Lietuvos krepšinio lyga
|Founded||April 22, 1993|
|Number of teams||10|
|Level on pyramid||1|
|Domestic cup(s)||King Mindaugas Cup|
Basketball Champions League
FIBA Europe Cup
|TV partners||TV6, TV3, DELFI TV|
|2016–17 LKL season|
Lietuvos krepšinio lyga (LKL) (English: Lithuanian Basketball League) is the premier professional men's basketball league in Lithuania, composed of 10 teams, and a member of the Lithuanian Basketball Federation. Top LKL clubs are annual participants of the top international competition in Europe, including the Euroleague.
On April 22, 1993, the Lietuvos krepšinio asosiacija (English: Lithuanian Basketball Association) (LKA) was founded. It was the first professional sports organisation in Lithuania. Lietuvos krepšinio lyga was built on the foundation of the LKA. The league's headquarters is located in Vilnius.
Foundation and Žalgiris dominance
The Lithuanian Basketball Association was founded in 1993, when eight of the strongest Lithuanian basketball clubs' officials met with representatives of the Šarūnas Marčiulionis basketball fund. The original eight teams were: Žalgiris Kaunas, Atletas Kaunas, Drobė Kaunas, Statyba Vilnius, Olimpas Plungė, BC Šilutė, Lietkabelis Panevėžys and Neptūnas Klaipėda. This association would soon announce their basketball league that would start in the upcoming fall. Later on, before the season started, the LKA and their new league accepted two more teams – Lavera Kaunas and NECA Kaunas. Although there had been early attempts to play club basketball in Lithuania right after restoring independence from the Soviet Union in 1990 with the same clubs that would later form the LKL, Marčiulionis, being the only Lithuanian that has played overseas in the National Basketball Association at the time, brought his experience of how a high level organized basketball is run back home. For example, the inaugural season featured something used primarily in American sports, a draft, of three rounds. Olimpas went as far as selecting Marčiulionis himself in the second round, though no more drafts were held after that.
Following the 1993-94 season, the finalists of last season's LKAL, Sakalai Vilnius & BC Šiauliai joined the league, while Drobė Kaunas decided to withdraw due to financial difficulties. The 1994-95 season saw the league's foreign players emerge as star power, before they were more known to be role players. In the 1995-96 season the league continued to accept the champions of the LKAL to the league, Savy Alytus joined the league. Sharpshooter Joe Vickery became the first foreigner to lead the LKL in scoring for Olimpas. League officials would start pressuring teams to play in better arenas by setting up certain criteria that were necessary to get accepted into the league. That's why no more teams were accepted until 1998 when Olimpas Plungė went bankrupt and was replaced by BC Kraitienė based in Marijampolė. Some of the strongest teams like Šilutė and Atletas faded away to the bottom of the league and left the league.
During this time period, the league had been dominated by Žalgiris. They won the league's championship trophy for six consecutive years, from 1994 through 1999. Their main rival during those years was Atletas Kaunas led by Saulius Štombergas and a young Žydrūnas Ilgauskas acquired from Žalgiris' youth team. Ilgauskas was selected 20th overall in the 1996 NBA draft, making him the first NBA player coming straight from the LKL. In 1999 Žalgiris, led by Tyus Edney, became the first Lithuanian team to win the top European basketball competition, the Euroleague title.
Golden era of Lithuanian basketball
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In the 1999-2000 season Lietuvos rytas shocked defending Euroleague champions Žalgiris by ending their dominant run. That sparked most likely the biggest rivalry in Lithuanian sports, the competitiveness has brought over to politics and society between the two biggest cities in Lithuania. The next season, the Green got their revenge by beating Vilnius in the finals. But in 2002, Lietuvos rytas, led by Ramūnas Šiškauskas and Arvydas Macijauskas, once again defeated Žalgiris. However, Žalgiris fought back the subsequent season. In 2002-2003 Žalgiris attracked its well-acclaimmed former players Mindaugas Timinskas, Saulius Štombergas, and Gintaras Einikis, who led the team to the championship trophy by beating Lietuvos Rytas 4-2. The next season, arguably the greatest player in the history of Lithuanian basketball, Arvydas Sabonis has joined the team. He became the sole owner of a team and decided to finish his glorious career where it all began - wearing green jersey. In addition, team has acquired Tanoka Beard, who holds the highest ever efficiency rating in the history of Euroleague with 63 points, and Latvian sharpshooter Ainars Bagatskis. The final was a one-way traffic with Žalgiris beating Lietuvos Rytas 4-0 on average by 19 points. However, it was Tanoka Beard who was leading the Greens in the finals averaging a stunning 27,25 efficiency rating throughout the finals. The story was very similar in the 2005 finals where Žalgiris once again dominated Lietuvos Rytas by 4-0. This Lietuvos Rytas lost all games by at least 9 points. The final was somewhat exceptional because Žalgiris players like Darjuš Lavrinovič, Dainius Šalenga, and Paulius Jankūnas, all have started to produce big numbers.
There's no doubt this was a golden era in Lithuanian basketball as 2003 was the year the Lithuania men's national basketball team won the Eurobasket 2003, the team featured a fair share of LKL players – Ramūnas Šiškauskas, Dainius Šalenga and Giedrius Gustas. In addition to that, some of the key players for the national team played in the LKL that same season.
The competitiveness didn't stop there. In 2006, Lietuvos rytas joined Žalgiris in the strongest European basketball competition, the Euroleague. That season the Reds, led by Robertas Javtokas, Simas Jasaitis, and Fred House, beat Žalgiris 4–0. But from then on Žalgiris started winning once again – two titles in a row (2007, 2008). In 2007 finals the Greens have won 4-2 led by all-around international players. In total, it was the final with most international players on both squads: both teams have 5 players from abroad each. The year after Žalgiris added Marcus Brown, who, at that time, had the most points in the history of Euroleague. As a result, Žalgiris managed to win the trophy by downing Lietuvos Rytas 4-1. Marcus Brown was named the MVP of the finals averaging 15,6 points per game. In 2008–2009, led by Chuck Eidson, Artūras Jomantas and Marijonas Petravičius, Lietuvos rytas stopped the Greens from a three-peat, beating Žalgiris 4–1. In this final Lietuvos Rytas managed to beat Žalgiris by 42 points in game two, though, lost by 26 points in game three. The swing of 68 points is the highest in the finals history of Lithuanian Basketball League. In 2009–10 season Vilnius claimed first back to back title, beating Žalgiris 4–3. However, the finals saw only one game out of 7 going down the wire.
2010–11 saw Kaunas reclaim the title, beating Vilnius 4–1. In the finals of 2012 Žalgiris was the winner again, by sweeping Lietuvos Rytas 3–0. It was the first final for Žalgiris in the brand new Žalgiris Arena. In the 2012-2013 season, a much more powerful Žalgiris easily dominated the league and Lietuvos Rytas, winning the series 4-0. During game two Žalgiris allowed only 45 points - the lowest in the history of the finals of LKL. During the 2013-14 season, Žalgiris, despite having reached the Euroleague Top 16 phase, struggled in the national league, finishing 4th in the regular season, while Lietuvos rytas finished 1st. That eventually led to a semifinal between the two teams that played in the last 15 finals of the competition. After winning a dramatic series 2-1 in Vilnius, Žalgiris continued their run of having appeared in all of the finals since the league's foundation. Neptūnas would beat Tonybet in the second semifinal and appeared in their first LKL finals of club history. Even though Žalgiris saw their three-peat after winning the series 4-2. This was the first LKL champions trophy for Šarūnas Jasikevičius who came back to his hometown team for the last season of his career. Additionally, Žalgiris long-time player Paulius Jankūnas recorded LKL finals' first ever triple double with 15 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists.
The 2014-2015 season saw the introduction of the 'four wheel system', where all the teams have to play 40 games with no exceptions for teams competing in international competition like the past. This year Žalgiris was able to finished 1st, but not before a dramatic win against Lietuvos rytas in the last game of the season 82-81.
...there's no better advertisement for Lithuanian basketball than this match. The season is long, forty games, but everything is settled not only in the last game of the season, but in the last seconds of that game.— Gintaras Krapikas, head coach of Žalgiris
Žalgiris continued to dominate in the playoffs sweeping rivals Lietuvos rytas once again in the final. Despite a familiar ending, the season was marked by the growing competitiveness of the league, Neptūnas joined Žalgiris and Lietuvos rytas as a powerhouse and this edition saw a couple of upsets and close games from teams such as Pieno žvaigždės and Juventus Utena. Although a strong competitor Prienai had to go through blank season. However, the final saw a two usual suspects once again - Žalgiris and Lietuvos Rytas. The Greens once again took the trophy back home by beating rivals 4-0. Team from Kaunas was led by all around sharpshooters in James Anderson and Artūras Milaknis who averaged 15,3 and 14,3 points a piece. The latter was named the MVP of the finals.
Six 2015–16 LKL season teams participated in the European tournaments: Žalgiris (Euroleague), Lietuvos rytas and Neptūnas (ULEB Eurocup), Juventus, Pieno žvaigždės, Šiauliai (FIBA Europe Cup). Lietkabelis, Vytautas and Nevėžis competed in the Baltic Basketball League. Dzūkija was the only LKL club not participating in any European or regional tournaments. The off-season moves by teams such as the rebranded Prienai (Vytautas Prienai–Birštonas), Lietkabelis and the continued work from last season's playoff seeds gave fans hope for one of the most competitive seasons in league history. Žalgiris defended their title against Neptūnas, who made their second final appearance, this time beating Rytas in the semi-final serie.
The 2016-17 LKL season off-season saw the rise of Lietkabelis, as tensions between FIBA and the EuroLeague resulted into them receiving a wild card as replacement in the Eurocup and greatly improving their roster which included signing the Lavrinovič twins (Darjuš and Kšyštof). A record of 8 Lithuanian teams will compete in a European tournament this season, which is likely to result in adding to the ever improving competitiveness of the league. Consequently, LKL also achieved the average attendance record.
|Lietuvos Krepšinio Lyga teams|
|Team||Location||Arena||Founded||Joined LKL||Head Coach|
|Dzūkija||Alytus||Alytus Arena||2012||2013||Andrej Urlep|
|Juventus||Utena||Utena Arena||1999||2009||Antanas Sireika|
|Lietkabelis||Panevėžys||Cido Arena||1964||2007||Kazys Maksvytis|
|Lietuvos rytas||Vilnius||Siemens Arena||1963||1993||Rimas Kurtinaitis|
|Neptūnas||Klaipėda||Švyturys Arena||1964||1993||Dainius Adomaitis|
|Nevėžis||Kėdainiai||Kėdainiai Arena||1992||2002||Paulius Juodis|
|Pieno žvaigždės||Pasvalys||Pasvalys Pieno žvaigždės Arena||2000||2011||Ramūnas Cvirka|
|Šiauliai||Šiauliai||Šiauliai Arena||1994||Vaidas Pauliukėnas|
|Vytautas||Prienai-Birštonas||Prienai Entertainment and Sports Arena||1994||2009||Virginijus Šeškus|
|Žalgiris||Kaunas||Žalgiris Arena||1944||1993||Šarūnas Jasikevičius|
Podium by season
- In 1994–95, 1995–96 and 1996–97 seasons no bronze medal game was played. Positions are determined by regular season standings of the semifinalists.
Performance by club
|Team||Winners||Runners-Up||Bronzes||Fourth places||Winning years|
|Žalgiris||18||5||0||0||1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016|
|Lietuvos rytas||5||11||3||0||2000, 2002, 2006, 2009, 2010|
- "Apie mus". LKL.lt. Retrieved 27 December 2015.
- "FIBA sprendimas: „Lietkabelio" ir „Vytauto" į turnyrą nepriėmė". Krepsinis.net. Retrieved 3 August 2015.
- "BBL reguliariajame sezone varžysis trys Lietuvos komandos". BasketNews.lt. Retrieved 21 August 2015.
- "LKL lankomumas – didžiausias lygos istorijoje". BasketNews.lt (in Lithuanian).