From UVIL ZAJMI
Memorie.al / “… Just three seconds into the game, the ball in Topalli’s hands, he shot and… basket, basket, basket..! Unbelievable! Unbelievable! “17 November” champion…!”. And in fact, Land Topalli’s in April 1971 was and remains the most legendary and historic basket recorded in Albanian basketball. For many decades, such a thing has not been repeated. It became famous for several reasons: It was marked in a final derby meeting, “Partizani” – “17 Nëndori” among the most competitive and traditional; it was done in the last three seconds; it was decisive, after giving the victory to the Tirana team and the last one, it was typical of the NBA style, almost from midfield. What did the man with the magic hand do after the 90s, the career, the life, the drama that hit him at the peak of his form and fame?
The famous match
“Partizani” Sports Palace, Saturday, April 3, 1971, 19:00, in front of “Partizani”-“17 Nëndori”, final for the men’s championship title. The publicity and interest is extraordinary, but only a few tickets are on sale (30 old ALL, it cost one, or how much a packet of “DS” tobacco with a filter and a match cost), the others were distributed with authorization, for institutions, high officials. The players themselves have received three pieces each. But there are also those who enter with forged or fake tickets, while their black market does not work.
In conditions of great tension, the Federation of Hand Games has appointed two referees of the first category, Agim Taraku and Kostaq Pojani. Meanwhile, the meeting is preceded by a youth match, “Partizani”-“17 Nëndori”, which is won by the former and Arben Fagu, is the best player on the field. After them, on the floor for warm-up, the two teams that will activate: “Partizani” with Agim Fagu, Nikolin Pal, Kushtrim Zaçe, Dodan Përmet, Besnik Pëllumbi, Gjinaj, Bektesh, Boshnjak, etc. While “17 November”: Bujar Shehu, Vaso Shaka, Kujtim Kasmi, Gavrosh Levonja, Roland Topalli, Piro Koleka, etc.
The rivalry is great, “Partizani” leads at the end of the first half; 37-33, but it must be said that during the game, no team could lead by more than 4-5 points. As a result of the tactics used by the player-coach of the 17th Division, Bujar Shehu, the players of “Partizan” are charged with personal mistakes. The second half is like that and the climax reaches a 68-68 draw, after a basket by Agim Fagut, when the electronic scoreboard shows that there are 3 seconds left in the game…!
It has been very special, even witnessing many sports events held in the capital’s surroundings. It wasn’t real electronics, like they are today, but modern for the time. “Made in China”, it was a gift from them when the Sports Palace was built and served for a long time. The minutes were indicated by numbers of neon lamps, in its center, while the seconds were located in the surrounding part, with small circles, and the whole table was controlled by a person at the central table.
Personal fouls were demonstrated by small cardboard hand signs, held up by a center table referee, who kept the minutes of the match, showing the number of fouls, to each player (often, there were protests against him, as even the fans the personnel took note, in particular those of the opponents). So, when there were still three small circles left, that is, three more seconds, to finish the second 20 minutes and the entire meeting, “17 Subsidiary”, will put the ball into play…!
The shot that shook the capital…!
So, the Tirana players restart the game from the end line, when they have an extremely limited time available, little hope, and everyone is prepared for a 5-minute extra time. From the end line, Kasmi passes for Koleka, this one immediately to Topalli, who, being in his midfield, without thinking for a single second, took two steps and in the third, almost from midfield with his characteristic jump, has released the ball towards the basket. The board marks the end of the game, anxiety, while the sphere is in the air, making the historic flight and without touching the metal circle at all; it crashed into the net, shook it and stopped the momentum on the floor.
A very spectacular basket, the palace has exploded; the enthusiasm is extraordinary in the Tirana camp, whiles the players and fans of “Partizan”, along with them the whole bench, stunned by this surprise…! The game ended with the numbers 70-68. “November 17” is the champion. The shot was made within time and leaves no path for post-discussion. With this victory, after 6 years, “17 Nëndori” regains the title, while Kujtim Kasmi and Kushtrim Zaçe are the best scorers with 21 points. Topalli himself is the author of 15 points.
How do you remember that moment?
He was prepared to start the quick attack, so he was in midfield, when he suddenly saw the ball in his hands. He doesn’t even remember who succeeded him, since the tension, fatigue, pressure; noise from “Partizan’s” draw, momentarily confused the players of “17 Subsidiary”, who surely judged the game won. And with a routine and hopeless start to the game, Topalli did not even think that from his hand, the most historic basket of Albanian basketball will be realized. With the only alternative, that is to shoot, he released the ball and only from the explosion of a giant cheer of the fans, he realized that he scored.
For long hours, in training, he applied shots from a distance, without thinking that one day, in an instant, in a very important match; he would be decisive and unrepeatable. Then everyone above him, players and fans who have flooded the floor and submerged under them, completely ready to pass out, he remembers that they held him in their arms, even his clothes, he took them a few days later. He remembers seeing coach Greva, sitting on the bench, together with some “Partizan” players, with his hands on his head out of despair. The match was broadcast on Albanian Radio-Television, under the commentary of Vladimir Grillo and on the radio, by the passionate voice of Ahmet Shqarri.
The last seconds, infinity
We are in the 1970-71 season, the “Partizani”-“17 Nëndori” rivalry is at its peak. The second phase takes place, the end of March, the 8th week and the Tirana team leads by 2 points in the standings and a win gives them the trophy. It’s the last 7 seconds, the score is 65-63, for them, while Topalli, playing with the ball on the side, shoots and scores. But a rush from the referees, Virgjil Karaj and Luan Kotherja, interrupted the game, signaling a line violation by Topalli and the basket is worthless.
There are protests, but there is no going back, the game resumes, “Partizani” circulates the ball quickly and the infallible Agim Fagu shoots correctly and 65-65. Extra time of 5 minutes is played, after which with the numbers 76-74, the entire meeting is closed, “Partizani” wins the match and equals “17 Sub” in the ranking, in the quota of 35 points. In third place, “Studenti” with 31, “Vllaznia” and “Lokomotiva” have 28 points.
Historical repetition in basketball
It seems unbelievable, but the famous repetition was applied many years ago in Albania as well. As soon as he had started to be known and affirmed in Serie A of Italy, quite by chance he needed to be used for a controversial moment, in a basketball match of the Albanian championship. Given that the “Partizani”-“17 Nëndori” match was broadcast directly on TVSH, the leaders of “17 Nëndori” had an idea and they are asking the Albanian Radio-Television directorate to show the moment of the violation, or not of the lateral line.
The representative, the referee of the meeting, the well-known Virgjil Karaj, after having seen the decisive moment several times on the screen, they find that Topalli’s foot is inside the field of play, so the basket is regular and their decision is wrong. But, nothing would change, as the match was over, the error is human and in four days, the final will be played. Based on that, how it was done, this can be considered as the “first repetition” in Albanian sports, but unlike history, it did not start with football, but basketball. And we are in 1971, when, apart from Italy, this mechanism was not applied in any sports discipline, or in any other country in the world.
Rivalry with “Partizan”
In that season, “Partizani”-“17 Nëndori” met three times. “Partizani” was the champion, while Tiranasi, in the fight for the title. The three meetings lasted 125 minutes in total; the second was the longest, 45 minutes. The matches were refereed by: Luan Kotherja, Kristaq Pojani, the challenge of the first phase that ended 78-73, for “November 17”; Kotherja and Virgjil Karaj won the second match, 76-74 for “Partizan” and the third, from Kristaq Pojani and Agim Taraku, a match that ended 70-68, for “17 Nëndorin”, which retains the title.
In the three meetings, 222 points were scored by “17 Nëndori”, and 217 by “Partizani”. The best scorer, in the three matches, was Vaso Shaka with 71 points. But what should be remembered is that the National Team of the time consisted mainly of these two teams. “We were opponents on the field, but many friends in the national team and abroad, especially with Agim Fagun. In the national team, we all stayed together, with Zaçe, Nikolin Pali, Dan Përmet, Pëllumbi”, says Topalli.
Unforgettable, the meeting with “Yugoplasty” of Yugoslavia
In the role of a winger, a defender or a “play-maker”, 179 cm tall, with number 7 on the jersey, Land Topalli, can be considered one of the most modern in this role for the time. Very agile, intelligent, improvising, with a beautiful jump and accuracy in shooting, very important and accurate interpreter of tactical schemes for the team, both in defense and in attack, in full sync with the game and physiognomy of ” November 17″, but also of the national team, with which he played for many years and in many important challenges.
Similarly, in the European Cups with clubs, his game stands out in particular. Undoubtedly, the one with “Jugoplastika” of Split in the Champions Cup has remained in Topalli’s memory. It is the end of 1971, a very nice match; Topalli scored 10 points in Tirana, in the first match and 15 in Split, against the giants of the time who qualified without difficulty. (“Jugoplastika”, reaches the final of the trophy, but is defeated by “Oransoda”-Italy)
Returning from Belgrade, horror on the plane
He also remembers something very special from his sports career. After the match in Belgrade with “Cerven Zvezda” (1973), the team will return to Tirana, with a small, 20-seater plane of the “JAT” airline company, the only one that operated the Belgrade-Tirana flight and vice versa. While it has been in the air for a few minutes, one of the aircraft’s engines is blocked. The pilot, to reassure the passengers, informs about a small defect and therefore, the plane will return to Belgrade. But, on the way back, quite suddenly, his other engine also stalls. Moments of terror, fear, all turned yellow, while with a soft landing, the pilot was able to land the plane on the runway.
Concerned, the Albanian ambassador came to the airport after being notified of this accident. After that, the team settled in the hotel, but its leaders asked to return by train to Titograd. The request was rejected by the Yugoslav side, who guaranteed a safe and problem-free return after two days by plane. The climax was when on departure, the athletes recognized that it was the same plane, on the brink of disaster. No one wanted to go up and travel with him, they even refused, but there is no other way. After an hour of travel, between anxiety, fear, uncertainty, upon arrival in Rinas, the adventure has ended, but the worry was clearly visible on their faces.
From one world to another, sudden punishment..!
A story or script suitable for movies. The mid-70s-80s. For a long time, the political situation has been tense. With the accusation of “hostile groups”, there are harsh punishments in art, economy, army, only sport has survived. October 1975, a Physical Education teacher at the Economic High School in the City of Students, Topalli, finished the 6th class and returned home by bicycle, tired. Suddenly, at the entrance of the apartment, he finds a group of unknown people: “You have problems with the investigation”, one of them says harshly.
They had come for inspection, they had opened everything, and they thought they could find documents or materials that interested them. However, they found only a few Italian magazines “La mezzora”, with jokes that were read on the train, which Topalli had taken when he was in Cagliari, in 1971. Although it was clear that Landi had no connection with people or individuals of the political elite who were under accusation, after the investigator spent three months and on the charge of keeping foreign magazines at home, are sentenced to six months of imprisonment. In March 1976, he was released from prison, but with the right to return to education.
He won the freedom that was taken unjustly, but he lost his family, friends, companions, job and career, everything. The marriage was very short, it lasted for a while, but from which, Roland Topalli would have serious consequences in the family and sport. Now, there is no turning back, the moral and material damage is irreparable. He is 29 years old, has left fame and sports behind and needs to get back to life. Meanwhile, there is one regret that he still remembers today: the moment when everyone left him, not only him, but also his family members, no one spoke to them anymore. His parents remained close to him, especially his brother and a friend, Osman Deda, who did not abandon him.
Difficulty finding work
He came out with a court decision, with the right to return to education. But it cannot fully regain what it unjustly lost. In education and sports, it was not even a question, but preferably a job of any kind to start, after they punished for unemployment, passivity, and parasitism. He was presented at the work office of the Executive Committee, from where he was assigned to go to the “Josif Pashko” Combine. There he meets Bujar Kapexhiu, the well-known artist, who was also punished after the 11th Radio-Television Song Festival. Then, the transfer to Gurore (workplace in Malin e Dajti). One month there, then with friendship from sports, he transferred to the Greening-Cleaning Company in Tirana, as a worker in the Greening sector, where he worked for a year. Then, a friend, Genc Kraja, in charge of the office, takes him to his department. For more than 14 years, until 1990, he worked in this company.
The return, the club the main factor
Where he started his career, there he would also find the refuge of his return. He got close to his friends from the former team, in particular Bujar Shehu and Vaso Shaka, who support him in the most difficult position and moment of his life. The year 1978, recognizing the values, skills, correctness, the “17 Nëndori” Club, brings him to work in the technical staff of the ages. First as a coach with the young girls, then with the youth, the youth, where he has the merit in discovering important talents for the Club and the national teams. In the late 1980s, he received the title of professional trainer.
The sports career of Roland Topalli
Born in 1946, graduated from the Higher Institute of Physical Culture, “Vojo Kushi” in Tirana, is a product of the “Xha Toni” Sports Park. A career that started very quickly, was discovered as a talent, became active with young people, to pass with the first team of “17 Ondor”. He is one of those athletes who belong to the magical generation of the 70s and with Bujar Shehu, Vaso Shaka, Kujtim Kasmi, Gavrosh Lëvonjë, Roland Avram, Piro Kolekë, Papa, etc., as part of the legendary formation of “17 Nändor “.
Also a regular with the national team, he will stand out for his speed, dexterity, precision, intelligence and high physical preparation, a typical and very modern player for the role of the end, not only in national meetings, but also in international ones, where the tournaments in Kaljari (1971) and without a doubt, the three famous matches with “Zadar”, from Split, “Jugoplastika” from Bosnia and “Crvena Zvezda” from Belgrade, from Yugoslavia at that time.
The meeting with Rato Dvërdić
It was a surprise for Lan Topalli, the meeting with the famous former player of “Jugoplastika”, Rato Dvërdić. With work motives, he came to Tirana some time ago and along with his commitments, he reminded his companions that he had been to Albania twice: In the Balkaniad of 1964 and a few years later, with “Jugoplastika”. Then he requested that they allow him a meeting with the former Albanian players of those years. It was a very emotional moment when they saw each other. Naturally changed, he has recognized Vaso Shaka, but immediately Land Topalli, as the sports rivalry on the field between them has been very attractive.
The life and commitments of Land Topalli, after the 90s
Maybe you can’t believe him when he says he’s retired, because he’s that Land Topalli from so many years ago, so time seems to have stood still for him. Energetic as before, loving, active, shows no age, even no one can give him a retirement age, as he looks very young. He has never consumed tobacco or alcoholic beverages, very correct in life; he maintains that physical freshness, that elegant performance as he used to play on the floor. Married and with a daughter, Enxhi, 20 years old, who played a little basketball, not preferring to continue his father’s sports path.
Landi himself, does not separate himself from basketball, maintains and continues his friendship with all the former athletes of the time. He follows the NBA and cheers for the Lakers, without giving up his old hobby, motorcycles and vehicles, but also the new one, mobile phones. With the actor Bad Spencer, it preserves the nostalgia of the 70s; it has a passion for travel, but not by plane. In the history of Albanian basketball, the contribution of Roland Topalli is an important part. But even for that wonderful basket made in those fateful seconds, on that April afternoon in the distant year 1971…! Memorie.al