The first Euro Classic games, a pair of showdowns in the United States between Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv of Israel and Olimpia Milan of Italy, will go down as an event to remember for everyone who was involved.
As part of the Euroleague Basketball World Tour 2015, the two teams played at Chicago’s United Center and at New York's Madison Square Garden were not only two entertaining and close contests, but helped introduce the European style of basketball to a new fan base.
Although many Turkish Airlines Euroleague teams have visited North America for exhibition games over the past decade, these two Euro Classic games marked the first time that a pair of Euroleague teams squared off against one another there. Maccabi won the first game in Chicago 85-79. Three days later in New York, Milan claimed victory 72-76.
The fans who came out to see the games did so for a variety of reasons. Some were of either Italian or Israeli descent and wanted to support the clubs from their respective homelands. Others came to see family members or players they had followed in college or the NBA and who are now playing in Europe. There were those who wanted to catch a glimpse of one of the top teenage prospects in the game, Maccabi's Dragan Bender, and many who simply wanted to watch a high-level type of basketball that was different from what they are used to.
Jared Raskin, 30, of New York, belonged to the latter group. "I heard that these two teams are some of the best in Europe," he said. "How could I pass up a chance to see them when they are here in my city?"
Maccabi's loyal and passionate fan base is well known for following its team throughout Europe and packing the stands at every Final Four to which the club has qualified. It turns out that the passion and devotion of its fans extends beyond Europe. Itai, 38, came all the way from Toronto to see the game in New York. "Now that I don't live in Israel, I rarely get a chance to see my team play," he said. "So whenever Maccabi plays in the United States or Canada, I try to come."
Although the Maccabi fans may have outnumbered those of Milan at both venues, there were plenty of fans wearing red both in Chicago and New York. One of them, Anthony Young from New Jersey, grew up cheering for the AC Milan soccer club and was excited to see the basketball club from the same city in action.
"I was really impressed with how they played," Young said after Milan’s victory at Madison Square Garden. "I didn't really know what to expect, but they played hard and made big shots and won. I think I am now a fan of this team."
There are still more opportunities for American fans to catch some of Europe's best teams up close this season. Fenerbahce Istanbul will play the final two legs of the Euroleague Basketball World Tour 2015 on Monday, October 5, against the Brooklyn Nets and on Friday, October 9 at the Oklahoma City Thunder.