The champions of the 2022-23 Euroleague Basketball Adidas Next Generation Tournament Finals will celebrate the title in one of the most famous buildings in Lithuanian sports history and Kaunas folklore, Kaunas Sports Hall, which recently received a major facelift.
Eight teams will battle it out for the U18 continental crown from May 18 through 21 in the hallowed hall, which is located in the art deco-styled district Zaliakalnis. But whichever team hoists the trophy will be only the latest to shed tears of joy in the arena.
The Kaunas Sports Hall was built in just six months - and just in time - to host EuroBasket 1939. The host team Lithuania went undefeated to win the title and defend its crown from 1937, with games drawing 11,000 spectators even though the hall had only 3,500 seats.
The arena itself - the first hall in Europe designed specifically for basketball - became the first modern sports hall in Lithuania and is referred to as the “Mecca of Lithuanian basketball”. It was praised architecturally for, among other highlights, its four riveted steel arches. The hall hosted many different sports over the years including handball, boxing, volleyball and futsal.
Kaunas Sports Hall, which is also known as the S. Darius and S. Girenas Hall, was also the first home to the country’s powerhouse basketball club Zalgiris Kaunas. The club played its home games in the hall from its foundation in 1944 until 2010, winning the Lithuanian championship eight times between 1946 to 1958 as well as 15 times between 1991 and 2008, to go with five Soviet Union League titles. Zalgiris and its fans at the Kaunas Sports Hall also celebrated the 1998-99 EuroLeague crown and finishing as runners-up in 1985-86. During that time, Zalgiris claimed the Saporta Cup in 1997-98 and the Intercontinental Cup in 1986, too. Zalgiris left the hall in 2011 when the club’s current home, Zalgirio Arena, opened.
Another highlight for the Kaunas Sports Hall was the FIBA U16 European Championship 2015, where Lithuania reached the final but lost 85-83 to Bosnia and Herzegovina in front of 4,500 spectators.
In 2007, the complex of buildings of the S.Darius and S.Girenos sports center entered the Register of Cultural Values and became protected by the state. And Kaunas Sports Hall was awarded the European heritage mark in 2014.
Still, the arena needed renovations - with partial reconstruction from 1958 to 1962 to replace the wooden tribunes with reinforced concrete stands, improvement of the building’s insulation and installation of a heating system.