Riyadi clinched the Lebanese first division basketball championship on Monday, May 29, emerging victorious in game 5 of the final against Dynamo (77-71), at Rockland Arena. With a 4-1 lead in the best-of-seven final series, Riyadi marked their 30th championship title, establishing an unparalleled record in Lebanese basketball history.

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The Lebanese basketball championship traces its origins back to the late 1940s, when the sport was on the cusp of blossoming. However, a civil war interrupted all sporting events in 1975. Up until then, Riyadi had been the best club in Lebanon, winning 13 league titles between 1950 and 1973. In 1992, two years after the end of the civil war, a “new” Lebanese basketball championship, also known as the FLB League, was introduced. This 10-team league represents the pinnacle of the Lebanese basketball hierarchy. Since its inception, the league has been dominated by local basketball giants: Riyadi with 16 titles and Club de La Sagesse with 8.

On the morning of Monday, May 29, a few hours before match 5 (9.45pm) of the play-off final of the Lebanese men’s first division basketball championship, coach Ahmad Farran’s Riyadi were just one step away from the local title, having already been crowned West Asian champions. In the best-of-seven series of this Lebanese final, Manara’s Beirut club led by three wins to one against Dynamo, another club from the capital and regular-season champions. This meant that the fate of the championship could be sealed on Monday evening at Dynamo’s home court, Rockland Arena, with the first team to win four games being declared champion. The team led by Duop Reath seized the opportunity (77-71), and crowned themselves champions.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, far removed from the team that had conquered in Game 1 by 87-78 points, coach Jad el-Hajj’s Dynamo had to find a solution to their sudden apathy in attack, as well as their porous defense, if they were to keep any chance of getting back on track in the final and fighting for the title. Having been defeated in Game 3 last Friday, May 26, (73-82), and ahead of Game 4 on Sunday, May 28, at Saëb Salam Stadium – home court of the Riyadi – in which Dynamo were blown away 106-76, Hajj admitted that he needed to revise his plans and adjust his tactics, to no avail… Before the fifth duel, Hajj acknowledged his side’s weaknesses but assured them that he had remedied them and confirmed that Dynamo were there to fight and stay in the final. However, despite a renewed intensity in their performance, Zach Lofton’s teammates were unable to make the most of the opportunity presented to them.

Farran and Hajj lined up their usual starting five for this fateful match, played out in front of a full house at Rockland Arena near Beirut airport, clearly trusting their usual first-choice players.

The match unfolded with an early score from Duop Reath, quickly countered by Zach Lofton (2-2). Jo Lual missed for Dynamo. On the rebound, Waël Arakji distilled a decisive pass to Duop, who scored. Shortly afterwards, Lofton made back-to-back shots from behind the arc (his 98th and 99th baskets of the season). Clearly, the team coached by Jad el-Hajj – also the national coach – was showing a fresh, new face in an attack largely driven by Zach Lofton. But Farran’s men had taken the lead (18-24) and never relinquished it again, piling up the prize baskets. The first quarter thus ended with Riyadi taking a ten-point lead (19-29).

In the first three minutes of the second quarter, both teams struggled to score until Lofton broke the scoring drought for Dynamo (26-29). While the latter seemed to be picking up the pace, Waël Arakji restored his teammates’ lead at the expense of Jo Lual’s team. Kevin Murphy and Hayk Gyokchyan then added to the lead with a pair of baskets from behind the arc and under the buzzer respectively. Murphy, again, added to the Blue & Yellow’s lead. At the break, the Blanc et Bleu were once again trailing by ten points (36-46), as they had been at the end of the first quarter. Duop Reath joined the bench during this period due to injury. Farran specified that Duop would be spared for the rest of the game, unless his contribution was urgently required.

After the break, Riyadi maintained their lead (36-51). Zach Lofton narrowed the deficit, but Waël Arakji made it worse again (40-53). Despite the home court advantage, an ineffective Dynamo remained without solutions in the face of Riyadi’s undisputed dominance. Hajj had clearly failed to find the right game strategy to keep fans’ title hopes alive. However, in the absence of Duop from the Manara side, the Arena players showcased their skills with fine moves (56-59). Dynamo scored 20 points during this ten-minute period, while Riyadi scored 15. The ten-minute period ended in favor of the blue and yellow team (56-61).

While signs of fatigue were clear on the oppnents’ faces as the fourth and final quarter kicked off, these lost none of their determination. Offensives and counter-offensives furiously ensued. To everyone’s surprise, Hajj’s men even managed to level the score in the fifth minute (62-62), triggering a triumphant cheer from the stands. The fans’ joy was short-lived, however, as Riyadi quickly regained the lead (62-64). But a heroic Zach Lofton scored three points from behind the arc to give Dynamo the lead for the first time in the game (65-64) and enter the exclusive club of players in the Lebanese league who have scored 100 first baskets. In the final three minutes, the two teams alternated leads by a single point each time. With 2 minutes and 30 seconds to go, the two rivals were once again tied (68-68). But Riyadi regained a four-point lead (68-72). Karim Zeinoun’s two free-throws gave his teammates a slight lead (71-74). Stumbling on the counter-attack, Zach Lofton let the ball slip through his hands with ten seconds left. Riyadi immediately launched a counter-attack. Zeinoun, decidedly the man of the match, received the ball from a decisive pass from one of his teammates, shot from behind the arc and scored with only one second left on the buzzer (71-77), thus crowning his team Lebanese basketball champions.

An exceptional record

The Riyadi regained the title they lost to Beirut Club last season, and established themselves as the Lebanese team with the most impressive track record.

In the past, Manara’s club was crowned champion 13 times. And it has just secured its 17th title, which infers a total of 30 championships.


Monday, May 22, at Rockland Arena: Dynamo-Riyadi 87-78

Dynamo take a 1-0 lead in the series.

Wednesday, May 24, at Manara: Riyadi-Dynamo 92-84

Riyadi equalize (1-1) in the series.

Friday, May 26, at Rockland Arena: Dynamo-Riyadi 73-82

Riyadi take the lead (2-1) in the series.

Sunday, May 28, at Manara: Riyadi-Dynamo 106-76

Riyadi extend their lead (3-1) in the series.

Monday, May 29, at Rockland Arena: Dynamo-Riyadi 71-77

Riyadi extend their advantage to 4-1 and clinch the Lebanese championship.