What if you love the EuroLeague, but not only does your city not have a team, but your country does not either? There are fans who will drive virtually anywhere to watch a good EuroLeague game. One of them is Jan Zidek of the Czech Republic.
If the name Zidek sounds familiar to EuroLeague fans, there is good reason. Jan comes from a famous basketball family. His father Jiri Zidek Sr. helped Slavia Prague reach the EuroLeague final in 1966 and lift the Cup Winners’ Cup in 1969, among many other highlights. His brother Jiri Zidek Jr. is one of just four players to win both the NCAA and the EuroLeague titles.
After growing up around the game, Jan longs for the passion of watching the EuroLeague live, which leads him on marathon car rides to recapture the experience time after time. He has even been to several Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Fours, including the most recent edition in Belgrade.
“I love the EuroLeague and travel a lot to watch games,” Jan said in Belgrade. “There are no EuroLeague games in Prague, but I don’t mind driving to EuroLeague cities to watch good games. We were in Kaunas this season; that’s 1,300 Km away from home. We went there, saw the game and came back in the same day. And I went to work the next day!”
Jan loves EuroLeague games and driving, so that was the natural way for him to get from home to Belgrade, which was nearly 900 Km away. “We went by car during the night. We had to wait for half an hour on the border between Hungary and Serbia, but it was quite good. We found many cars with Zalgiris fans along the way,” Zidek said.
Germany is a nearby destination for Jan, and he has been to several ALBA Berlin and Brose Bamberg games over the years, since both cities are located roughly 350 Km from the Czech capital. Jan said he has also been to some far-away places. “We went to twice to Athens to watch Panathinaikos against Fenerbahce and also the Greek derby, Olympiacos against Panathinaikos. That was an amazing experience.”
What causes Jan to travel so far to watch EuroLeague games when he could be watching them on TV? It is all about being there and enjoying the experience, he said. “In the EuroLeague you find great basketball atmospheres, the best you can find. If you compare it to the NBA, the EuroLeague is more interesting for the fans. I have been to Belgrade to watch several Crvena Zvezda home games in the last two years and the atmosphere is amazing,” Jan said. “But if you ask me about the best atmosphere, it was probably at Panathinaikos. They played against Zeljko Obradovic and you could tell that is always a special game in OAKA.”
Jan does not deny that his family’s rich basketball history plays a role in his love of the game. “Basketball is in my blood. My father was the best basketball player in the Czech Republic in the 20th century, and my brother played in the NBA, won the NCAA title and also the EuroLeague with Zalgiris Kaunas. We breathe basketball at home!”
One of the most important days of the year for Jan is when the EuroLeague calendar is published in early July. That is when he figures out which games he can drive to.
“I decided to start traveling to games many months before the EuroLeague season started two years ago,” he said. “I had a first look to the calendar and marked down the games I wanted to watch live. I saw where the best games are played and made plans to go there.”
When it comes to great basketball atmospheres, nothing tops the Final Four and for Jan, a veteran of several Final Fours, Belgrade was no exception.
“I had a lot of fun in Belgrade, it was very interesting. I thought Fenerbahce would win, but Madrid played very well and fought hard. Doncic had a good game and the team recovered well after beating CSKA in the semifinals,” he said “Next season, I would like to go to the Final Four in Vitoria. I have never been to a Final Four in Spain and I am sure it will be great!”