Tremendous and truly global
It is more than fitting that the first Game of the Week in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague tonight should be in Istanbul between Fenerbahce Ulker and Khimki Moscow Region.
This will mark the first Game of the Week played at the new Fenerbahce Ulker Sports Arena, a purpose-built basketball venue that sits like a jeweled crown atop a hill on the Asian side of Istanbul. The entire vicinity for kilometers around the arena is a testament to Turkey's fantastic growth. Gleaming new offices complexes, apartment towers and shopping centers are everywhere, as are building cranes promising more growth. The buzz in the air around the Fenerbahce Ulker Sports Arena is much like every true basketball fan's anticipation for a new Turkish Airlines Euroleague season.
Of course, such nervous anticipation exists every year before opening day. But this time it is boosted by how the last Turkish Airlines Euroleague ended, with one of the most exciting moments in basketball history, a trophy-winning shot on the season's last play. That also happened in Istanbul, on the city's European side.
Like the majestic Bosphorus Bridge that joins two continents in Istanbul, tonight's Game of the Week is a not only bridge between two seasons - one thrilling and another that promises the same - but also a symbolic link to the growth of the Euroleague in the consciousness of sports fans well beyond Europe.
A decade ago, this competition was just coming to the attention of small pockets of serious basketball fans outside European borders. Today, anyone who ignores the Euroleague can't be called a serious basketball fan, at the same time that more casual fans from Shanghai to Sao Paolo to San Francisco are being won over every season by this competition's dynamism.
That something special was happening became clear many years ago to anyone who witnessed a Final Four from near or far. Now, the Euroleague is not merely a one-weekend-per-year attraction around the globe: it's a weekly one. At the start tonight of its third season, the Game of the Week has fully broken down geographical barriers, being broadcast some weeks last season as many as 160 countries on all five continents.
There is good reason why broadcasters around the globe choose to televise at least one Turkish Airlines Euroleague game each week from October to May. As the work of countless professionals – beginning with the players, coaches and clubs – has brought European basketball to the attention of the rest of the world, the message is being heard: the Turkish Airlines Euroleague comes to play – with passion and with quality – every night of the season.
CSKA Moscow start Viktor Khryapa explained that passion in an interview this week: "The Euroleague is different than the NBA. You have to go into every Euroleague game knowing that you are playing for something. You can't have an off night and catch up in the next game or later. Here, you have to work right away your best in each and every game."
As for the playing quality, Dallas Mavericks head coach Rick Carlisle said it best on Tuesday at the end of NBA Europe Live: "FC Barcelona Regal is a great basketball team, very well coached. They played a great game. I admire the way they move the ball, pass, cut, screen and make plays. It was tremendous."
He's right. Turkish Airlines Euroleague basketball is tremendous. And it's getting better. Some bold and important new changes for the 2012-13 season will make the competition even more attractive, starting this week. For the first time in any major European team sport, Friday night is part of the regular schedule for Euroleague games this season. It's an innovation that was made with one person uppermost in mind: you, the fan. Now, you can get your weekend started right by watching Euroleague excitement with family and friends.
And when the regular season ends, get ready for more fun than ever before. The biggest part of the season is now the Top 16, which has been expanded to 14 weeks from the previous six. That always-thrilling round will now have 66 additional games, making the dramatic possibilities endless. What's more, with two groups of eight teams, fans will see the biggest title contenders clashing more often than ever before.
A new night to enjoy your favorite sport, two extra months of drama in the very heart of the season: it's all yours and it all starts tonight, a truly global game called Turkish Airlines Euroleague basketball.
FRANK LAWLOR - EUROLEAGUE.NET
Thursday, October 11, 2012