A man and a vision: Basketball, more popular than soccer!

The 2020 class of the NBA Hall of Fame, the gall­ery of American basketball legends, is one of the most star-studded in history. The late Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan, Kevin Garnett or Tamika Catchings, as well as other personalities, will receive the highest honors in basketball. One of these personalities, Patrick Baumann, was the man in the International Basketball Federation’s­­­­ leadership who blindly believed in the success of 3×3 basketball and its inclusion in the Olympic Program. He also supported the Sport Arena Streetball since its early years.

For 16 years, Patrick Baumann was the Secretary General of FIBA, a title he held at the moment of his passing, occurred due to a heart attack in the autumn of 2018 during the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires. He was an athlete, coach, referee. He studied law and occupied functions in various sporting organizations before he first stepped in the structure of the international basketball forum, in 1994.

Patrick Baumann in 2005

He was the man who changed the face of FIBA and left an astonishing legacy to world basketball, but especially to the organization he led.

“When Patrick joined FIBA, he was a no-one in the world of basketball. He had played in Italy, where he also officiated a little, and he had been a coach and a referee in Switzerland’s second league, a country not found among the known powers of basketball. That’s why it was difficult for him to be accepted by those who were already part of the FIBA structures at the time, not to mention he was very young”, remembers Lubomir Kotleba, one of the people who had been close to Patrick since the start of his new job. Kotleba was FIBA Sports Director for 25 years and in the past six years served as advisor to the FIBA secretary general.

The successor of a legend

Borislav Stankovic and David Stern

The man who was holding the position of Secretary General the moment Patrick Baumann joined FIBA, was the legendary Borislav Stankovic, who has recently passed away, on March 20th, 2020, at the age of 94. Stankovic is famous for playing a crucial role in taking the decision of allowing NBA players to participate at the Olympic Games starting with the 1992 Barcelona edition, practically opening the way for the Dream Team.

“Borislav Stankovic noticed how the NBA developed incredibly towards the end of the 80’ and the beginning of the 90’ under the command of a lawyer, David Stern, who was no basketball legend, but had leadership skills. (Stern had only played basketball in high-school, with his short career ending after a knee injury – author’s note). Therefore, Stankovic found in the person of Patrick a possible successor of the similar characteristic as Stern, and took him under his wing. Over a few good years, Patrick attended absolutely all meetings Stankovic was attending, he observed, he took notes and rarely spoke. He learned in silence, and the moment Stankovic retired, even though many people hoped to take over, there was only one man ready to continue to lead FIBA. And that was Patrick Baumann”, recollects Kotleba.

In 2002, at only 35 years old, Patrick Baumann was named Secretary General of FIBA, with his term officially starting in 2003.

A coach in the pursuit of the ideal team

“An extraordinary manager, a highly intelligent man, he spoke perfectly German, Italian, French, Spanish and English, and could instantly switch from one language to another, without mistake. A leader, who, even when breathing the rarefied air of world sports personalities, has never lost that volubility in behavior, that friendly style, full of humor, without treating anyone from above, for which everyone appreciated him. He was also a workaholic”, is Kotleba’s characterization of Patrick.

“People didn’t understand him at first. I remember that after FIBA moved their HQ to Geneva, there were seven employees. Patrick began bringing in people, but he was just as easily giving some of them up. This uncertainty scared lots of people, and I remember us having a conversation at one point, in which I told him «You know, Patrick, the people aren’t too fond of what is going on». His reply, I remember it to this day «Lubo, I am now a coach in the pursuit of the ideal formula of a team. It doesn’t mean that the ones who have been fired have no value, I would recommend them to anyone, but they just don’t fit in our team». I then understood we were dealing with a true leader”, Kotleba recounts.

Lubomir Kotleba

“With Patrick Baumann at the helm, FIBA has grown into a respectable, economically stable organization, with clear visions and missions, and, most importantly «scandal free». We never made the first page of the scandal newspapers. Of course, there were disputes, as in any organization, but we kept away from major problems”, added Lubomir Kotleba.

“3×3 is not that weird animal anymore”

Baumann was a man of action, focusing primarily on the global development of the youth sector and 3×3 basketball, two elements he considered key in achieving his vision, that basketball overlaps soccer to become the most popular sport on the planet by the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. Patrick Baumann’s last speech opened the 2018 FIBA Summit in Xi’An, China, and focused on this idea of global development of the sport through youth and 3×3 basketball.

“3×3 is no longer that weird animal in our yard. It is now present at the Olympic Games, where six other medals will be put up for battle, for countries that can use 3×3 as examples of good practice in the development of basketball. Not all nations can make a 5×5 national team, but anyone can make a 3×3 one. A good example is the FIBA 3×3 Asia Cup, where 38 of the 44 Asian nations were present, which is something never before seen”, Patrick Baumann said in his speech.

“Invest in youth and coaches, and not necessarily in coaches who teach children basketball skills. Of course, it is important for coaches to teach you fundamentals of basketball, but it is very important to have coaches who instill a passion for basketball in you, because that is how you succeed in building future talents. Invest in coaches and youth. We must prepare the next generation not only on the court, but also off the court”, Baumann added at the time.

“Sport Arena Streetball, the pillar of 3×3 development”

Being one of the oldest promoters of 3×3 basketball and the first to try the standardization and uniformization of the discipline through rules and competition formats, Sport Arena Streetball was tailor-made for the visions of the former FIBA Secretary General, and his respect towards our organization and Sport Arena Streetball staff was equally high.

“In general, in order to hold such a high position in an international forum, you must be a very good politician, and generally, politicians tend to lose that sense of action, that passion that pushes you to do things, and not just talk about them. Patrick Baumann was completely different. I have never met anyone to occupy such a high position and still offer me full confidence that if something was said, then it will be done”, says Vlad Constantinescu, manager of Sport Arena Streetball.

He always remembers Patrick Baumann’s words: “You injected the 3×3 virus in me and you spread this virus all over the world now”. “I know that talking about a virus during these times is not exactly appropriate, but these were his words whenever we met. We don’t know what’s so special about us, we don’t know if, eventually, we were simply the right people in the right place and at the right time, but his appreciation and encouragement always urged us to continue what we do, and make it better and better”, says Vlad Constantinescu.

Alex Sanchez (FIBA 3×3 Director), Patrick Baumann, Walter Sieber (IOC representative) and Yvan Mainini (at that time FIBA President), in 2013, in Bucharest

The former FIBA official came to Bucharest, for his first and only time, in 2013, when the event hosted by Sport Arena Streetball in the Constitution Square gathered the highest personalities in world basketball, representatives of the International Olympic Committee, as well as legendary players like Vlade Divac, Jorge Garbajosa and Sarunas Marciulionis, which was to be a premiere for our country.

That was a key moment for 3×3 basketball to receive the green light from the International Olympic Committee for it to be added to the Olympic disciplines. By choosing Bucharest and our team to handle that crucial event, Patrick Baumann had thus, once again, validated the Sport Arena Streetball project.

“Sport Arena Streetball is one of the pillars of the global development of 3×3 basketball, and their tournaments serve as examples of good practice around the world”, are the words of Patrick Baumann in one of the reference letters addressed to our organization.

Patrick Baumann together with the Sport Arena Streetball team (Radu Petre, Vlad Constantinescu and Adrian Popa) at the FIBA Headquarters, when the FIBA 3×3 World Tour Final was awarded for the city of Abu Dhabi, in the organization of Sport Arena

One of the visions of the man who has led FIBA for over 16 years, was that 3×3 basketball should develop mainly with the help of private promoters, instead of federations. It was inconceivable for FIBA, but this is how 3×3 basketball had undergone a rapid development in recent years, with more and more tournaments hosted by private organizations which promote the urban sport. The model pushed and challenged also the federations, who, in many countries, started to follow the trend and pay more and more attention to the new discipline.

The FIBA 3×3 Advisory Board meetings were often shaken up by his ideas, which were, at the time, considered to be coming from an outer space future. But this was Patrick Baumann, the man who saw long before the others and who always imagined long- and very long-term strategies. He then pushed people to contribute to accomplishing these strategies, making them believe in them, and that not through force, or superiority filled commands.

Moreover, anyone who has ever worked with Patrick Baumann, be it the FIBA President or a project-based collaborator, could have been taken by surprise and surveyed on specific issues in the ongoing projects. The former FIBA Secretary General always gave the impression of a man who was aware of everything happening in his yard, treating everyone equally, and carrying constructive and detailed conversations with everyone, not only during organized meetings, but also over a coffee or a glass of water, during a break.

“I think I was in the first year of my collaboration with FIBA, and at the time, I was still the man with the camera on my back, and not many people knew me. Already having had the chance to meet Mr. Baumann, when running into him at the FIBA HQ, he knew my name, that was the first surprise, but I was shocked that he perfectly knew what I was working on at that very moment and we carried a discussion on the subject”, says George Bucur, Head of FIBA 3×3 TV.

Patrick Baumann, Adam Silver and Yao Ming at the FIBA Basketball Summit in Xi’An

The representatives of Sport Arena Streetball at the FIBA Summit in Xian were to have Patrick’s extraordinary memory and the impact he had on his collaborators, tested on their own skin.

“A couple years had passed since we’ve met. On the first day in Xi’An, and shortly after his speech, during a break, my colleague, Adrian, suggested we should go say hello. At first, I didn’t want to, as he was surrounded by huge sports personalities like Adam Silver or NBA legends like Yao Ming and Stephon Marbury. Eventually, though, seizing the opportunity a freer moment presented us with, we did go. He saw us, he greeted us first, and funnily enough, he really knew who we are. “Sport Arena, you infested the whole world with the 3×3 virus”. A few weeks later he was gone. It was a shock. In a way, I was reconciled that we had greeted each other one more time. The world of basketball will rarely, or perhaps not at all, discover a man like Patrick Baumann”, says Vlad Constantinescu.

In December 2018, FIBA renamed its headquarters to the “Patrick Baumann House of Basketball” to honor the memory of the former Secretary General. One year later, in continuation of his memory, FIBA unveiled a statue of Patrick Baumann, which resides alongside statues of both William Jones and Borislav Stankovic at the entrance of FIBA Headquarters. Also. a 3×3 basketball court named Patrick Baumann was inaugurated in 2019 close to the FIBA Headquarters, with the already famous slogan From the streets to the Olympics marked on the baseline.

The NBA Hall of Fame Enshrinement Ceremony is scheduled to take place Saturday, the 29th of August, 2020, at the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Patrick Bauman court
Patrick Baumann and Kobe Bryant. Both will be inducted this year in the NBA Hall of Fame

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