Lietuvos krepšinio lyga

Lietuvos krepšinio lyga (LKL)
LKL logo.svg
FoundedApril 22, 1993; 25 years ago (1993-04-22)
First season1993–94
Country Lithuania
Number of teams10
Level on pyramid1
Relegation toNKL
Domestic cup(s) King Mindaugas Cup
International cup(s)EuroLeague
Champions League
FIBA Europe Cup
Current championsŽalgiris
(20th title)
Most championshipsŽalgiris
(20 titles)
PresidentRemigijus Milašius
TV partnersBTV,
2018–19 LKL season

Lietuvos krepšinio lyga (LKL) (English: Lithuanian Basketball League) is the premier professional men's club basketball league in Lithuania. It is composed of 10 teams, and it is a member of the Lithuanian Basketball Federation. The best LKL clubs are also annual participants of the top European-wide basketball competitions, including the top-tier level EuroLeague.

On April 22, 1993, the Lietuvos krepšinio asociacija (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 on 22 April 1993, when eight of the strongest Lithuanian basketball clubs' officials met with representatives of the Šarūnas Marčiulionis basketball fund in Vilnius. 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 be renamed to Lietuvos krepšinio lyga (LKL) due to legal issues, also announcing their that would start in the upcoming fall.[1] By the end of spring, before the season started, the LKA and their new league accepted two more teams – Lavera Kaunas and NECA Kaunas.[2]

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

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.[3] 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 attracted 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.[citation needed]

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 the 2009–10 season, Vilnius claimed first back to back title, beating Žalgiris 4–3.[citation needed]

Modern era

2010–11 saw Žalgiris reclaim the title, beating Lietuvos rytas 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 the LKL finals' first ever triple double with 15 points, 12 rebounds, and 10 assists in a game 3 victory 82:75. In the deciding 6th game, Žalgiris won in dominating fashion 90:70.

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 (EuroCup), Juventus, Pieno žvaigždės, Šiauliai (FIBA Europe Cup).[4] Lietkabelis, Vytautas and Nevėžis competed in the Baltic Basketball League.[5] 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 and easily won 4:1. Neptūnas made their second final appearance, this time beating Rytas in the semi-final series.

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 competed in a European tournament that season, which added to the ever-improving competitiveness of the league. Consequently, the LKL achieved the average attendance record,[6] with more than 2,000 spectators per game, during the regular season. Only Lietkabelis was able to fight defending champion Žalgiris, as Žalgiris easily defeated other top contenders Lietuvos rytas and Neptūnas. In the LKL semifinals, Lietkabelis beat Lietuvos rytas 3:1, to advance to the finals for the first time - where they lost to Žalgiris 1:4.

"Does not matter the strength of the opponent, no matter, if Žalgiris Kaunas or Rytas Vilnius wins, the result does not mater, it is important, that the Lord is with us."

— Pope Francis, during his speech with youngsters at the Cathedral Square in Vilnius, surprised by mentioning two strongest teams of the Lithuanian league.[7]
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