By Daniele Vecchi
The first thing that people from Bologna do when the complete season schedule is available is to check out when “The Derby” will be. Twice or more tin a year (or maybe more, considering post-season, Euroleague, or Italian Cup), Virtus and Fortitudo play each other. Two teams, one city, The Derby. If you think that Pistons-Bulls or North Carolina-Duke are strong rivalry, you’ve never heard anything from the Basket City, Guglielmo Marconi’s hometown. Two tribes with different colours (Virtus is black and white, Fortitudo, white and blue) who face the hard battle between fellow citizens, sometimes brother against brother, husband against wife, son against father. The two teams represent the two opposite realities in basketball, lifestyle, consciousness, passion, background, and confident in the two faces of the same city.
Virtus has won 15 Italian League Championships, 8 Italian Cups, 1 Italian Supercup, 1 European Cup of the Cups and 2 Euroleagues, absolutely a great palmares. Fortitudo has won 2 Italian League Championships, 1 Italian Cup and 2 Italian Supercups, all victories earned in the last 9 years, and frankly nothing to compare with the black and white part of the city. In the late-90’s and in the third millennium, Virtus and Fortitudo have been the two leading organizations in the Italian League and in the Euroleague. For Virtus, this is “routine.” They have always finished in the top ten of the European teams for the last forty years. This is one of the radical differences between the two types of Bologna’s fans. Virtus fans are very confident, and kind of aristocratic. They take pride in and feel the strength and the power of Virtus winning tradition.
To the opposite side, Fortitudo nation is filled with very passionate dreamers, completely committed to their team. A lot of people think that their faith is very much bigger than the faith of the Virtus fans. “Fossa dei Leoni” is the proud name of the Fortitudo’s legion of fanatic fans and are always singing and waving their white and blue flags.. They are folklorists, a loud and choreographic movement of people who love Fortitudo and who follow the team all over Europe.
Looking to the “fancy side” of the city, Virtus fans say “we are the proud of the city, we won, we win and we’ll win, all the big champions who have been in black and white can tell you this (Manu Ginobili said several times he can’t forget the Virtus years). Essentially their attitude is, “We are Bologna because we win”. We are talking about some of the best European basketball of the last 10 years. Players like Manu Ginobili, Predrag Danilovic, Michael “Sugar” Ray Richardson, Rashard Griffith, Radoslav Nesterovic, Antoine Rigaudeau, has have the black V on their body. On the opposing side, players like Dominique Wilkins, Artis Gilmore, Marko Jaric (he played also for Virtus), Gregor Fucka, Marco Belinelli (he grew up in the Virtus), David Rivers, Alexander Djordjevic, Conrad McRae ( R.I.P.) and Carlton Myers have played in white and blue. No other city in Europe has seen champions parade like that in the past ten years.
The height of the Virtus-Fortitudo rivalry has showed up in the 1997/98 season, in two tough rounds. The first was in the Euroleague quarterfinals, in Game One a hard contact between Zoran Savic (Virtus) and Gregor Fucka (Fortitudo) generated an open-court brawl, involving both the teams players, all the benches and the coaching staffs. Only the strong police action quiets off the boxing parade. The refs made several ejections, and the game and the series were won by Virtus, who a month later won the Euroleague Final Four in Barcelona, beating Partizan Beograd and AEK Athens.
Later that season Virtus and Fortitudo clash each other for the Italian League Finals, in one of the most heart beating series in the Italian League history. Fortitudo were up 2-1 in the series, with the shot to win their first Italian Championship. Losing Game Four 57-59, the white and blue had the do-or-die Game Five, and they played very well, ’til 16 seconds left, up 72-68. In this clutch moment the (un)real big champion stepped up, and he was with the black V on his body. Predrag Danilovic made a strong curl, took the ball and nailed a three pointer from 25 feet, with the Dominique Wilkins foul. Free throw made, 72-72. The game goes in overtime, where Virtus destroyed a shocked Fortitudo, winning 86-77 the game and their 14th Italian Championship. Virtus and Fortitudo, two teams and one city, a Basket City.
DANIELE VECCHI is the author of “Playground in New York.” He also writes a column for the Italian language hoops magazine, American Superbasket. This his second story published in the English language.