32 years ago, July 25th, 1988 it took place a historical basketball game between the USSR team and Atlanta Hawks an NBA club in Tbilisi. It was the first-ever visit of an NBA team to the USSR. The guests from the USA played 3 games – the first in Tbilisi (July 25), second in Vilnius (July 27), and third in Moscow (July 30). The Americans won the first and second matches (consequently 85:84 and 110:105) but lost the last one with a score (123:132).
The holding of that historic match became possible due to new geopolitical processes.
The choice Tbilisi for the first game versus NBA team was not random - Georgia had a rich tradition of basketball: Dinamo Tbilisi won a European Champions Cup bitting Real Madrid in the final game in Geneve in 1962 and later in 1969 Dinamo Tbilisi became a finalist of Cup Winners' Cup of Europe.
Dinamo Tbilisi became 4 times a champion of the USSR (1950, 1953, 1954, and 1968), repeatedly silver and bronze medalists of the USSR championship and the same time the leading players of Dinamo Tbilisi had been an active and bright member of the USSR team. They became champions or prize winners of European, World, and Olympic games. The choice of Tbilisi was also induced by the fact that at the matches in the Sports Palace there was high attendance of about 10-13 thousand spectators, which created an amazing atmosphere.
The game of July 25 1988 caused an unprecedented stir in Tbilisi. The then leader of Georgia Mr. Jumber Patiashvili (he has 81-year-old now) in an interview said: " The interest in the match was very high, to get to the game with Atlanta Hawks there were several times more people than could accommodate the Tbilisi Sports Palace. There were even discussed opportunities to hold a game at the football stadium Dinamo (which accommodated 80 thousand spectators approx - an author). Ultimately it was decided to conduct the game in the Tbilisi Sports Palace instead of an open stadium".
According to Patiashvili, all necessary measures were taken to ensure the safe and normal provision of the match on July 25, 1988.
Among the spectators of the match in Tbilisi, there was a former basketball player of Dinamo Tbilisi and Georgia’s national team Marina Kodua mother of Zaza Pachulia an outstanding basketball player, an NBA twice champion at the Golden State Warriors club.
“I went to the match Atlanta Hawks with my son Zaza. The game was beautiful, the audience applauded both teams", she said.
Murman Kuridze was one of three referees who was given the opportunity to referee that match in Tbilisi - the game was also refereed by Georgian Giorgi Avalishvili and American Bruce Alexander. Kuridze told that “To referee, the game an NBA club was a great responsibility. Before this day I many times refereed to different international matches, including in Europe, the USA, and Canada. I was refereeing to the games in the USA with the participation of the USSR team and the American student teams. As a referee, it was important for me that the players and coaches of both teams had had no complaints to the referees".
Gia Sanadze, captain of Dinamo Tbilisi missed the game because of trauma. We talked to him as well.
- I was born and grown up in a town Khoni west Georgia on October 24th, 1964. My father, Dudari was a football player but Makvala, my mother was a successful basketball player. Of course, my father was dreaming of me being a football player but my mother’s arguments were stronger. By the way, then basketball was very popular in Georgia. At 11 I played at Khoni’s basketball section. Our team was playing successfully in the west Georgia region. When I had been invited to Tbilisi I was 16.
-Who recommended you?
Nugzar Cheishvili, a former player of “Dinamo” Tbilisi. He had invited me to the youth team and offered me to move to Tbilisi. I was a schoolboy. At first, I played for Dinamo's second team and at the same time for the Polytechnic Institute. At the beginning of 1980, I played for Dinamo Tbilisi on the Dinamiada USSR and Eastern European countries Championship between Dinamo’s teams which took place in Tbilisi. I did a debut USSR Premier League in 1982. Soon I had got a serious injury thereby I didn’t play for a year. I started playing again in 1984 and became a member of the top five immediately. I played well from 1984-1985 and in my 21 years, I was suddenly elected as the team captain in 1985. We were very close to the bronze medals on the championships 1987 and 1988…
- I remember you played for the second team but were not you invited to the first team of the USSR?
- I, Gela Darsadze (1962-2013) and Andrey Tubin (now lives in the United States) played for the second team of the USSR in 1987 -1988yrs. I missed the tournament in Spain due to injury but I played all the matches in Cuba, the teammates and the coaches were happy (laughs). It is very difficult to reach the membership at the National team, it was the same about USSR - the world and European level stars were coming out - Sabonis, Tkachenko, Khomichus, Walters, Marciulionis, Kurtinaitis, Belostenny, Soki, Tarakanov and others. The head coach of the main team Alexander Gomelsky (1928-2005) had been looking after the matches of the second team. I was invited to the main team in 1988.
USSR national team held three home matches against the NBA club “Atlanta Hawks” in Tbilisi, Vilnius, and Moscow that year. Gela Darsadze and I were invited by Gomelski to the main team and we had to play in Tbilisi. Dinamo Tbilisi’s team had the camping in Leselidze (Gagra) I got an injury during training there, so I lost a chance to play for the main team of USSR.
About 15 thousand spectators attended the match in Tbilisi, it ended with the victory of the Americans 85:84.
I had often narrative to my sons about the match with "Atlanta Hawks" in Tbilisi. Duda’s 27 years old, he has been playing for the Georgian national team for several years, he played for Tbilisi "Dinamo", the US Student League (San Diego), Slovenian, Italian, Polish and Portuguese clubs. Sandro’s 24 years old, plays for the TSU team and has been on the expanded list of candidates for the national team several times for the last years.
Perhaps someday Sandro and Duda will play together in the national team (smiles). But the greatest hope I have for my youngest son, 13-year-old Nika, who plays for the Tbilisi “Hyundai” team. I do not rule out that Nika will be the best basketball player in our family. I do have a dream, though: If the Georgian national team ever wins the right to play the World Cup and the Olympics, at least one of Sanadze to be in that team or all three brothers together (smiles).
By Tengiz Pachkoria
The Vice-president of Georgian sports journalists Association
The photos of the match 1988 July 25 provided Sandro Kotorashvili