Euroleague victory cements Reds’ never-say-die attitude

Euroleague victory cements Reds’ never-say-die attitude

LONDON - Hürriyet Daily News
Euroleague victory cements Reds’ never-say-die attitude

Olympiacos players are given a heroes’ welcome in Greece where the fans celebrate the team’s second Euroleague title in as many years. AP photo

“Life makes beautiful stories, and I want to thank everybody that belongs to Olympiacos. We had a very difficult time throughout the year. It was a very difficult situation with injuries and people were talking against us. But we reached the summit again. Our character is of a team that never gives up.”

These are the words of coach Georgios Bartzokas, who succeeded in leading his team to seal back-to-back Euroleague titles, with a superb comeback from 17 points over Real Madrid on May 12, thanks to MVP Vassilis Spanoulis and passionate supporters.

To be a champion is a hard thing, but to defend the title is much harder. It requires herculean effort. Few thought the beautiful story of Olympiacos would end like this, at least before the matches in London’s O2 Arena. And no one would have been surprised if CSKA Moscow, the team who had a 10-0 regular season, 5-1 Top 16 and 3-1 playoff record in the competition, had eliminated Olympiacos in the semifinals. But the Pireaus team gave the first signal, keeping them at 52 points, while they have an average of 78 in the regular season.

“This team has amazing chemistry. Everyone knows his role... We feel like a family and we are a family,” triumphant Spanoulis told reporters after the match, underlining the most important component of their team: chemistry. Even when Real Madrid had a 27-10 lead after the first period, Bartzokas’ team showed real character and soul. “We do not panic. We have a way to come back in games. We have players with a character. They have soul,” the 47-year-old Greek coach said. The last time they had such an encounter was when they faced a 15-point deficit against Turkish side Anadolu Efes in the last game before the Final Four in April.

Led by Spanoulis, regular season MVP and back-to-back final MVP, the Greek team defended the title, becoming the second team in the Euroleague era [after 2000] to do so after Maccabi Electra did it in 2004 and 2005. One word for the Greek supporters. They were superior when compared to other supporters, not only in numbers but also the support they gave, even when their team was trailing.

And one word for the organization. It was overshadowed by the “British love” of football, as expected. The FA Cup Final match between Manchester City and Wigan Athletic on May 11 in Wembley and Manchester United coach Sir Alex Ferguson’s last match in Old Trafford on May 12 dominated the headlines of TV programs and newspapers.

Empty stands

We should also take into account the lack of basketball tradition in the United Kingdom. The venue, O2 Arena, seats up to 20,000 fans, but the attendance for the semifinals by British supporters is not so much. This was reflected in the words of Euroleague CEO Jordi Bertomeu, who admitted that ticket sales for the organization were not up to par with previous years. The choice of London as the site “did not seem the most logical, taking into account the lack of basketball tradition that exists in the U.K.,” he was quoted as saying by El Confidencial website.

Anyway, we should thank the organizers and four teams for such a great atmosphere in London. And once again, congratulations to Olympiacos, which deserves a special emphasis for having been crowned again after turbulent years.