But just a 15-minute walk from the enchanting Diocletian’s Palace and the Temple of Jupiter, you will find a basketball shrine. Atop Gripe, near the eponymous fortress, there is Gripe Minor Sports Hall, which was home to the best European basketball team of the 20th century. The story of the Croatian version of the Boston Celtics or LA Lakers begins in 1945 by pure coincidence. The court located in the neighbourhood of Spinut was initially the home of the women’s basketball team, as the male denizens of Split deemed basketball a sport more suited to the fairer sex, since the men mostly played football for Hajduk, rowed for Gusar, sailed or played water polo.
That would change in 1964, when Split Basketball Club was promoted to the top flight of the former Yugoslav Basketball League. Thus, a basketball giant was born. The relocation to the Gripe Sports Hall and Jugoplastika becoming a sponsor were the first notes of the rhapsody in yellow.
They lost their first major European final in the European Champions Cup in 1972 to Ignis with the slightest of margins and only a single point separating them (69 : 70), but it was not until a few years later that they would start racking up major trophies. The generation of basketball players from Split led by Rato Tvrdić and Željko Jerkov won back-to-back FIBA Korać Cup titles (1976 and 1977).
It was as all that had been happening was just an overture to the crescendo in the late 1980s. The events that followed would make the basketball city of Split the stuff of legends. In those years, Jugoplastika had the makings of a team resembling a great rock-band. The talented basketball musicians Toni Kukoč, Dino Rađa, Goran Sobin and Velimir Perasović were backed by Zoran Sretenović, Duško Ivanović and the prospective young coach Božo Maljković. It was the beginning of the era of the Beatles and Rolling Stones from Split.