RADIVOJ KORAC - ZUCKO
Radivoj Korac was born on November 5, 1938 in Sombor. He started playing basketball at the Youth Club of BSK, as OKK Belgrade was then called. In 1956, during one of the games at the Junior Tournament, he scored 33 points, which equalled the total number of points his teammates made. Already then, this indicated the startling potential hidden behind a shy, pleasant and friendly character of this young redhead.
Zucko played basketball with a remarkable skill and in a manner, which, with its style and efficiency, differed from anything seen before and after him.
He played power forward. He was not a particular rebounder; he mainly scored in the paint, thankful to his dribbling skill and quick, elusive shot. He had unstoppable entry under the basket and excellently used his body when in a duel, which powerless opponents, especially the French, often tried to present to the referees as a foul. The French went as far as filming Korac’s games wishing to prove that he was relentlessly efficient because he fouled other players. They showed the film to the FIBA officials, and the eminent referees from several countries determined that everything was clean.
There was something paradoxical in that perfect accuracy of this basketball genius. He had his flaws, but that what he knew and could do was brought to perfection and excellence which remain remembered. Korac’s basketball and human qualities are best assessed by Professor Aca Nikolic, long-time coach and Yugoslav national basketball team head coach, “Zucko was something between an old and a new style of centre’s play” – Professor explains. “He had a brilliant technique and great knowledge. He was fast and presented a threat to the opponent’s basket at any time. He did not like passing the ball back to his teammates. He was strong, had superb sense of estimating the moment to enter under the opponent’s basket, and once he was there, he was unmistakable.” Popular Professor does not share the opinion of many basketball experts who saw in Zucko’s defence play his Achilles’ heel. “It was in Athens. We played against Greek national team” – Professor remembers. “An excellent player Amerikanos played for them. We could not do anything to stop him; he superiorly filled our basket. In the halftime, discretely, in a half-voice, Zucko said to me, ‘Professor, let me try holding him.’ I agreed. A miracle happened – at least for me and all who were present – I don’t know if it was so for Korac. He guarded that young man so well, that he did not score a point during the rest of the game! Not a single one! Zucko contained him in a fascinating manner, without personal fouls or any roughness, only with knowledge, intelligence and technique.”
Radivoj Korac made his debut for the national team in 1958 and played for it a whole decade until 1968. He was at his best at the European Championship in Belgrade in 1961. It was then that the Yugoslav national team, winning its first medal, lost in the finals against the USSR national team. It was clear to everybody that our continent received new, very strong national team and a new star – Radivoj Korac. Talking about what adorned Korac, his efficiency and style, Bora Stankovic, coach of OKK Belgrade’s championship team says, “Korac was especially well-mannered young man, somewhat withdrawn, and it was difficult to establish a closer contact with him. On the other hand, he loved company and was in the sixties one of the trademarks of Knez Mihailova Street. He had outstanding reflexes, feeling for the ball and fast movements. He was not an all-round player, but he was like a scoring machine. He looked rather disinterested on the court, however, when he received the ball; he did everything with lightning speed. An unusual player, incomparable to anybody. In the national team, he cooperated very well with Daneu, who was another type of player.”
The best confirmation of Korac’s efficiency is the fact that he was 7 times the best scorer of the first league, which is the best ranking in the history of the Yugoslav basketball (Radmilo Misovic 5 times, Drazen Petrovic 4 times), and that with an extraordinary average number of points per game – 32.7! He was well-known for his characteristic free throw shooting, with a specific manner of execution, with both hands underneath the ball and holding it before shooting closely above the court floor. However, he was extremely accurate in this discipline. A proof of this is an anecdote dating back to the period of Korac’s career in Belgium. Namely, due to his extreme popularity, Korac was a guest at a very popular TV show. On the host’s question, “Mr. Korac, how many free throws can you make out of 100 attempts?” Korac answered he could make 70 to 80. In that moment, the curtain in the studio moved revealing, on everybody’s astonishment, a basket! The TV show host asked Korac to confirm his assessment to the viewers there on the scene. Zucko accepted that, and with a cool head, almost disinterested, made an ideal 100 throws out of 100 attempts!
Regarding the events from Korac’s career, there was something that was recorded in the FIBA annals. During the game at the European Championships Cup in the Belgrade Fair Hall 3, playing against Swedish Alvik, Radivoj Korac scored 99 points! Apart from Korac, only Wilt Chamberlain reached unbelievable number of 100 points in one official game. Side by side with Chamberlain’s record, Zucko’s record will certainly remain unbroken for a long period of time. He was an extremely versatile personality. He loved music, books and theatre. He was a regular opera-goer. Once he called his club from London and said, “Folks, some Beatles are playing here. They are great! They will set the world on fire!” Our authors he liked were Crnjanski and Lalic. He admired paintings of Ivan Tabakovic and Lubarda; he knew everything about Petar Konjovic. He was a regular guest at the National Theatre’s café, whereas of other pubs he only went to “Vidin kapija”.
Zucko’s special characteristic was his extreme modesty. Material things never meant much to him. A confirmation of this is the knowledge of the fact that Aleksandar Sasa Gec, the then director of Crvena Zvezda (Red Star), offered him a two-room flat and a car (FIAT 1300) for a transfer to Red Star. Gec thought that Korac would, as the majority of players would do, eagerly accept the offer. However, on Gec’s astonishment, Korac turned around and said with a smile, “Thanks Sasa, but that really does not interest me…”. He loved his club, and he played basketball out of pure love. That was another of his characteristics, which supported the notion of his distinctiveness and uniqueness. Radivoj Korac was like that. History of Yugoslav basketball remembers June 2, 1969 as a very dark day. Following a severe car accident near Sarajevo, Radivoj Korac – Zucko’s big heart stopped beating. The news spread instantly and shook, not only sports nation, but whole Yugoslavia. The Basketball Association made a decision that no game should ever be played on that day. “I have never seen that so many people, from the youngest to the oldest, came out on the streets to say their last goodbye to one person.” – remembers Mirko Trgovcevic – Sema, the then president of the club, who went with Korac’s father to Sarajevo to transport Zucko’s body. “There were thousands of them. Kilometres after leaving Sarajevo, people stood by the road wanting to pay their tribute to one of the greatest Yugoslav basketball players.”
Radivoj Korac, young man who emerged on Belgrade streets and came to OKK Belgrade aged 16. Nobody could suppose then that a sports genius arrived. He moved from junior to senior in a year. The rise was very fast. An experienced coach, Borislav Stankovic, sensed abundance of his talent, and of that generation. Very soon that resulted in a championship team from Zdravka Celara Street, team that, according to Mirko Trgovcevic – Sema’s words, was morally strong and of healthy spirit as no team before or after that, and which was in the best way represented by Radivoj Korac.
That is how the story about left-handed Zucko, a young man who conquered with his modesty, shyness, truthfulness, spirit and friendship, ended. In return, Belgrade paid him the most dignified last respects. He was the first sportsmen to be buried in the Alley of the Greats (his funeral was attended by the delegation from Padua, the last club Korac played for), whereas one street in Belgrade has been named after him. To the day today, Korac’s sneakers and jersey are exhibited in OKK Belgrade’s premises in Celara Street.
On the proposal of its Secretary-General, Englishman William Jones, the International Basketball Federation reached a decision to establish the Radivoj Korac Cup, as a big international competition, which would keep its reputation for years. The winning award of this competition is a golden left hand, golden imprint of Zucko’s famous left, to preserve the long memory of the human and sports great, a young man who, with his love for basketball, set home and international basketball sky on fire, and wrote the history of the Yugoslav and European basketball in gold letters.