EuroBasket fever spreads across Lithuania

  • 2011-08-17
  • By Matt Garrick

VILNIUS - What do the world’s biggest basketball hoop, a Guinness World Record and 110,000 presold tickets have in common? It’s EuroBasket 2011: the European Basketball World Championships, exploding onto the courts around the country from Aug. 31 and set to slam-dunk the Lithuanian economy into its busiest commercial period of the last years.
Sectors as diverse as tourism and hospitality, to media and advertising have been preparing for an influx of patronage over the coming weeks, both foreign and local, as championship fever descends on the country.

The capital, Vilnius, will be all but transformed into a living basketball court, when the city landmark, the Television Tower, lights up into a 40 meter tall, 35 meter diameter basketball hoop, making it the world’s largest - and potentially highest as well. Constructed at a woozy 140-meter height, the hoop will be illuminated from the championship’s opening day.
In a feat of construction wizardry, 256,000 meters of cable will be strapped around the tower to build the hoop’s net, upon which will be connected 545 lamps. The hoop will shine from sundown to sunup, “until the very end of the Championship on September 19,” reported Web site

The Lithuanian pre-championship hype has become almost all encompassing: around the capital, billboards, beer cans and even inner city rubbish bins have undergone a basketball makeover.
Over 90 percent of tickets to EuroBasket matches have already passed hands, though sponsors, sportsbook companies and corporations were using the championships to further their own and their country’s coverage.
“For preparations, it’s just everything. It’s massive. From organizing hotels, referees, catering - the whole country is preparing for it,” said Rytis Sabas, Lithuanian public relations manager for international basketball body FIBA.

For those who were unable to snap up finals’ tickets in time, there will be no shortage of spots around the country to view the televised matches. In Lithuania’s second largest city, Kaunas, the host of the EuroBasket finals, during the event’s closing days, Sept. 18 and 19, the city has been predicted to be bedlam.
Logistics experts have anticipated that around 35,000 people will be in attendance on Nemunas Island, near the city’s center, and the Town Hall square will be equipped with giant screens for punters to cheer on the winners. 
Kaunas City Police were debating whether to shut traffic off from entering the city’s center while the events took place - during an International Hanseatic Days festival earlier this year, the closure of traffic allowed a 20,000-plus influx of pedestrians to flow through the city’s Old Town unhindered. 

With the championships now looming, the arena meant to be hosting the finals series in Kaunas, the 68-plus million euro Zalgiris Arena, at the time of publication remained unopened.
Construction work on the building, contracted to Telsiai-based Lithuanian firm Vetruna, had been plagued by low finances and slow rates of work for months, having missed multiple completion deadlines, including most recently on July 6.
The arena, which stands on the bank of the river Nemunas in Kaunas, is set to be the largest in the country, with seating capacities for nearly 15,000 spectators for basketball games, and more for concerts.

Though both Vetruna and the Kaunas Municipality neglected to reply to questions so close to  the Championships, FIBA have announced that they were not concerned by Vetruna’s apparent inability to keep deadlines. “We will be visiting the arena, to do the final checking. We are sure it will be ready to open on August 18, for a [friendly] game between Lithuania and Spain,” assured Sabas.

And the EuroBasket publicity frenzy continues in Kaunas, with Guinness World Record representatives expected to be in attendance in the city on Aug. 29, where Lithuania hopes to bounce a basketball feat into the record books.
The challenge was set that for five minutes, 60,000 basketballs will be dribbled simultaneously, which will be enough to destroy the current holder, which stands at a dramatically lower 5,000.
 The balls will be delivered here especially for the occasion, in six sea containers, “shipped from China,” reported Klaipeda regional newspaper Vakaru Ekspresas.

The Guinness World Record event will be telecast live to large screens around six Lithuanian cities.
Though this event promises to be ‘fan interactive,’ with members of the public encouraged to get involved, Lithuanian basketballers were already no strangers to world records. Legendary NBA pros Arvydas Sabonis and Zydrunas “Big Z” Ilgauskas have both ranked in the List of Tallest Players in National Basketball Association history, each recording a towering seven-foot three. Sabonis was also inducted into the American-based Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, on Aug. 12 this year.

As basketball grows in popularity around Europe, an otherwise football dominated continent, experts were remaining mum as to who would take away the coveted first place of the EuroBasket - though the home team was ranking strongly, according to bookmakers.

“Lithuania has been rated as second favorite to become outright winner of the men’s European Championships by BWIN bookmakers. It is, of course, a key market. From a European perspective, basketball is the number three sport in countries like Turkey, and even number two in countries like Greece. Its popularity tends to be reflected in the odds we offer for the outright winner of the World Championship, as the most successful teams tend to be from those countries,” said Klaus Lackner, spokesman of sportsbook BWIN.