Remembering ’89: Jiri Zidek

Posted on 09 November 2009 by admin

Entering the autumn of 1989 Jiri Zidek was 16 years old, seven feet tall, and a budding fixture with the Sparta Prague and Czechoslovak national basketball teams. That seemed the likely upper limit of his athletic career – a star at home, barely known abroad, glimpsed in (and getting glimpses of) the West in international and club competitions, following in the footsteps of his hoops-playing dad, Jiri Sr.

November 1989 changed all that. Two years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Prague demonstrations in which he took part, Zidek was a freshman at UCLA, one of the most storied programs in American college basketball. In 1995, as UCLA’s starting center, he became the first (and to date only) Czech to play on a U.S. college basketball champion; he went on to become the first of his countrymen to make the NBA and to win a Euroleague title (with Lithuania’s Zalgiris Kaunas in 1999).

In 2003 Zidek returned to the Czech Republic and won two national league titles with the Nymburk squad before retiring due to knee trouble in 2006. Now 36, he works in the front office at Nymburk, where he talked to TOL contributor Lucie Kavanova about the heady days of November 1989 and the way they changed the trajectory of his life.

Remembering ’89: Jiri Zidek from Transitions Online on Vimeo.

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