Macedonia is the only part of the former Yugoslavia that hasn’t been ravaged by major conflict, but it’s always been on the brink. It’s a Christian nation with a bubbling Muslim population. Albanians in the northwestern corner of the country started an insurgency when they staged a mortar attack on a police station in the small town of Tearce in 2001.
The insurgency was soon quelled by an international community that has never accepted Macedonia under its own terms. It was admitted into the European Union in 1993 as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia instead of its preferred name of Republic of Macedonia because Greece essentially is being a pain in the ass.
It was under these conditions that the Macedonian basketball team entered Eurobasket. The team was tasked to represent Macedonia as well as it could, but with all the country’s problems, the team wasn’t given the highest priority. It was woefully underfunded. Nothing more than some balls and jerseys were provided. It couldn’t even recruit all the talent from the country. Albanians were barred from the team. What Dejan Lekic, the Secretary General of the Macedonian Basketball Federation, could do was naturalize one foreign player so that he could play for Macedonia. It’s a right for every national team playing under FIBA guidelines. Lekic chose Bo McCalebb.
McCalebb was a familiar breath of fresh air. In international ball, team style trumps the individual. Argentina, Spain, Lithuania and others are just single-celled organisms made of team passing and malleable roles. Even team USA is too loaded with stars for one person to be noticed over the team. Yet there was Bo: a singular, domineering force of dribble penetration trumpeting the star system that defines the NBA brand.
Bo knows basketball. This much was clear from the first group stage when he scored 27 in an upset victory over Greece. Perhaps that was a cool little moral victory for Macedonia due to the political context, but it pales in comparison to the quarterfinals win versus European powerhouse Lithuania. McCalebb scored 23 points in that game. He only had two assists. Those stats do no justice. McCalebb had to touch the ball every possession for the Macedonian offense to be a viable threat.
FYR of Macedonia didn’t win another game for the rest of Eurobasket. Didn’t matter. The damage was done.
“Borche [nickname for McCalebb] and the players have positioned us shoulder to shoulder with giant nations and have shown us that Macedonia is a great nation,” Georgi Filipovski, an information technology specialist from Skopje, said in a telephone interview. “They wiped out our inferiority complex about being losers from a small, insignificant country.”
– Import Helps Macedonia Find Unity by Dave Seminara
” The day when Macedonia was playing Russia for the bronze (medal) a friend of mine had posted on Facebook that he had heard his young Albanian neighbors cheering for the Macedonian team,” said [Mimoza] Kasapi-Nuhiu . “I remember his Facebook status saying ‘There is hope for this place after all …'”
– Macedonia’s Unlikely National Hero by Dean Irvine
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