The Return Of A Legend: Your Guide To Parma, The League's Newest Club

After a seven-year absence, Perm has returned to basketball elite. Valery Gitarkin describes Perm's basketball traditions, reminiscing on the legendary Ural-Great, and presents the city's successor, VTB United League newcomer Parma.

June 24, 2001, CSC UNICS, Kazan
Game 3 of the 2001 Russian League finals
UNICS - Ural-Great (72-82)

Ural-Great outlasts UNICS in Game 3 of the series to complete a sweep, knocking CSKA Moscow from the throne for the first time in modern Russian basketball history. The Army Men had won nine consecutive titles leading up to the 2000-01 season.

It wasn't an easy journey to the top, but it was quick. Founded on June 16, 1995, when a group of fans established the Ural-Great Sports Foundation, the brand-new collective would achieve cult status in the region and throughout the nation. Working for the club became much bigger than just another job, the games at Molot were huge events in Perm, and opponents feared traveling to the Ural Mountains to play against such a fired-up opponent. Two years after being founded, Ural-Great joined the Superleague. A year later, the club made the Russian League playoffs and very nearly earned bronze, settling for 4th place and the city's first-ever berth in European competition. The roster and team's play improved, along with the club's organization. The team moved to the 7,000-seat Molot, while Olympic champions Sergei Belov and Valdemaras Chomicius took over on the bench in 1999.

Ural-Great won the regular-season title in 2001, swept CSKA in two games in the semifinals, and gave Kazan no hope in the final series. In just six years, the Ural club did the unthinkable, improving from a 24th-place finish in the Higher League to winning a national championship.

April 25, 2009, SH Energetik, Surgut
Tournament to decide 9th-12th place in the 2008-09 Russian League
CSK VVS-Samara - Ural-Great (87-95)

A year later, Ural-Great repeated, once again defeating UNICS in Game 4 of the finals in the Concert-Sports Complex (the Basket Hall did not yet exist). Perm reached the top in record time, but the club itself would also prove to have a short history, never again winning a league championship. In 2002, the chief mastermind behind Ural-Great and club president Sergey Kushchenko (current VTB United League president) joined the CSKA front office. Though Ural finished second the following season and won the Russian Cup in 2004, the results on the court began to slowly, but surely decline, just like the front office's accomplishments.

The 2004-05 season, when the club celebrated its 10th anniversary, proved trying. The club had major debts and didn't click on the court, starting 6-15. In 2005, there were more changes at the top, but they didn't improve matters... Because of money problems and salary debts, the club did not register for the 2009-10 season and quietly ceased to exist.

The team's final game was played in Surgut in a consolation tournament to decide 9th-12th place. Ural went out with a bang, winning the final quarter vs. CSK VVS-Samara by a score of 40-14, but only ended up in 10th place.

April 7, 2013, Molot, Perm
10-year anniversary game between Ural-Great's championship squad and Real Madrid veterans
Ural-Great - Real (88-82)

The game in Surgut would not be Ural-Great's final appearance. In 2013, Perm hosted a 10-year anniversary game betwen local legends and Real Madrid veterans. Valeri Daineko, Sergei Chikalkin, Vasily Karasev, Sergei Panov, Ruslan Avleev, and Mikhail Mikhailov once again took the court. Watching from the packed stands, important regional leaders became convinced that Perm was once again ready for big-time basketball.

The creation of pro club Parma in 2012 was another factor in Perm's renaissance. The team, whose name was inspired by the ancient historic name for the Perm region, not an Italian football club, debuted in the Russian Higher League in the 2012-13 season. Perm natives say the new club is following in Ural-Great's footsteps. Parma's coaching staff is headed up by two-time national champion and Ural-Great captain Vyacheslav Shushakov, while another former player, Alexander Bushmanov, is general manager. Since it was founded, the club has bet on local talent and graduates of the Prikamsky school. The goal was to return to elite basketball and gain entry into the VTB United League as soon as possible. Of course, the fans were an important part of the project and the three-year wait did not come easy to Perm's die-hard fans. But the club did everything it could to keep fans engaged, demonstrating impressive attention to detail, providing access to the team, and making games a big-time deal in the city.

Former VTB United League executive director Tomas Pacesas, a participant in the veterans' game at Molot, supported the club's initiative, "Welcome to the League!"

February 22, 2016,
Molot, Perm
2015-16 Russian Cup final
Parma - Zenit (97-65)

Parma followed in the footsteps of its legendary predecessor. Four years after its founding, Perm boasted a competitive squad in the Superleague built on local talent and reached the Russian Cup Final Four, held in Parma's home arena. It would be a big date in the young club's history, with developments mimicking the plot of an American sports flick. Little-known players from Perm delivered the first serious basketball trophy in 12 years to the million-plus city, defeating a VTB United League club in convincing fashion in the final.

In May, Parma capped its most successful season yet with a 3rd-place finish in the Superleague. Rumors began to fly that the club would join the VTB United League.

August 31, 2016, Molot, Perm
2017 EuroBasket qualifying round
Russian - Bosnia & Herzegovina (83-54)

Another big moment for the city would be Russia's home game in Perm during EuroBasket qualifying. Parma had already been welcomed into the VTB United League. On July 16, the League Board delivered exciting news to the basketball public in Russia: Parma would compete in the VTB United League for the 2016-17 season.

Tickets to the national team game sold out long before game day and the atmosphere in the arena was incredible, beginning with a

touching video

dedicated to the successes of the Russian and Soviet national teams and continuing with the rabid support of the fans. According to head coach Sergei Bazarevich, the support was so intense it even distracted the home team in the first half. After halftime, though, the Russians settled down and repaid the fans with a blowout win.

Something else of note was happening at the same time. Fans at the Molot arena were asked to vote on the club's name. Given that no changes have been made, Perm basketball is returning to the limelight with a new title.

June 6, 20**

Game 5 of the VTB United League finals
Parma - CSKA

Ural-Great is the only club in Russian basketball history to break CSKA's hegemony at the top. Khimki, meanwhile, is the only other club to win a VTB United League championship. Lokomotiv-Kuban, UNICS, Khimki, and other clubs challenge the Army Men year in and year out, but CSKA continues to maintain a firm grip on the throne.

Perm's return to elite basketball must have sent a slight tremor through CSKA. Parma hopes to repeat the path blazed by Ural-Great, having already accomplished so much in four years. Who knows, perhaps history will repeat itself?

At the moment, Perm does not have a single foreigner on the roster. Having turned to local talent for years now, Parma is not changing course. In terms of depth and talent, the club appears to be on par with the Superleague elite. Little has changed from previous seasons. But the players on the team have undoubtedly grown in experience and skill. The squad is also very used to playing together and has only had one coach. Plus, Parma will have the support of the fans. Many of us did not have the chance to experience an Ural-Great game at the Molot, but everyone knows it was a special atmosphere. There's reason to believe that excitement will run high once again in the 7,000-capacity arena.

It's early to talk about a championship run, but the fact that big-time basketball has returned to basketball-crazy Perm is already a big win for everyone involved.

Valery Gitarkin