Star Turn: Zan Tabak

Aug 10, 2020 by Print
Star Turn: Zan Tabak

One of just a handful of players to win three consecutive EuroLeague crowns during the Final Four era, center Zan Tabak has been part of basketball history in more ways than one. During a career filled with major trophies, Tabak also left his imprint in the 7DAYS EuroCup when he played a pair of seasons in competition's early years with Joventut Badalona, leaving his mark as one of the competition's best rebounders at the time. What came before

Zan Tabak did not have to wait long to reach basketball glory. Tabak was just 18 years old when he helped Jugoplastika from his Croatian hometown of Split shock the basketball world and win the EuroLeague title in 1989. By 1991, before he turned 21, Tabak was already a three-time EuroLeague champion. A year later, Tabak won the silver medal with Croatia at the 1992 Summer Olympics, then added a 1993 EuroBasket bronze to his collection. In 1994, Tabak went to the NBA, joining the Houston Rockets who drafted him a few years earlier, and in his rookie season he went on to win the 1995 NBA title, becoming the first European to win both the Euroleague and NBA crowns.

His astonishing title streak came to an end as he went on to play with Toronto and Boston in the NBA. After a one-year return to Europe with Fenerbahce in the 1998-99 season, Tabak added to his list of accomplishments in 2000 when he became the first international player to play the NBA finals with two different teams, although his Indiana team lost that series to the Los Angeles Lakers.

Tabak returned to the EuroLeague in the jersey of Real Madrid in the 2001-02 campaign, averaging 9.0 points and 6.2 rebounds. After a year with Real, he joined Joventut in the summer of 2002, which led to him playing in the inaugural season of the ULEB Cup.

EuroCup experience

At 32 years old, Tabak proved to be a force in the paint still. Although he went scoreless in his regular-season debut in Round 4, playing just 6 minutes, Tabak dominated after that. In his 12 appearances Tabak managed to collect six double-doubles. Despite playing in just 12 games that season, he remains tied for the eighth-most double-doubles in a single EuroCup season. In an 88-72 home win over Telekom Bonn, Tabak amassed 20 points and 17 rebounds. To this day, his 17 rebounds stand as Joventut's EuroCup club record. Just 14 other players in competition history have grabbed more rebounds in a single game

Two of his double-doubles came in an eighthfinals home-and-away series against Spirou Charleroi, which helped Joventut reach the semifinals. Tabak starred in the semis against Krka Novo Mesto, averaging 16.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.5 blocks, but it was still not enough for Joventut to preserve a 13-point advantage from Game 1. Tabak finished the season as Joventut's third-best scorer with 11.4 points, and ranked fourth in the competition with 8.8 rebounds.

A year later, Tabak was not as dominant but still had a big impact, averaging 10.4 points and 6.7 rebounds. He shined once again in the elimination rounds, torching Breil Milano with 20 points and 9 rebounds in 78-62 eighthfinals Game 1 win. In Game 2, his 11 rebounds helped Joventut advance. In the two-game quarterfinals, Tabak was his vintage self, averaging 16.0 points on a combined 14-of-20 two-point shooting, along with 6.5 rebounds and 3.0 blocks, but Joventut was ousted by FMP Zeleznik on a 156-160 aggregate score.

Overall, in 25 EuroCup appearances with Joventut, Tabak averaged 10.9 points and 7.7 rebounds. His rebounding average is the ninth-highest all-time for players with at least 25 EuroCup games played.

What came after

Tabak played one more season, finishing his career with Unicaja Malaga in 2004-05, when he averaged 3.3 points and 3.8 rebounds in four EuroLeague appearances. Immediately after the end of his playing career, Tabak went into coaching, first as an assistant at Real Madrid, then as a head coach. His stints have included head coaching positions in the EuroLeague with Baskonia in 2012-13 and Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv in 2015-16. He also coached in eight EuroCup games with Trefl Sopot and Maccabi in those same two seasons.