Thursday, October 20, 2011
Euroleague.net's editorial director, Frank Lawlor, has spent most of his career as a basketball journalist in Europe and his native United States, writing about and interviewing the top players in the world on both continents for more than two decades. In terms of practical basketball experience, he was a head coach in the Spanish second division for one fortuitous season in the late 1990s. Frank's new blog will draw on all that background to enhance the Turkish Airlines Euroleague experience for you, the fans.
Before we jump fully into the new Turkish Airlines Euroleague season and start splashing around, having fun, let's remember some special players who made this competition what it is today, the best club basketball in the world played under international rules.
We've been privileged over the last decade to watch the Euroleague blossom into a distinct and well respected brand of basketball. Its scoring variety against defenses without limits; its strategies that maximize intensity by using almost all players available; its sixth men in the stands creating a second-to-none atmosphere: all those things and more make the Euroleague unique.
But as everyone knows, respect is a two-way street. And while the Euroleague was gaining respect, many players who came here from across an ocean were giving it to this game, helping to build the Euroleague into a competition that stands apart from the rest of the pack.
This summer, four of those adopted sons of European basketball hung up their shoes. There is no underestimating the impact that Marcus Brown, J.R. Holden, Trajan Langdon and Derrick Sharp had on the Euroleague, but it will suffice to say the following:
- Marcus Brown, 36, retires as the Euroleague's all-time leading scorer, with 2,715 points, having made the All-Euroleague team three times.
- J.R. Holden, 35, won two Euroleague titles, was named to the Euroleague All-Decade team and reached a record eight consecutive Final Fours as starting point guard for CSKA Moscow.
- Trajan Langdon, 35, was also a two-time champion with CSKA, made the All-Euroleague team three times, was voted the 2008 Final Four MVP and was named to the All-Decade team.
- Derrick Sharp, 40, won the Euroleague twice, the SuproLeague once and authored the shot that most changed the course of Euroleague history last decade.
It just so happens that all four were shooters – Holden ranks second, Langdon fifth, Brown sixth and Sharp 13th in most three-pointers made since 2000 – so they left a lot of memorable moments, as well.
It's hard to fathom that Holden had the time to sink 377 three-pointers in 10 season if only because he also ranks third all-time in assists and was undoubtedly the leader of the defense that was at the heart of CSKA's titles. One of his most remarkable nights came at age 33, in the spring of 2010, in Game 4 of the playoffs. Holden played all 40 minutes and scoring 16 points in the fourth quarter to defeat Caja Laboral – the club that owns the second-longest Final Four streak – on the road in Vitoria, Spain. As such, he willed CSKA to his and its eighth consecutive Final Four together, a record that could well stand up longer than any other in Euroleague history. Likewise, his record of 194 points in Final Fours is likely to stand awhile, particularly since Langdon was second behind him.
Langdon patented shot fakes that were as fun to watch for the defender flying out of the picture as for the shot going in, although his buzzer-beaters were even more memorable. For sheer joy, there was his buzzer-beating game winner to open the 2008 Top 16 as CSKA beat Lottomatica Roma at home. Three months later, he led CSKA to is second title as MVP of the Final Four with a practically flawless 21-point, 7-rebound performance in the title game against Maccabi Tel Aviv. It was the third-best performance in terms of index rating (33) since 2000 in a final, just a point behind Emanuel Ginobili and Anthony Parker (34 each). In fact, when counting all games, Langdon had the best index rating ever, 37, in his last Final Four appearance, a third-place victory by CSKA over Partizan in 2010 at Paris.
Brown owns the second-best performance in Final Four history, index rating 36, in a third-place victory in 2004 against Montepaschi Siena. His 50 points in that Final Four remain a two-game record for the event. Along the way, with six Euroleague teams, Brown left behind thrills that will not be forgotten anytime soon. In 2007, his layup with 1.2 seconds left gave Unicaja its first-ever Final Four victory, for third place, the high-water mark still for one of the Euroleague's emblematic clubs. In 2010, Brown hit an incredible buzzer-beating three-pointer in the corner that put Zalgiris in the Top 16 by a single point. And last year, although it didn't win the game, Brown returned from injury and made his first shot of the season a buzzer-beater in a Top 16 game at Valencia. He might be gone, but those thrills will remain in our memories.
And speaking of thrills... Derrick Sharp maybe flew a little under the radar when it came to superstardom, but he owns the moment most remembered in the first decade of the Euroleague . The date was April 8, 2004. The place was Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv, the same place where the Final Four was due a month later. Despair filled the arena as Maccabi trailed visiting Zalgiris by 94-91 with 2 seconds left on the clock. The rest is history. After a timeout, Sharp took a full-court pass and drained the game-tying three-pointer. Maccabi won in overtime, went on to break 11 records in that season's final, then the following year became the only back-to-back Euroleague champion in the last two decades. It all started with Sharp's special spark, right in the middle of his 15 seasons with Maccabi.
Those are the basketball highlights of four great players, legends by any measure, but for the fans who watched them, the teammates who played with them, the coaches who worked with them and the clubs they belonged to, their contributions go way beyond even their trophies. All were consummate professionals who were leaders on and off the court, as dedicated to their sport as the fans who hung on their every move were devoted to it. They respected European basketball and they got all our respect in return. They were European basketball's adopted sons for a brief time, yes, but that respect will last forever.
Frank Lawlor - Euroleague.net