“101 Greats of European Basketball,” a limited-edition collection published in 2018 by Euroleague Basketball, honors more than six decades’ worth of stars who helped lift the sport on the Old Continent to its present-day heights. Author Vladimir Stankovic, who began covering many of those greats in 1969, uses their individual stories and profiles to show that European basketball’s roots run long and deep at the same time that the sport here is nurtured by players from around the world, creating a true team dynamic unlike anywhere else. His survey covers players who were retired before the book was published and who inspired the many others who came after them. Enjoy!
Joe Arlauckas: The record man
If a visiting team shoots 0-for-11 from the three-point arc, probably the last thing you’d expect is that it won the game by 19 points, scoring a total of 115. You’d probably expect even less that one of this team’s players made history in a competition by scoring… 63 points! That’s exactly what happened on February 26, 1996, in a EuroLeague game in Bologna between Kinder and Real Madrid. The Spanish team won by 96-115, scoring 58 points in the first half, 57 in the second. Power forward Joe Arlauckas spent 39 minutes on court to score 63 points by making 24 of 28 two-pointers and 15 of 18 free throws. He also pulled 11 rebounds, dished 2 assists and had 4 steals for a total performance index rating over 80! In the official stats sheet we are only missing the fouls drawn figure, but if he shot 18 free throws, he received at least 9 fouls, and he committed only 2. It was one of those unforgettable nights of offensive fireworks, even though both Pablo Laso and Jose Miguel Antunez missed 3 attempts from the arc each (although Laso finished with 9 assists), Ismael Santos missed 2, Santi Abad, Zoran Savic and Arlauckas himself also missed 1 three apiece for Madrid’s 0-for-11 total.
With 63 points, Arlauckas is still far away from the 99 that Radivoj Korac scored in the same competition in 1965, but he is still way above the modern Turkish Airlines EuroLeague record of 41 shared by Alphonso Ford, Carlton Myers, Kaspars Kambala and Bobby Brown.
Great night in Bologna
“It was an incredible game,” Zoran Savic, the second-best Real Madrid scorer in that game with 16 points, remembers of that great night for Arlauckas. “Joe missed one or two of his first attempts from the field, but after that, he just scored everything. He played at ease and nobody even realized that he had scored so many points. We were all kind of surprised after the game, looking at the stats sheet. Joe was a natural-born offensive player, with a great four-meter jump shot and amazing timing for both shooting and rebounds. He knew how to play both facing the basket and with his back to it. He had many resources on offense and was a great teammate.”
Of Lithuanian heritage, Joseph John “Joe” Arlauckas was born on July 20, 1965, in Rochester, New York. He had basketball running through his veins, but baseball was his sport of choice in his youth. He played basketball at Jefferson High School but in his first years at Niagara University, he didn’t think the sport would become his profession. His last two seasons there were pretty good (17.4 points), so his size (2.04 meters) and his good fundamentals opened a door for him to the 1987 NBA draft. The Sacramento Kings picked him number 74 in the fourth round. He would share a locker room with Otis Thorpe, Harold Pressley, Joe Kleine, Ed Pinckney and Lasalle Thompson, all of them power forwards or centers, his position. He even scored 17 points in one game, but that was not enough for him to stay. He was released in December of 1987 after only nine games, with 34 points and 13 rebounds total.
His new destination would be Europe. He joined Juventus Caserta of Italy, where he would fill in for Georgi Gluchkov, the first European to ever play in the NBA. There, he would coincide with a super scorer like Oscar Schmidt and the great Italian prospect Ferdinando Gentile. In the Italian Cup final, against Varese, Arlauckas won his first title. Caserta won by 113-100 after two overtimes. Arlauckas contributed 13 points, but before the end of the regular season he was cut for the second time in his career. In 12 games he averaged 10.7 points and 4.7 rebounds.
Re-birth in Spain
The new era in Arlauckas’s career would start in Spain. He landed in Malaga to join Caja de Ronda. At the beginning, he didn’t match well with coach Mario Pesquera, but little by little he started to adapt better and formed a great duo with center Ricky Brown, a former European champion with Milano. After beating Estudiantes, Joventut and Barcelona on the road, with 45 points by Joe against Barça, everyone realized that the Spanish League had a new star. In his two years in Malaga, he averaged 21.6 points and in 1990 he moved to Baskonia. The American coach Herb Brown, the restless scout Alfonso Salazar and president Josean Querejeta were the people behind that great signing. During three years in Vitoria, he averaged 22.0 points. With Pablo Laso, he formed a great guard-power forward tandem while the pair of big men was completed by Ramon Rivas of Puerto Rico. Before the Barcelona Olympics in 1992, the Lithuanian basketball federation tried to get Arlauckas to play for the national team because of his Lithuanian heritage, but he didn’t accept. However, he would play a bit later with Arvydas Sabonis in Real Madrid.
In the Korac Cup, Europe discovered a great scorer. In two duels against Zadar, he scored 79 points (40 and 39). Against Banik of Czechoslovakia, he outdid himself with 87 points and 32 rebounds in two games. In the Korac Cup of 1992-93, he finished with an average of 32.0 points and 11.7 rebounds. As good as it gets.
Three great seasons in Vitoria opened the doors of Real Madrid to Arlauckas, where he would meet his “fellow countryman” Sabonis. Despite some problems at the beginning to understand each other, details were tweaked with a little bit of time. After that, simply put, they were one of the best combinations of power forward and center ever in European basketball. For the 1994-95 season, a still-young Zeljko Obradovic landed on Real Madrid’s bench to become the new coach. He already had two European crowns with Partizan (1992) and Joventut (1994). Nowadays, Arlauckas says that the coach he learned the most from was Obradovic. In return, the coach only has good words to say about one of his favorite players ever:
“He was a killer in the most positive sense of the word,” Zeljko said. “I am very proud of having had him as a player and as a person. The wins and the points get forgotten with time, but you never forget about good people and Joe was one of the best.”
With amazing memory, Obradovic quickly pinpoints the result against Kinder. He remembers the game as if it happened yesterday: “I was considered to be a coach who loved basket-control, low scoring, slow pace… Then, we had the game in Bologna with a true festival by Joe. He scored everything with great ease. He was a complete player, he had it all. He could shoot, rebound, he was fast, he had the technique, he was courageous… He was one of the best players I ever coached in my career.”
Zaragoza, 17 years later
That same season of the great night for Joe Arlauckas, Real Madrid would become the European champion. The most-awaited title since 1978 arrived on April 13 of 1994 in the Final Four played in Zaragoza. In the semifinals, Real Madrid got rid of Limoges by 62-49 as Arlauckas scored 12, while in the title game, Los Blancos defeated Olympiacos by 73-61. Joe had 16 points and 4 rebounds while Sabonis led the team with 23 points and 7 boards.
One of the biggest assets for Arlauckas was his ability to play alongside bigger stars than him with no problems or envy at all. Except with Schmidt in Caserta, he always formed great tandems with all the stars he played with. After Sabonis left for the NBA, the new star in Real Madrid was Dejan Bodiroga, with whom Arlauckas also had a great understanding. In the 1997 Saporta Cup final against Mash Verona, won by Madrid 78-64, the list of best scorers for the winners was: Alberto Herreros 19, Joe Arlauckas 18 and Dejan Bodiroga 17.
After five years in Real Madrid, Arlauckas went to Greece to join AEK Athens. The change of country, environment and the basketball style was really hard for him. He had a discreet season (13.8 points) and the following one in Aris Thessaloniki was a little bit better (17.4), but his best years were already in the past and in Spain.
After retiring he went back to the United States but his love for Spain led him to return to Madrid. His experience helped him land a commentator spot with EuroLeague TV. But his real desire would be teaching big men what he knows about basketball.
And he knows a lot.