PRAGUE (AP) — Jiří Zídek Sr., voted the best Czech basketball player of the 20th century and the first Czech inducted into the FIBA Hall of Fame, has died. He was 78.
The Czech Basketball Federation announced the news on Saturday, saying he had a long-term illness without elaborating.
“Czech basketball is shrouded in grief today. A true giant has left,” the federation said on its website.
The 2-meter-tall Zídek (6-foot-9), nicknamed Andrej, was one of the best European centers of his time.
He played 257 games for Czechoslovakia, and was regularly the team’s top scorer.
He led the team to the silver medal at the 1967 European championship and to bronze in the 1969 Europeans. He played in one Olympics (eighth in 1972) and two world championships (sixth in 1970, 10th in 1974).
Zídek’s Slavia Prague reached the final of the 1966 European Champions Cup and he led all scorers. They were third in 1967. He was also the leading scorer when they lost the 1968 final of the Cup Winners Cup in Athens, but they won it a year later in Vienna.
Zídek said he was offered a deal from the Boston Celtics to play in the NBA in 1966. But for an athlete from behind the Iron Curtain, it was an impossible dream.
That dream came true for his son, Jiří “George” Zídek Jr., who became the first Czech to play in the NBA after he was drafted in 1995 by the Charlotte Hornets.
Zídek Sr. retired in 1979 and coached. He was considered one of the Euroleague’s 50 most important figures in 2008, and was inducted in the FIBA Hall of Fame in 2019.
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