The 2018 Czech film, Zlatý Podraz (Golden Sting), tells the true story of the Czechoslovak national basketball team during the historically tumultuous period of 1938 to 1951. It is based on the book They Were Not Afraid of Their Courage, by Jakub Bažant and Jiří Závozda. Small roles are played by some of the former team members, including Jiří Welsch, who was drafted by the Philadelphia 76ers.
The story plots a path to the 1946 European championship in Switzerland. Titled “FIBA EuroBasket 1946,” it was organized by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA). It was the first European championship held since 1939 due to World War II and the beginning of the use of the jump shot in Europe.
The Czechoslovaks had come in third at the very first championship held in 1935. This was remarkable since basketball had only recently been introduced in the country. A healthy YMCA (Young Men’s Christian Association) existed with the Sokol athletic movement. Mormon missionaries from the U.S., hoping to learn the language and culture, taught sports at the YMCA Palace in Prague and at YMCA camps.
The YMCA Palace was a meeting place for the resistance movement during Nazi occupation. Many resistance fighters were recruited there. The underground periodicals and leaflets were printed there, including the Czech Courier and V Boj (In Combat) magazines. In the film, the team coach is arrested and tortured for information. He knocks himself out to avoid divulging names, but later dies in prison. Before the championship, Franta visits the prison and takes a handful of soil in honor of his coach. He puts it in a wooden box to take as a talisman to the games. Later, an artist inscribed on the box “We Were Not Afraid of Our Courage.”
Nazi troops took over the building in 1941. It was severely damaged in 1945 but U.S. YMCA funded a restoration. Activities resumed until it was abolished in 1951 by the communist regime. In 1991, the palace was returned to the YMCA and restored. It is an active athletic center today. A plaque commemorating three secretaries of the YMCA who died as participants in the anti-Nazi resistance during WWII was installed in the lobby.
This film reveals interesting historical situations by weaving them into the story lines of a team of young men bonding to overcome enormous odds, a touching romance and a close-knit family. Some of the most important points are treated with subtlety and understatement, as is typical in Czech literature. Czech audiences, already keenly aware of the significance and historical context, will not need an explanation. So, the historically-inclined will want to watch for clues for what is happening on the broader political stage at the time.
Much of the film was shot at Prague’s Industrial Palace, Vystaviste, built in 1891 and one of the first iron buildings in Prague. It was inspired by the 1889 Paris World’s Fair, when the Eiffel Tower was built. The small copy of the Eiffel Tower on Petrin Hill was built at the same time. Beautifully filmed in sepia tones, the visual imagery is matched with a lush musical score.
The film Zlatý Podraz can be found translated many different ways across the internet, including Golden Sting, Golden Ticket, Golden Betrayal, Golden Trick, Golden Joke, and Golden Dirty Trick.
Top Row Left to Right: YMCA Palace, Prague
Bottom Row Left to Right: Plaque at YMCA honoring WWII resistance heroes, Book on which the film is based, the wooden box for prison soil, the Prague Industrial Palace, the location where the film was shot.