūnas for the 5th season at Toronto Raptors, Domantas Sabonis the son of the basketball legend Arvydas Sabonis playing for Oklahoma City Thunder and Donatas Motiejūnas playing for the Houston Rockets.
The Lithuanian Basketball Federation (LKF), founded in 1932, is responsible for the development and image of basketball in Lithuania. Having its offices in Kaunas and Vilnius, the Federation manages the sport on all levels – from social activities to the national teams.
One of the main goals is to preserve the status of basketball as the number one sport in the country, building on and adding to the basketball tradition in the country. Projects like “A basketball day at my school” were installed to attract young children to basketball.
Lithuania is known for its various basketball academies, both for boys and girls. Kaunas alone is the home of seven basketball schools, with the Arvydas Sabonis Basketball Centre being the most famous. Children aged from six to 18 are being taught the fundamentals of basketball and prepared for a professional career, while also profiting on a personal level.
Lithuanians take pride in every medal won by the national teams. They participated at the Olympics for seven times in a row and have won 3 bronze medals (1992, 1996, 2000), four appearances at the Fiba World Cup (a bronz medal in 2000), and multiple medals at the EuroBasket (3 gold, 3 silver and 1 bronze medal).
At the professional club level, Žalgiris Kaunas won the top-tier Euroleague in 1999. Lietuvos Rytas of Vilnius won two times the second tier Eurocup Basketball, in 2005 and 2009.
In this season, Zalgiris plays in the Euroleague, Lietuvos Rytas and BC Lietkabelis plays in the Eurocup, Neptunas Klaipeda and Juventus Utena in the Basketball Champions League, with Prinai-Birstono (the opponent of BC Mures) and Šiauliai in the Fiba Europe Cup.
Registered players: U18 Men: 6,854, Senior Men: 1,542, Registered clubs: 162, Registered coaches: 308.
Non-registered players: Juniors: approximately 60,000 and Seniors: approximately 77,000