Bozidar Maljkovic, basketball coach, winner of four European champions titles with three different clubs – Jugoplastika, Limoges, and Panathinaikos, is one of the most important figures of Serbian sports. Since May 2017 he is the president of the Olympic Committee of Serbia.
Although this job separated him from the profession he’s in since his 20s, interview with him feels like a lecture on basketball, to which he devoted his entire life.
As a Belgrade outsider, life took him to Split where he changed the history of basketball and found his place among the immortals of this sport?
I started coaching by accident. I was playing for club Usce when the coach Milan Grbic went to the army, and all players fell into depression. However, one of the players, today a prominent Belgrade architect, pointed to me and said – this is our coach. It was not easy because you had to become an authority to your former teammates and prove to them that you know about basketball at least twice as better than them. It was then that I realized the truth that once you enter basketball, it’s very hard to leave it. But, unlike many of my colleagues who had great careers as players and became coaches after the thirties, I started off when I was 20 and everything I achieved, I did it on my own.
How did it happen that Jugoplastika hired you, an unknown coach?
I did not go to Split because they chose me but because no one wanted to come because the team was a problem. My good friend Djerdja then said that he will give everything he had, and he is a rich man, if Jugoplastika remains in the league. That’s how “good” the team was. But I followed the rule that the quantum of work done will correct possible mistakes. To translate to Serbian – no one can do more than us.
You did not deviate from your characteristic style even when you went abroad?
Limoges had a great sports center, but the locker room was not at that level. After winning one derby, I brought the journalists to the dressing room and told them that horses in France had better conditions than my players, who were then the champions of Europe and France. And I hit the ceiling, which was made of cork, and almost got electrified. The scandal erupted, the municipality was against me, but after seven days I knew that I won the battle because a group of ties appeared and asked what we needed.
How hard was it to impose your will on great players you trained?
I’ve never had a problem with the players. I gave them a day off one time, but I went to the office anyway and on the cameras looking at the court I saw two players practicing, so I immediately went there to train with them. You need to be an example, you need to show them that you are in the front row, holding a flag and enduring winds hitting you in the face and in the chest. And once you make a big result, you have the immunity to work.
What is the secret of your success?
When I came to Limoges with the title of European champion, I kicked out eight players, which is something that no other coach managed. But I had this authority thanks to my past work, my style, my rules of conduct that everyone had to follow.
How would you describe a coaching job?
The basketball team is like a ballet orchestra, everyone wants to be a prima ballerina. You have to talk to them a lot, especially today when you don’t have enough time due to a large number of games. You constantly have to explain their role to them so that they would understand what I am asking of them.
Who taught you the most about coaching?
Aleksandar Nikolic and Ranko Zeravica, two of our greatest basketball players. I call Professor Aca Patriarch Pavle and Ranko Dositej Obradovic of our basketball.
How hard it is for you not to work as a coach?
I was born to do that job. There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t catch up with something basketball related. I often wake up and prepare a training course and then remember I’m no longer a coach. My problem is that I started coaching early, when I was 20. It’s a job that consumes a man. It is a beautiful but very difficult job.
Are you ” breaking the ceilings ” on your new job too, in order to do what you think needs to be done?
We renovated a lot of things, but what I immediately implemented was to increase the number of women in the OCS. We expanded the Women’s Sports Commission led by Milena Reljin. I changed the statute so that Milica Mandic would become vice president. I follow Gaddafi’s example of being surrounded by women who did not leave him in the end, unlike his
Do you feel pressure to exceed the result from the Rio Olympics at the next Olympic Games?
I find very unintelligent those stories of people discussing sports over and sandwiches, who have no idea how the Olympic Committee works. And nobody asks whether we have money, unlike many other countries that have hundreds of millions of euros in the budget. Boza Maljkovic spent his life giving people money, finding employment to fellow coaches and was successful at it. Now I have to go to beg for money from some other people and it’s very hard for me to do.
What can Serbia offer, apart from sports?
Viminacium. It is an archaeological site and a place where Roman army barracks were erected and only four percent of it has been excavated, making it one of the three most important excavations in the world. Professor Korac, my neighbor and school friend, told me a lot about Viminacium, so I organized an excursion for our employees, and on April 18 we will have a meeting of OKS there. It’s not Tesla or Djokovic that Serbia is most famous for, but the fact that 18 Roman emperors were born here. We have the potential to organize cruiser tours and make it a tourist attraction. It’s our gold mine.
You lived in many countries, do you have a favorite place outside the borders of Serbia?
Although it is France for my family, for me it is Spain. Especially Andalusia, Cordoba, Malaga, Marbella … Everybody whom I recommended this area for a visit, thanked me. So my advice is for everyone who can to visit Spain because it is really special in many ways.