OFFICER AND GENTLEMAN
In 1991, FIBA published the results of a survey of their own about the best player in the history of FIBA basketball. The name at the top of the list was Sergei Belov, the great captain of CSKA Moscow and the USSR national team. Today, the result would probably be different, but nobody can deny that Belov is among our sport’s greatest ever. The Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield recognized this fact by inducting Belov in 1992 as the first European player ever to be included there.
I had double luck: first I followed him as a player from 1967, the year of his debut with USSR at the World Championships in Uruguay, until he retired after the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. I saw him in his most glorious moment, as the last carrier of the Olympic flame to light the torch at Lenin Stadium in Moscow, and also in his last games with the national team. After that, I met Belov as a head coach. We have spoken many times, but never like he did during EuroBasket 2007 in Madrid, where he gave me an interview for EuroLeague.net that caught many people’s attention all over Europe.
FROM DIFFICULT CHILDHOOD TO GLORY
Sergei Alekandrovich Belov was born on January 23, 1944, in the village of Nashekovic, region of Tomsk. Before giving birth to Sergei, his mother survived the famous siege of Stalingrad with her elder brother. The father, an engineer, worked far from home and the family got back together in 1947. The gift for the small child was a football, something scarce and valuable at that time. Sergei wouldn’t part with his favorite toy. He was a goalkeeper, but he also was into athletics, specifically the high jump. However, his quick growth to 1.90 meters decided his future. He started to play basketball and didn’t stop until the end of a brilliant career. His first coach was Georgiy Josifovitch Res. In the summer of 1964, while in Moscow to study, Belov was seen by Aleksandar Kandel, the coach of Uralmash in the city of Sverdlovsk, and he balled Belov for shis time. The promising teenager accepted and in 1964-65 season debuted in the Soviet first division. In the summer of 1966, Belov made his debut with the USSR national team and in 1967 he was already a world champion in Uruguay with an average of 4.6 points. He scored a total of 32 points in the tourney, with a high of 11 against Japan.
In 1968, another key moment in Belov’s life took place – he signed for CSKA Moscow. For the following 12 years, he would be the best player of the Red Army team under colonel Alexander Gomeskiy on the bench. Belov, like other players, was also an officer in the army, even though his only profession was playing basketball. In 1969, Barcelona, he won his first European crown against Real Madrid. In an unforgettable game that CSKA won after double over time (103-93), with big man Vladimir Andreev as the main star, getting 37 points and 11 rebounds. Both Belov and Andreev played the entire 50 minutes. Belov finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds. The following year CSKA lost the final in Sarajevo against Ignis Varese 79-74 with 21 points by Belov. However, in 1971, the Red Army team won the title back after beating Varese in Antwerp 67-53. Belov scored 24 points, but he also acted as a coach due to some problems for Gomelskiy at the Russian border.
In 1973, he played his last final with CSKA, of course against Varese, and lost in Liege 71-66 despite scoring 34 points.
THREE SECONDS IN MUNICH, 1972
Sergei Belov was a player ahead of his time. He was a shooting guard, but also capable of playing point guard or small forward. Just like Dragan Kicanovic, Mirza Delibasic, Manuel Raga, Bob Morse, Walter Szczerbiak and other shooters from the ear, they had to play without three-pointers, which were introduced by FIBA during the 1984-85 season. He was unstoppable in one-on-one situations and after the dribble; you could count on an assist or precise shot, many times with only one hand. He was also a great rebounder, but his best quality was his cold bblood, his 100 percent concentration in crunch time. His teammates always looked for Belov for the last play or the last shot. He was leader who transmitted security and confidence to the rest of the players and true fear to some rivals. He was player respected by all, because of his qualities and his behavior. He was a true officer and gentleman.
With the USSR he won 18 medals: Four Olympic medals (gold in 1972, bonze in 1968, 1976 amd 1980); six in World Championships (two golds -1967 and 1974 –three silvers and one bronze); eight at European Championships (four golds, two silvers and two bronzes). In total he won seven gold medals, five silvers and six brozens in the most important international compititions. His only Olympic gold was from Munich against the USA in what was a famous final because of the last three seconds were repeated under the orders of William Jones, then the secretary general FIBA. In September 2007, Belov told me the story of the most famous three seconds in basketball history:
“Jones’s decision was totally fair and correct to me. See, when Dough Collins scored to put his team ahead, 50-49, there were three seconds left and the scoreboard showed 19:57. Ivan Edeshko put the ball into play and I was close to midcourt, the table was behind my back. I got the ball and right away, the horn from the table stopped the game. But it was not the end, there was a mistake because the clock showed 19:59. There was one second left, but we protested a lot because it was clearly a mistake. The time had to start running when I touched the ball and not when Edeshko threw it in. After what to us seemed a never-ending moment, Jones lifted his three fingers and said we had to repeat them. The rest is well known. This time Edeshko made a long pass to Sasha Belov, who faked between two Americans, who in turn jumped at the same time almost clashing one against the other, and he scored the basket that was worth a gold medal.”
DISAPPOINTMENT AT HOME, 1980
If his most glorious moment was that 1972 gold at the Olympics in Munich, I am sure that his biggest disappointment was the Olympic Games played in Moscow in 1980. Playing at home, the USSR lost first to Italy in the group stage and later against Yugoslavia after over time, and so missed the title game. Some days later, he received an offer that was, in fact, an order:
“I got a call from the USSR Sports Minister, Sergei Pavlov, and he literally said, ‘From this moment, you are the USSR national team coach.’ And I rejected it on the spot. The minister insisted and he repeated his offer constantly. Gomelskiy found out about the issue and, through his connections, he made it that the KGB wouldn’t allow me to leave the country for several years…I was an officer in the Soviet army and it was easy to do that. Those were the worst years of my life and now I can say that for five years I even feared for my life!”
The darkest period in his life also coincided with the comeback from Brazil of a USSR emigrant, a friend of his. Sergei greeted him at home and this was a suspicious act for what he called “the usual services”. His problem lasted until 1988, when he returned to CSKA as a coach. In 1990, he coached Italy and in 1993 he was back in Russia, where he became president of the Russian Federation until 2000. He was also the national team coach for the World Championships of Toronto in 1994 and Athens in 1998, where Russia won silver medals and also for the 1997 EuroBasket in Barcelona, where it won the bronze. From 1999, Belov joined Sergei Kushchenko as general manager and president, respectively, to build a great team in Perm, Ural Great. Their team broke the dominance of CSKA Moscow, won domestic titles and played the new Euroleague in 2001-02 as the first Russian tema in the competition. Belov lived in Perm until he passed away in 2013 at age 69.
He never had doubts that he, as well as other talents of his generation like Kresimir Cosic, Drazen Dalipagic or Dran Kicanovic, could have played and triumphed in the NBA, just like Arvyads Sabonis did, getting there at 31, or Pau Gasol, Tony Parker, Dirk Nowitzki, Vlade Divac and so many other Europeans who showed that good basketball and good players are not an American-only privilege.
谢尔盖-贝洛夫是一个领先于他的时代的球员。他是一名投篮后卫，但也有能力打得分后卫或小前锋。就像Dragan Kicanovic、Mirza Delibasic、Manuel Raga、Bob Morse、Walter Szczerbiak和其他耳濡目染的射手一样，他们不得不在没有三分球的情况下打球，三分球是国际篮联在1984-85赛季推出的。他在一对一的情况下和运球后是不可阻挡的；你可以指望一个助攻或精确的投篮，很多时候只用一只手。他也是一个伟大的篮板手，但他最好的品质是他的冷血，他在关键时刻百分之百的专注。他的队友们总是寻找贝洛夫来完成最后一击或最后一投。他是一个领导者，向其他球员传递安全感和信心，向一些对手传递真正的恐惧。他是受所有人尊重的球员，因为他的品质和行为。他是一位真正的军官和绅士。
他生命中最黑暗的时期也恰好是一位苏联移民从巴西复出的时候，他的一个朋友。谢尔盖在家里迎接了他，这对他所谓的 “通常的服务 “来说是一个可疑的行为。他的问题一直持续到1988年，当时他回到了CSKA作为一名教练。1990年，他执教意大利，1993年他回到了俄罗斯，在那里他成为俄罗斯联邦的主席，直到2000年。他也是1994年多伦多和1998年雅典世界锦标赛的国家队教练，俄罗斯在那里获得了银牌，也是1997年巴塞罗那欧洲篮球赛的教练，在那里获得了铜牌。从1999年开始，贝洛夫与谢尔盖-库申科一起分别担任总经理和总裁，在乌拉尔大区的彼尔姆建立了一支伟大的球队。他们的球队打破了莫斯科中央陆军队的统治地位，赢得了国内冠军，并在2001-02年作为俄罗斯的第一支球队参加了新的欧洲联赛的比赛。贝洛夫住在彼尔姆，直到2013年69岁时去世。
他从来没有怀疑过自己，以及他那一代的其他人才，如Kresimir Cosic、Drazen Dalipagic或Dran Kicanovic，可以在NBA打球并取得胜利，就像Arvyads Sabonis那样，31岁就进入了NBA，或者Pau Gasol、Tony Parker、Dirk Nowitzki、Vlade Divac和其他许多欧洲人，他们表明好篮球和好球员不是只有美国人才有的。