The way we were...10 years ago today
If you are 17 or 18 years old and the Euroleague is your favorite competition, you'll hardly remember October 16, 2000. The Euroleague has shown many times – especially with the spectacular ceremony at the 2008 Final Four in Madrid dedicated to the 50th anniversary of European competitions – that history didn't begin with the birth of the Euroleague. But on that October 16, a new page in the book of European competitions was written, indeed. Precisely 10 years ago in Madrid, the first game of this new era was played. An era that saw how the clubs themselves would manage the competition at all levels, becoming the owners of their own competition.
THE SAME RIVALS
The same two rivals who played in that first Euroleague Basketball game 10 years ago will open this season's eleventh edition, too, but this time Olympiacos and Real Madrid will square off in Piraeus, Greece, at the legendary Peace and Friendship Stadium. Ten years ago, it was the Raimundo Saporta Arena in the Spanish capital, and Real Madrid survived by two points, 75-73. Dino Radja of Olympiacos was the author of the first basket, which was immortalized by photographer Rodolfo Molina, who is still "the eye" of the Euroleague a decade later. On Real Madrid's bench, we could find Sergio Scariolo, whose rival that night was Ilias Zouros, but I don't want to talk much about that game. For those interested in those data and the number and history lovers alike, I recommend the fantastic archive, with all the games played during these 10 years, which you can find linked atop this very same webpage. There is no doubt that there is a certain symbolism to this fact, but I want to reminisce about a start that wasn't easy at all, with a great amount of problems that only confirmed the saying that "no starts are easy".
A WEBSITE THAT DIDN'T WORK
The Euroleague staff of seven or eight members was formed during the summer of 2000 and faced the huge challenge of creating, organizing, managing and making visible a new basketball competition that many people trusted would be something new, better and more attractive, and that would have to earn its place in the divided world of European basketball. In the year of the clash, FIBA organized the Suproleague with Panathinaikos, Maccabi, CSKA Moscow, Partizan and Efes Pilsen as the leaders of their competition. The fans were divided and confused as were many of the media covering basketball, many of them under pressure from their national federations, who stayed loyal to FIBA.
When you, 17- or 18-year-olds or younger hook up now to the Euroleague site, where you can read dozens of stories, where you can read and listen to interviews or watch highlights, where you can follow all the games live during the season or through the play by play, where we all have fun with the Fantasy Challenge, where the main feature can change several times a day, where there are so many bloggers from players to well-known journalists... You can't even imagine what the birth of the website was like. That night of October 16, 2000, I had to write the story of the game, but our website was down. I don't even remember why, but it wasn't working. The new page of European basketball competitions was started with no result, no boxscore, no game story... nothing on its own webpage. Was that what we promised and what was expected from us?
The same doubts appeared several times during the following weeks when the website, due to technical problems, stalled. It was impossible to follow the games live and we had to fax the game stats all over Europe, but we never gave up hoping that it would surely be better. We got a lot of help from the media across the continent. Nobody, or almost nobody, gave us a hard time about the problems we had. They had a lot of patience with us and they trusted that we would succeed. Little by little, we improved building a valuable net of correspondents and collaborators and the website content started to improve dramatically. Also the graphic side was better and the language problem with English was solved with the arrival of Frank Lawlor, who continues to edit the contents of this site to this day. Those were the rough times, but thanks to a collective effort, today, on the eve of the eleventh Euroleague season, with a solid project in all aspects, I can only say: It was all worth it.
MIRZA AND DANKO
Personally I have even one more reason to remember that October 16 of 2000 with satisfaction. Going with Euroleague CEO Jordi Bertomeu through the list of possible guests for the first act of our competition, I had the idea of calling my friend Mirza Delibasic, a great former player who had once played in Real Madrid and left a big void when he wasn't there anymore. It was not easy to convince Mirza, since he was in delicate health already, but finally I managed to do so under one condition: he asked me, please, that his 15-year-old son Danko travel with him. Of course, we accepted. But the following day Mirza had to cancel his flight due to bureaucratic problems with the Spanish embassy in Sarajevo. They asked for a lot of papers that were impossible to gather in one day in order for the Real Madrid legend to get his visa. After some intervention from Bertomeu, who had to talk personally with the Spanish ambassador in the Bosnian capital to explain to him who Delibasic was, Mirza and Danko made it to Madrid. I remember Danko's big blue eyes, standing beside his father, who was surrounded by his former teammates Wayne Brabender, Clifford Luyk and Juan Antonio Corbalan and all the media from Madrid. I still can see with my mind’s eye the scene when the arena speaker announced Mirza Delibasic's presence at the game and the standing ovation he got from the crowd. Mirza probably sensed that there wasn't much life left in him and he wanted to show his son the stage where he earned the support of everyone as a great player and as an excellent human being. Mirza died on December 8, 2001. He was only 47. Seven years later, Danko Delibasic took the stage, again in Madrid, to accept his father's award as one of the 50 Greatest personalities in first 50 years of European basketball competitions.
Vladimir Stankovic, Euroleague.net
Saturday, October 16, 2010