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If there’s one thing that we all know in the world of sport, it’s that you can never count out the Italians. It doesn’t matter whether it’s football, rugby or even tennis, because they’ve got a certain level of heart that you can’t replicate. The same can also be said of their basketball abilities, too, although you won’t find too many people who are likely to agree with that, and that’s including the die-hards. As is the case with most European nations they have a set-top league in which the best teams in the country compete, and it’s called the Lega Basket Serie A - which is regulated, unsurprisingly, by the Italian Basketball Federation.
Throughout history, a massive 99 different clubs aka teams have competed in the LBA, showcasing just how much diversity lies in Italian basketball. Between the years of 1958 and 2007 the LBA was considered to be the top-ranked domestic league on the continent, and while they no longer hold that distinction, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t still one of the very best in the business. No nation has ever won more EuroLeague titles, FIBA Korac Cups or FIBA Saporta Cups, showcasing just how dominant they’ve been over the years. They’re big, they’re bad, and aren’t afraid to let you know that they’re there.
The league was initially founded back in 1920, showcasing the history that runs through the very core of Italian basketball as they approach their 100-year anniversary in 2020. Over time the structure has changed and been altered more times than we can count, but in its current incarnation, there are 16 teams involved in the LBA on year by year basis with the lowest ranked team every season being relegated to Serie A2. The team that replaces them is determined by a playoff system, meaning that even if you manage to stroll through the regular season and finish top of the table, your promotion still won’t be secured unless you can keep up your consistency throughout the playoffs.
As is the custom in Europe, the round-robin format is in place for the LBA. The season, which lasts from October all the way through until May, sees every team play the other both at home and away. Instead of official win/loss records like in North America, you get two points for a victory and, naturally, zero for a defeat. The eight top teams of the 6 enter the playoffs, with the quarter-finals being a best of five, and the semis/actual finals being a best of seven. There are distinct rules and regulations behind actually competing in the league in the first place, too, with every single team being required to play in a stadium with a capacity of 5,000. So if you ever think that they aren’t doing everything in their power to improve the popularity of the game, think again.
Interestingly enough the Italian league has been dominated by incoming foreign players more so than any other in recent years, and because of that, set rules have been put in place. Every single team in the league can pick five players that originate from outside of the European Union, or three foreigners from outside the EU and then four foreigners from inside of Europe. Then, at the end of the season, those who picked the first option have the chance to win up to €500,000 courtesy of their commitment to playing at least five Italians in their squad - whereas those who chose option number two can only receive up to €200,000. It sounds complicated, but it’s a unique and effective way to deal with an issue that will eventually spread throughout the whole continent.
Our seemingly never-ending tirade on Europe as a whole continues, with at least six Italian sides taking part in European competition during any given season. One competes amongst the elite of the elite in EuroLeague, two in the EuroCup, and three in the Basketball Champions League - which you’d think would hold a higher prestige based on name value alone. While it’s great for them to be able to showcase themselves on such a stage, they haven’t been able to cement their legacy in the top tier over the last few years with Olimpia Milano finishing down in 15th during the latest EuroLeague - with only Anadolu Efes of Turkey below them.
While plenty of the teams involved currently compete under title sponsor names, Olimpia Milano, in their purest form, are the most successful Italian team in town. They’ve won a whopping 28 championships throughout their history, with the first coming in 1936 and the latest being just this year. Virtus Bologna and Varese have won 15 and ten respectively, but the fact that they haven’t lifted the trophy since 2001 and 1999 should tell you all that you need to know. There’s certainly still a level of variety to be found in the quality, but overall, things are on the up - and these are the 16 teams that are set to carry the torch forward in the 2018/19 campaign.
In an example of what sponsorship can do to a club, here we have the 16 teams competing next season: Alma Pallacanestro Trieste, AX Armani Exchange Milano, Banco di Sardegna Sassari, Dolomiti Energia Trento, Fiat Torino, Germani Basket Brescia, Grissin Bon Reggio Emilia, New Basket Brindisi, Openjobmetis Varese, Red October Cantu, Segafredo Virtus Bologna, Sidigas Avellino, The Flexx Pistoia, Umana Reyer Venezia, Vanoli Cremona, and finally, VL Pesaro.
A parade of star players have competed in the LBA over the years, with perhaps the most notable being San Antonio Spurs’ own Manu Ginobili who won the MVP award in back-to-back years. Interestingly enough the Americans have won the last five MVP awards as their takeover of the league continues, with James Nunnally, Marcus Landry and Jason Rich being amongst the big names. There’s also a specific Italian Basketball Hall of Fame, too, where the majority of the countries finest reside.
So if you’re looking for something different to add to your basketball viewing schedule, consider the always eventful LBA.