SPORTS Inspired by basketball and its indelible history
Krisjana Barona street, 107 – this address in downtown Riga is pretty familiar to many Latvian basketball fans for being the home of one of the most significant sporting gymnasiums in the country – Daugava Sporta Nams. Opened in the mid 1960s, this old school has etched its name in Latvian sports history as once the home floor for Riga TTT, a legendary women’s basketball club of the 1970s and 1980s with a superhuman 217 cm center, Uljana Semjonova, on the roster and instilling fear in every opponent on the court. These days, it operates as a centre for Riga’s aspiring young basketball players. No exaggeration, Daugava Sporta Nams is a significant and remarkable part of Latvian basketball.
Not everyone may know, however, that the building’s top floor houses another tenant – Latvia’s Basketball Museum, which was founded in April of 2015 as a separate part of the Sports Museum. Directed by Aija Erta, it has put on display a lot of exhibits, many of which were donated by former hoopsters and coaches. Among the valuable items are sneakers, jerseys, sport trophies and a couple of shelves with old VHS cassettes containing the recordings of already historic games now begging to be digitised.
The museum’s trove is the paraphernalia that once belonged to the larger than life basketball court giant, Uljana Semjonova. Right after you mount this historic gym’s wide stairs and open the basketball museum’s creaky front door, you are immediately greeted by a gigantic cardboard copy of the most famous Latvian athlete ever.
Uljana was the leading women's basketball player in the world in the 1970s and 1980s. With TTT, she won 15 championships in the Soviet Union and the European Champion's Cup 15 times. Semjonova was also very dominant in international play, winning two Olympic Gold medals while playing for the USSR in 1976 and 1980, and never lost a game in official international competition.
The awe-inspiring pictures of the dazzling times along with the trophies and the other knick-knacks of the invincible TTT player are certainly the cherry on the cake for many museum visitors. If some want to hear more about “Ulja”, the moniker Semjonova was known by during her career, Erta is ready to come forward. Her favorite story goes back to the day when Semjonova was inducted in the Basketball Hall of Fame. During the ceremony, none other than the NBA great, Larry Bird, greeted Ulja, confessing he had always wanted to play alongside the famous Latvian center.
Yet the Latvian Basketball Museum has got room for development - Erta cherishes ambitious plans not only to expand the museum’s expositions, but also is eyeing the square right in front of the Daugava Sporta Nams. Two new structures are supposed to spring up there in the fall of 2018. The first one, spiralshaped, will depict a ball swooshing through the basket in a smooth, spiral motion. The second one will be a 4-meter statue of Valdemaras Baumanis, the coach of the Latvian National Team, which in 1935 won the first European Men’s Basketball Championship.
So, soon, walking down Baron Street, even for the most casual sports fans, will be an awe-inspiring experience, mainly due to the installations. The director believes it will help lure many of the gawkers into the museum, to see, for example, a plaque with the key dates of Latvian basketball history etched. After taking a stroll through the history-breathing past and visualizing what the future may hold, hardly anyone will resist from falling (anew) in love with the hoops - the way the game of basketball is affectionately called in America. And the museum exposition will definitely help you get answers, if you do not know them, to some key questions. Like, who invented this beautiful game? Where did it appear first? How many players took part in the first official game? What about Latvian basketball? And many others.
Erta, the Director, also ponders setting up an exposition under the name “Basketball Inspiration”. That and much more should be available to the general public already from the fall of 2018. One can keep up with all the museum news on its official Facebook page -
Uljana Semjonova was invincible on the basketball court through the 1970s and 1980s
Daugava Sporta Nams is a home for Latvia’s basketball museum