The name of the legendary Georgian basketball player, Zurab Sakandelidze (1945-2004) is well known to specialists and basketball fans in dozens of countries around the world. He was born and raised in an ancient Georgian town, Kutaisi. There he began playing basketball under the leadership of the honored coach of Georgia and the USSR, Soliko Tortladze (1919-1982), since his 17 till the end of his career in played for “Dinamo” Tbilisi, won the USSR Cup (1969), several times became medalist of the USSR Championships, finalist of the Cup of European Cups (1969). As a player of the USSR national team, he became the Olympic champion (1972), world champion (1967), four times European Champion (1967, 1969, 1971 and 1973), bronze medalist of the 1968 Olympic games, 1970 World Cup and 1973 European Championship, he was awarded as the best defender of the 1967 European Championship and included in the symbolic team of European Championship 1967.
June 2nd 2023 it was announced that Zurab Sakandelidze is inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame by decision of FIBA. The ceremony will take place on August 23 in Manila, two days before the opening of the 2023 World Cup. Z. Sakandelidze is a first Georgian basketball player inducted into this Hall of Fame.
Interview with Z. Sakandelidze in 2002
The author of these lines was lucky to interview (in Tbilisi 2002). Z. Sakandelidze and his friend, Olympic champion in 1972, European Champion in 1971, Mikhail Korkia (1948-2004) were both playing for many years for the “Dinamo” Tbilisi (Georgia) and the USSR national team .
Then my colleague Nugzar Kereselidze and I prepared a special story for TV broadcast “NTV” dedicated to the 30th anniversary of the victory of the USSR team at the 1972 Olympics and the role of Sakandelidze and Korkiya in this victory .
I would like to citate part of this interview now.
“-You and Mikheil Korkia were a starting line-up of the final match of the 1972 Olympic games versus the United States.
– The hours before the final game, the head coach of the USSR team, Vladimir Kondrashin (1929-1999) informed us about his decision – me and Korkia were the starting line-ups’ players, noting that he really hoped for us. Kondrashin said that “Sakandelidze and Korkia are a secret weapon against the US team.” Mikheil and I were in great shape, we, like others, did our best to win the final (51:50)
-At 30 you interrupted playing, it was too early.
– I could still play for a couple of years, but I was very tired – after all, since childhood, for more than 20 years, all the time training, intense sports regime, flights and injuries, so I decided to leave. “
Matsatso Mgeladze about Zurab Sakandelidze
Sakandelidze’ widow Matsatso Mgeladze, in a conversation with the author of these lines, recalled interesting facts from the life of Sakandelidze.
-Me and Zurab were married in 1969. He was 24 years old and at the zenith of his career. As a student in Tbilisi, together with my friends, I often attended the basketball and water polo matches and met him at one of the water polo. He continued training with even more energy. Then there was no Internet and, therefore, when he was leaving for other cities and countries, we rarely, but talked on the phone.
-While the USSR national team had a tour in the United States, he and a couple of other basketball players were offered to stay and play at NBA.
– I had heard about it from Zurab and other players of the USSR national team of that period. In 1969, he was offered a solid contract in the NBA, but at that time the USSR government did not allow athletes to play for foreign clubs. Zurab knew about this and refused all offers. If he secretly remained in the United States, then in the USSR the authorities could harass his family and relatives (It should be distinguished that since February 1921 Georgia has been occupied by Bolshevik Russia and was part of the Soviet Union between 1922-1990- author).
– Which player was he friends with?
– In addition to Mikheil Korkia in the USSR national team, Zurab was very friendly with Modestas Paulauskas, with whom, even in 1964 as part of the USSR youth team, he became the European champion. Paulauskas was the captain of the USSR national team for many years. Zurab was also friends with Ivan Edeshko, Alzhan Zharmukhamedov(1944-2022), Sergey Belov (1944-2013) and Alexander Belov(1951-1978). The USSR national team of the late 1960s and early 1970s was staffed with very strong players.
– Did FIBA decide to enter Zurab into the FIBA Hall of Fame?
too- Yes, I was informed about it in advance – I got a call from the Georgian Basketball Federation. At the ceremony on August 23rd in Manila our family is invited. We decided that it would represent my grandson George. Thanks to FIBA for its decision to perpetuate the memory of Zurab.