17 February, 2020
23 February, 2021
Champions Egypt
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A time when Egypt was on top of European basketball

CAIRO (Egypt) - One of the least known yet eye-opening facts in international basketball history is that Egypt were once kings of Europe.

Egypt's national team has competed in African championships since 1962 yet before that, it took on European powerhouses like Greece, France, Lithuania and Turkey.

The City of a Thousand Minarets, Cairo, even hosted a European Championship for Basketball, as the EuroBasket was then called, in 1949.

And better yet for fans, the host nation won it, prevailing in all six of its games.

So 71 years ago,  visitors traveled to the city on the Nile to see the Great Pyramid of Giza, one of the Seven Wonders of the World, to witness the beauty of the Sphinx and to play basketball.

The Egyptians already had a couple of EuroBasket experiences under their belt by the time they hosted the tournament. They first played at a EuroBasket in 1937, in Riga, Latvia, and fell to Estonia, and eventual champions Lithuania. The team lost three other times by 2-0 scores, to Italy, Latvia and the Czech Republic by forfeit.

Egypt's first EuroBasket was in 1937 in Riga, where they played champions Lithuania (both teams in photo)

In their second appearance at the tournament 10 years later in Prague, Egypt did considerably better, winning six of seven games to finish third behind the Soviet Union and the Czechs.

In 1949, the Soviet Union, as reigning champions, had the opportunity to host the tournament but decided not to play, and the Czechs also elected not to stage the event since they had just done so in 1947.

Those decisions led to the tournament moving to Egypt.

By April, one month before the start of the tournament, Egypt, France, Italy, Turkey, Greece and the Netherlands had registered.

On May 4, just 11 days before the start of the tournament, tragedy struck in Italy. A plane carrying the Torino football team crashed and killed everyone on board.

Italy elected not to travel for the event.

With just five teams, organizers had to act. They invited Lebanon and Syria to send national teams, and both accepted to enlarge the field to seven countries. 

Once the basketball got underway, it was played outdoors, under the stars, in Heliopolis, a residential suburb of Cairo. The court was laid on the edge of the desert. It was dry, and it was hot!

Two of Egypt's first three wins came against Syria (71-44) and Lebanon (57-30), and they next cruised past Turkey (57-44), Greece (50-39) and France (57-36) to lift the title.

Hosts Egypt reigned supreme at FIBA EuroBasket 1949

Albert Fahmy Tadros, who was in the 1947 team and also the Egypt sides that appeared at the 1948 and 1952 Olympics, was the captain of the Pharaohs in 1949 while Abdel Rahman Hafez Ismail was the team's leading scorer at 14 points per game.

Other players included Hussein Kamel Montasser, Nessim Salah El-Dine, Fouad Abdelmeguid El-Kheir, Walid Chafik Saleh, Gabriel Armand Catafago, Youssef Mohammed Abbas, Mohammed A. El-Rashidi, Youssef Kamal Abouaouf, Medhat Mohammed Youssef, Mohammed Mahmud Soliman and two players whose last names were Saki and Batanouni -- records do not show their first names.

Egypt finished fifth the following year at the first FIBA Basketball World Cup, in Argentina.

Egypt were fifth at the inaugural FIBA Basketball World Cup in Argentina

In their last EuroBasket participation, in 1953 in Moscow, Egypt were eighth out of 17 countries after winning four of 10 games.

The first African Championship for Men, now called the FIBA AfroBasket, was held in Cairo in 1962. Egypt, which four years earlier had formed a political union with Syria to become the United Arab Republic (UAR), won the tournament, and again two years later in Morocco when the second AfroBasket was held.

In 1970, Alexandria was the site for the fifth AfroBasket and the UAR won it for a third time. The country was called the UAR until 1971. When the national team returned to the AfroBasket action in 1972, in Senegal, it was again known as Egypt. The Pharaohs came in second place behind Senegal.

Medhat Warda was a leading light in the Egypt teams that won the AfroBasket in 1975, and again in 1983, when the country went unbeaten at both events that were staged in Alexandria.

A 1.85m center, Warda was inducted to the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2019.

Egypt made headlines at FIBA AfroBasket 2013 when the team went on a surprising run to the FIBA AfroBasket Final in Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire, and qualified for the FIBA Basketball World Cup 2014 in Spain.