Basketball is one of Slovenia’s most popular sports. Every year, thousands of fans root for the national team or, more recently, for Slovenian players in the NBA. Years before the first Slovenian played for any foreign team, however, a man named Ivo Daneu became a true international basketball star – and he remains a legendary figure to this day.
Born in Slovenia’s second city of Maribor in 1937, Daneu spent a part of his youth playing tennis, but his body made him a natural for basketball; he grew to a height of 184 centimeters (6’4’’). In fact, he soon emerged a s successful shooting guard, first in his native town and then in Ljubljana, where he joined Olimpija, Slovenia’s leading team.
Olimpija was then at the height of its success, and Daneu was its brightest star. He helped take the team to six Yugoslav championships and was even wooed by foreign teams at a time when international transfers were exceedingly rare. Even Real Madrid made an offer, but Tito’s Yugoslavia and Franco’s Spain had no diplomatic relations, which made the move politically impossible.
Daneu also played 209 games for the Yugoslav national team, and in the process, became one of European basketball’s most recognizable faces. He was particularly well-known for his hook shot, which made him a reliable scorer even from great distances. He won the MVP title numerous times and was named Yugoslavia’s Athlete of the Year in 1967. Always a hard worker, he even held a full-time job throughout much of his basketball career.
Daneu’s crowning achievement, however, came relatively late in his career. In 1970, he helped to lead the Yugoslav national team to the World Championship title as the team’s captain. When Yugoslavia defeated the U.S. for the gold in Ljubljana, the entire country went crazy. At the time, professional NBA players were not allowed to participate in the championship, but even so, the Yugoslav victory was a significant achievement.
Before retiring from basketball, Daneu spent some time as a coach for Olimpija. In 2007, he was inducted into the International Basketball Hall of Fame, the only Slovenian to have received the honor. These days, many Slovenians play for prestigious teams around the world, but Ivo Daneu remains an incomparable legend – the first Slovenian who achieved true basketball stardom.