Lithuania is a country of less than 3 million people. Nowadays, emigration is one of the biggest challenges that we are trying to cope with as many people leave the country for economic reasons. There are not that many of us in the World! No surprise that every time we hear that some famous person also has Lithuanian blood, it makes us curious to find out more about them. Sometimes it also makes us think what if all those people would have stayed in Lithuania, how would our country look like now??
Today big Lithuanian communities can be found in the USA, Canada, Australia, Latin American and Western European countries. There are many people that we are proud to call Lithuanians (even though, that’s probably a bit exaggerated). This series are dedicated to them!
Do you know why basketball is so popular in Lithuania? Because we are good at it. Why are we good at it?
In 1936 basketball was added to the Summer Olympic games in Berlin. Back then the USA won the gold medals. One of the players who led the American Olympic basketball team to victory was Frank Lubin (Pranas Lubinas).
Frank Lubin was born in January 7, 1910 in Los Angeles. Both of his parents were Lithuanian immigrants who came to the USA seking for a better life. Frank grew up trying different kinds of sports but being a tall man 198 cm (6 ft 6 in), in the end he chose basketball. After becoming an Olympian champion in Berlin, instead of coming back the USA, in 1936 Frank together with his dad and wife went to Lithuania to visit their relatives. It was his first time in Lithuania. Even though it was supposed to be a short visit, he stayed here for a few months. He started teaching Lithuanians to play basketball. Before that this sport wasn’t popular here at all (actually, our neighbors Latvians were really good at it back then and were the European champions at that time).
The Lithuanian government realized what a valuable player and coach Frank Lubin was, that’s why they tried to make him stay in Lithuania. Loads of letters from the government, as well as an encouragement from his Lithuanian father to help his homeland, convinced Frank to lead the Lithuanian basketball team to European championships in 1937 and 1939. Lithuanians won gold medals and that’s how a new religion called basketball was born in our country.
Frank Lubin left Lithuania before World War II. He fled back to the USA where he spent the rest of his life. Frank was planning to represent the Lithuanian basketball team in Tokyo Olympics in 1940 but, unfortunately, the war started and it never happened. It took another 50 years for him to come back to Lithuania again (he visited it in 1989). However, even if he spent only a few years in Lithuania, his impact for the country’s sport was so big that nowadays Frank Lubin is often called the Godfather of Lithuanian basketball!
And that’s why basketball is so popular here! It all started before the World War II, it’s been a long road but nowadays we are proud to say that Lithuania is a country of basketball!