“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!
Richard Dacoury, Professional winner
The best way for me to start this story, which is dedicated to – if not the best, then the most decorated French player of all time (not including active players) – is a detail that Boza Maljkovic, the boss of Limoges in the early 1990s, told me in October 2012.
“When I arrived to Limoges, I had to build a new team from scratch,” Maljkovic said. “For different reasons, of the eight players that finished that season, only one was expected to stay for the following season, Richard Dacoury. He was a player I liked a lot because of his physical potential, his willingness to work, his strong winning character and a personality that is always welcome in any locker room. Also, he spoke good English, which was important to interact with Michael Young and Jure Zdovc, our foreigners back then.
“One day, I was told that we had to go to some school that was to take the name of Richard Dacoury because he had decided to … retire! It was hard for me to convince him not to do that. He was about 32 years old and thanks to his physical condition, he still had some basketball years in him. Plus, he was a key man in my defensive schemes. He was probably the best athlete I ever coached in my career. Fortunately, I convinced him, and he is thankful to me for that even today!”
The biggest consequence of that decision happened on April 15, 1993, in Athens, at Peace and Friendship Stadium. Limoges was crowned European champion by beating Toni Kukoc’s Benetton Treviso 59-55. Two days before, in the semis, Limoges beat the other favorite: Arvydas Sabonis’s Real Madrid by the score of 62-52. I was there, at one of the 20 out of 24 Final Fours that I have attended, and I still think that was the biggest surprise in the EuroLeague to date! Nowadays, many people don’t give Maljkovic enough credit because of his style of “basket control” – or even “anti-basket” – which was based on few points and a slow pace. However, if the goal in sports is winning, especially in pro sports, what Maljkovic did with that “team of miners,” as he called his squad, is something to be studied through a technical, tactical and psychological point of view. It was the recipe of how a coach must adapt to the players he has in order to get the best out of them. Even Dacoury himself, on occasion of the 50th anniversary of European club competitions, celebrated at the 2008 Final Four in Madrid, agreed.
“Our coach did a huge psychological job on us,” Dacoury told EuroLeague.net. “I saw that later, but now I can say it: He did the best work ever on our confidence. He was so relaxed, especially if you compare him to the rest of season until that point. He smiled, laughed. We had no pressure. He told us that it was only pleasure.”
Before surprising Real Madrid and Benetton, Limoges played the preliminary round to eliminate the Guildford Kings (with a tie in London!), while in the group stage it finished second behind PAOK Thessaloniki with a 7-5 record and on top of teams like Scavolini Pesaro, Knorr Bologna, Joventut Badalona, Cibona Zagreb and Maccabi Tel Aviv. In the quarterfinals, Limoges got rid of Olympiacos with a 2-1 series win, making good use of the home-court advantage.
As the captain of that team, Dacoury lifted the EuroLeague trophy, the first title ever in a top continental competition for a French team in any sport. One month later, Olympique Marseille also won football’s European Cup, but the honor of being first will always belong to Limoges CSP. The full cover of the newspaper L’Equipe, with Dacoury lifting the trophy, is history itself. Curiously, Dacoury was wearing a yellow jersey – even though the official color of the team the previous years had been green. Maljkovic had managed to change the color – because yellow was fashionable and successful (think Jugoplastika Split, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Aris Thessaloniki) – and it worked! The No. 7 jersey of Dacoury hangs retired in the rafters of the Limoges arena, and it has both colors, the classic green and the yellow, which gave the club its most important title.
The symbol of Limoges
Even though he started his career in Lyon (from 1976 to 1978) and finished it with Racing Paris (1996 to 1998), winning his ninth French League title, the bulk of Richard Dacoury’s career was tied to Limoges. He wore the club’s jersey from 1978 to 1996, winning eight French Leagues, five French Cups, two Korac Cups (1982 and 1983), a Saporta Cup (1988) and the EuroLeague (1993). He was never a born scorer. His specialties were defense, rebounds, fighting, sacrifice and being the extension of the coach on the court. However, if the team needed points, he would happily provide them. His best numbers in the French League came in the 1984-85 season, with 18.7 points per game on 55.9% field goal accuracy, 5 rebounds and 3 assists. In 1986-87 he averaged 18.2 points. During his 20-year career, only in the last three did he average below 10 points. In total, he played 495 games with an average of 12.6 points.
Dacoury made his debut with the French national team in Orleans on May 5, 1981, scoring his first 4 points in a friendly game against Cuba (108-117). The last time he wore the blue jersey was on June 26, 1992, in Granada against Switzerland (108-65), saying goodbye with 22 points. He played 160 games with France, totaling 2,230 points (13.9 per game).
I remember well the first time I saw Richard Dacoury play, in Korac Cup final that took place on March 18, 1982, in Padua, Italy. Limoges faced Sibenik of Croatia, which had a young talent named Drazen Petrovic (19 points) and a golden veteran like Srecko Jaric (16 points), Marko Jaric’s father. Limoges won 90-84, thanks to Ed Murphy’s 35 points. Dacoury contributed 12 points, but you could see an enormous potential in him. One year later, on March 8, 1983, in Berlin, the same matchup took place in the same final and Limoges won again, 94-86. Murphy shined again with 34 points, but Dacoury was already the star of the team as he scored 16 points. Looking through the data of the game, I discovered that the second-best scorer of the Dalmatian team was Predrag Saric (22 points), father of Dario Saric. The father and son sagas still go on.
Dacoury’s third continental trophy also arrived on neutral ground, on March 16, 1988, in Grenoble, where Limoges defeated Joventut Badalona of Spain in the Saporta Cup final by 96-89. Dan Collins was the big star with 28 points, but the fact that Dacoury played 33 minutes makes it clear that his contribution was way more than the 8 points he scored that night.
From the court to the microphone
I personally met Dacoury at the 1983 EuroBasket played in Limoges. It was his second continental tournament. After that, we met each other again several times, including at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. I was at his official farewell game in Limoges, one day after the 1999 EuroBasket in Paris. We also saw each other again in London 2012, where he was there as a commentator for French television. Since his retirement, he has become the “voice of basketball” in France, where he is really popular due to his understanding of the game and because of the way he explained what was happening on the court. When I told him that I would be writing about him in my series dedicated to the past legends of the game, he only told me: “It will be an honor for me to be among the great players that appear in your series.”
It’s also an honor for me to have known for so many years a player and person such as Richard Dacoury. With the ball or the microphone, his profession is still the same: being a winner.