|The Euroleague final is returning to Berlin for the first time in almost three decades, since 1980. With the European club trophy on the line, one game only, Real Madrid and Maccabi Tel Aviv met at the Deutschland Halle in West Berlin in front of 8,513 fans on March 27, 1980. Back then, Berlin was not the capital of Germany. The Berlin Wall had separated East Germany from West Germany for almost 20 years and it would not be opened until the end of the coming decade, on November 9, 1989. It was big news in 1980, however, to have two of the hottest names in basketball, Madrid and Maccabi, in town to decide that year's title. "Around 90 percent of the fans at that game were Maccabi fans, then 9 percent were Germans who bought tickets and 1 percent were supporting us," said Madrid's star of the game, Rafa Rullan said. "It looked as if we were playing in Israel. Their fans were great, though, supporting their team but also respecting us."
Real Madrid was first to qualify for that season's final after winning seven of the first eight games in a semifinals group stage. Madrid downed defending champion Bosna Sarajevo 95-93 to seal its ticket to West Berlin on February 22, 1980. Rullan led the winners with 28 points, Wayne Brabender added 23 and Walter Szczerbiak had 22 for Madrid, which was given the 1980 Spanish League trophy minutes before the game. The late Mirza Delibasic had 44 points for Bosna and would join Madrid soon after that. Maccabi soon sealed its ticket to Berlin with a 110-100 home win against Madrid behind 27 points apiece from Mickey Berkowitz and Lou Silver. They had some time before meeting in the final, however.
Rullan, right at the prime of his career in 1980, remembers the game very well because he was arguably the best player on the floor in the final. "My memories of the game are just great. We were not playing well during that season, had a lot of injury problems and had arrived to the final against Maccabi as the underdog. Maccabi had been playing well throughout the season and had a great European regular season," Rullan remembers. "We were bringing 50 fans that came on a bus while the arena was fully packed with Maccabi fans. A lot of Israeli fans took several charter flights to attend the game. Everyone thought Maccabi would win but we played with the right mentality."
Real Madrid head coach Lolo Sainz surprised everyone in Spain by closing all practices in the week before the final. He was preparing a brand-new defense, switching between man-to-man and zone defense often. If a shot was missed or if any of his big men - Rullan or Randy Meister - scored, Madrid tried a man-to-man defense. However, if Juan Antonio Corbalan, Brabender or Szczerbiak scored, the team played zone defense without players calling the switch. "Everything went well. Lolo Sainz had a very good game plan of switching defenses very often, which shocked Maccabi," Rullan told us. "They lost control in the beginning of the game and that gave us a nice lead. Maccabi got back in the game, but we managed to bring the trophy back to Madrid."
It worked well at the beginning of the game as Madrid soon took a 26-14 lead and managed to reach halftime with a 48-40 edge. Madrid remained in control and led 74-61 before Corbalan and Meister fouled out midway through the second half. Aulcie Perry and Earl Williams managed to bring Maccabi within 83-80, but Madrid entered the final 50 seconds with an 89-83 edge and turned down four chances to shoot free throws - it was an option back them to shoot free throws or inbound again from midcourt - to run the clock down. "Considering how important the game was, an European Cup final, playing well and helping the team to win its seventh title, all I can remember is good, of course. Randy Meister and I were the starting big men, with Fernando Romay and Josean Querejeta coming off the bench," Rullan remembers. Querejeta is a top basketball executive nowadays, as president of Euroleague powerhouse Tau Ceramica. "Randy fouled out with 4 minutes to go and Querejeta stepped on court. I had the luck to stay out of foul trouble against players like Aulcie Perry, Earl Williams and Jim Boatwright. Williams was a very strong, very physical player. I was inspired that night and stayed away from foul trouble."
Madrid won its seventh European Cup title, but has only lifted the trophy once since that night. Rullan led the winners with 27 points, Szczerbiak added 16 and Brabender had 14. Williams scored 33 points for Maccabi, which would win its second continental title the following season. Rullan can only have good words about all Maccabi fans in Berlin that night. "Around 90 percent of the fans at that game were Maccabi fans, then 9 percent were Germans who bought tickets and 1 percent were supporting us," Rullan said. "Other than the 50 people that went by bus, some people took a flight to make it to Berlin. It looked as if we were playing in Israel. Their fans were great, supporting their team but also respecting us. Real Madrid and its players have always been liked in Israel, especially in the seventies and eighties. They congratulated us after the game, knowing we deserved to win it."