Heiko Schaffartzik, Alba Berlin
October 1, 2012
|The NBA Europe Live Tour stop in Berlin on Saturday will bring together two of the things that German basketball fans love the most: German national team star Dirk Nowitzki and Alba Berlin. And at the center of it all will be native Berliner Heiko Schaffartzik. A former teammate of Nowitzki, a member of Germany’s national team and a veteran guard for Alba, Schaffartzik knows a thing or two about basketball in his city. The game against Nowitzki’s Dallas Mavericks serves as a great warmup for Alba and Berliners alike before the real drama of the Turkish Airlines Euroleague settles into O2 World, Alba Berlin’s luxurious home. In an interview with Euroleague.net, Schaffartzik looked ahead to what awaits his team this season, both in the game against Dallas and the forthcoming Euroleague seasons. "I guess the game against Dallas will be more like a celebration for fans, but not for us," Schaffartzik told Euroleague.net. "Our plan is to always play the same, no matter if we face the Dallas Mavericks, Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv or the worst team in the Bundesliga. We want to give everything we can, but of course, if we want to beat teams like Dallas or Maccabi, everything has to click for us. We really have to be ready and bring our A-game."
Hello Heiko. Your team is facing the Dallas Mavericks right before the start of the Euroleague season. How excited are you about this showdown?
"To be honest, not so much right now. We are still more than a week away from it and have a very important game for us against the Artland Dragons on Wednesday - our first German League game this season. Of course, it is great to have the opportunity to play against an NBA team like Dallas. It is an interesting game for us."
All the tickets sold out in less than one hour. Does that show how passionate Berliners are when it comes to basketball?
"Well, Dirk Nowitzki makes things happen in Germany! (laughs) Maybe that is one of the reasons. Still, Berliners love basketball. There is a long, solid tradition in this city since Pesic came and Alba became our club's main sponsor. Even since then, these has been a great fan base and tradition, which has increased every year. It is a sign of the hard, good work that Alba Berlin has done to promote basketball in this city."
Do you think that this game is a good way to prepare fans for what is to come in the 2012-13 Turkish Airlines Euroleague?
"It is hard to say because I have never played against an NBA team, so I don't know what our fans expect from it. Regardless of that game, the whole team, the organization and of course our fans are excited to be back in the Euroleague. It is a priority for us and everybody is motivated to do well, to get some electricity from the fans and inspire them to support us even more."
Basketball is on the rise in Germany. Do you think that initiatives like NBA Europe Live and having two teams in the Euroleague will help everyone follow it more closely?
"I definitely hope so. We now have a second TV channel showing basketball games and like you said, two Euroleague teams this season. There are six or seven teams which are really capable and, in my opinion, have strong squads. Everybody in Germany is doing a great job to keep this excitement alive. If you look at it, the national team, coached by Svetislav Pesic, was very successful this summer. All these things come together and I hope everyone can keep working hard and contributing positive things so that the German basketball rise continues."
You have one of the most loyal fan bases in Europe. What makes Alba fans so loyal and special?
"Like I said, there is a great basketball tradition in this city. German basketball, like they say in marketing, has three big brands right now - Dirk Nowitzki, Svetislav Pesic and of course, Alba Berlin. It is a big brand and everybody knows how Alba is very connected to Berlin. By going to our games, people have the feeling that they are part of our city. Of course, our great arena helps. It is fun for people to come to the O2 World and watch us play basketball."
What kind of basketball atmosphere can we expect from Alba fans in a game like this and the upcoming Euroleague home showdowns?
"I guess the game against Dallas will be more like a celebration for fans, but not for us. I am not quite sure about this. We play aggressive defense, giving 100%, with a lot of fight. Our plan is to always play the same, no matter if we face the Dallas Mavericks, Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv or the worst team in the Bundesliga. We want to give everything we can, but of course, if we want to beat teams like Dallas or Maccabi, everything has to click for us. We really have to be ready and bring our A-game."
Alba Berlin is back to the Euroleague for the first time since 2008-09. How important is it for Alba fans to see you play against the best teams in Europe?
"I think it is very important, also for the Berliners' mindset. This is a great city so we should be playing against the best, and that is the Euroleague. The opportunity of doing it this season makes everyone excited about it. I think that the last time that Alba played in the Euroleague, they averaged 14,000 fans per home game or something like that. This is the excitement that Alba fans have to see their team play against the European elite."