Zalgiris Kaunas history
Zalgiris Kaunas is a synonym for basketball in Lithuania, a country that lives and breathes the sport. The club was founded in 1944 by the best basketball players in Kaunas and needed just three years to win its first Soviet championship. Four more Soviet titles followed, with triumphs in 1985 through 1987 marking the team’s first golden age. With legends Arvydas Sabonis, Sergejus Jovaisa, Rimas Kurtinaitis and Valdemaras Chomicius taking charge, Zalgiris twice came within a victory of a European trophy, but lost the 1984 Saporta Cup final to Barcelona and came up short in the 1986 EuroLeague Championship Game against a Cibona Zagreb team led by Drazen Petrovic. After Lithuania gained its independence in 1990, Zalgiris gave its basketball-loving fans plenty to cheer about. As well as winning the first nine Lithuanian League championships, thus creating a dynasty, Zalgiris also lifted its first-ever European trophy, the Saporta Cup in 1998, by downing Adecco Milan in the title game behind 35 points from Saulius Stombergas. A year later, Zalgiris shocked the continent by winning the 1999 EuroLeague. With a fun-to-watch offensive style, a cast of stars including Stombergas, Tyus Edney, Anthony Bowie, Eurelijus Zukauskas and Jiri Zidek was led by Coach Jonas Kazlauskas to the crown. Zalgiris has competed in the EuroLeague every year since and was close to glory again in 2004 – Sabonis’s retirement season – when it lost a do-or-die Top 16 finale in overtime in epic fashion against eventual champ Maccabi Tel Aviv. The club continued its domestic dominance, winning triple crowns – Baltic League, Lithuanian League and Lithuanian Cup – in 2008, 2011 and 2012. The arrival of Coach Sarunas Jasikevicius kickstarted another golden age. In 2017-18, Zalgiris made it to the EuroLeague Playoffs and downed Olympiacos Piraeus to reach the Final Four for the first time since 1999, eventually finishing third with a memorable Third Place Game victory over arch-rival CSKA Moscow. In the 2018-19 season, Zalgiris used a late six-game winning streak to return to the playoffs where it lost to Fenerbahce Istanbul, and the club’s return to prominence in recent years has given huge joy to its army of fans. Zalgiris went on to win the Lithuanian double in 2020 and 2021 and lifted the Lithuanian Cup in 2022. Last season, however, Zalgiris lost against Lietkabelis Panevezys in the Lithuanian League semifinals after 11 consecutive titles. It is ready to bounce back by proving it is undeniably the team to beat in Lithuania and fighting for a playoff spot in the 2022-23 campaign.