SPORTS In­spired by bas­ket­ball and its in­deli­ble his­tory

The Baltic Times - - SPORTS - Vic­tor Shestopalov

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

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