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Eleven Forever: the legendary career of Dino Meneghin and why he wore number 11

11/11/2019
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Snapshots. Moments, fragments of glory. Every iconic player had its “Moment”. Dino Meneghin had his own, indeed he had many of them, but in Lausanne on 2 April 1987 against Maccabi, the Champions Cup pursued for years by a group that was looking for international validation, the Olimpia’s number 11 felt his legs collapsing on they lay-up that would have sealed the win, “a relief for me, because four years earlier, in Grenoble, against Cantù, with the same trophy at stake, I played the worst game of my life and even now I can’t stand it.” Only that Meneghin missed the lay-up, not because it was a shot too easy to make, unexpected, but because he was injured and after 40 minutes of battle he had nothing left in his legs. Cramps exploded. Meneghin laid himself on the floor to stretch the muscles, looking not so much for relief, but for the electrolytes needed to finish the game. To get up again. To save the win. Meneghin is a brilliant, funny guy who never takes himself too seriously. It has always been this way. But on the court, he was a spotless warrior, fearless, the toughest of the tough guys. He got up again. That image of a wounded warrior who refuse injury, pain and fatigue is the quintessential Meneghin. Olimpia won that game.

On November, 19, Dino Meneghin’s jersey will be retired by Olimpia Milan, the team with which he won five Italian league championships, two European Cups, an Intercontinental Cup, a Korac Cup, two Italian Cups. The ceremony will take place during the halftime of the game with Maccabi, a historic rival to whom Meneghin has always been bound by mutual respect. “With them I have a special feeling that has lasted 50 years. The first time I met them was in 1966 or ‘67, in Tel Aviv. They played in this building, which was then an outdoor arena, with the tiles on the floor, the benches located a little bit underground, as in football. Since then I have faced them almost every year, with Varese, Milan, with the National team. I have always appreciated their style, sportsmanship, organization, a desire to do well, this somewhat American spirit of always creating something important. For them, I probably represented a person who fought, who did not give up and always tried to do his best. I am proud of the friendship that binds me to them and continued after my retirement. When they honored Miky Berkovitz they invited a group of old timers, including myself. They let me enter for last and I received an ovation that moved me, and I hadn’t played for years. I carry that feeling in my heart.”

Dino Meneghin spent his entire career wearing the number 11, which identifies him. “In 1965 I was playing in the second division, at Robur et Fides Varese. At Ignis Varese, the main local team, there was a player, his name was Toby Kimball, a white man with a great body. Only that he left and when I moved to the first team, they told me, “come on, take the 11”. They didn’t tell me to choose, I was 16 and I couldn’t choose anything. Then I kept it, I liked it, and then over the years I realized that so many great European centers were wearing the 11. Cosic, Tkachenko, the Bulgarian Golomev, the Czech Zidek. I liked it, but it seemed almost like the number that all the best centers in Europe had.”

In 2003, Meneghin became a member of the Springfield Hall of Fame, the cradle of basketball. “It was an extraordinary experience, which I owe to Dan Peterson. He was responsible, he had taken care of everything needed to present the candidacy, because the selection process is very tough. We need to go to Springfield for the ceremony and I was in Sweden with the National team. I had to be accompanied, but my wife is scared and does not fly, my brother could not leave his work, Andrea was busy with the national team. Then I invited Dan and together we wrote the speech. When we got to the airport, a guy arrives, carrying our luggage, then a white limousine approaches us. I told the Coach that some actor was probably coming, but it was there for us! I went on stage and there’s Bob McAdoo, doing my presentation. Dan Peterson and I had a speech. But Bob said the same things I wanted to say!!! In the end, I got screwed. Then I had before me James Worthy, Robert Parish, Bill Walton, Larry Bird, George Gervin. My fear, a terror, was that someone would come and tell me “Smile, this is a joke”. When it was over, I breathed a sigh of relief. ”

And now there will be another ceremony, that of the jersey retirement by Olimpia: “Seeing the 11 on the shoulders of some players has always been a pleasure, really, it reminded me of when I played. But retiring it, I consider it something to be proud of, a privilege reserved for a few, which honors me. It is a privilege that goes to me, but ideally to all those who have accompanied me. A bit like in Springfield: there is my ugly face attached to the wall, but ideally there are all those who in this train that has traveled all these kilometers have been with me. It’s the end point of my career. Is no one more worthy to wear the 11? This is not the case, but if you think about the history of Olimpia they should retire all the jerseys from 5 on, since 4 is not used.”

 

11: IL NUMERO DEI GRANDI CENTRI
CON COACH DAN PETERSON
ELEVEN FOREVER