The Euroleague Basketball family gathered together Thursday morning on the shores of the Bosphorus for the first official act of the 2012 Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four in Istanbul, Turkey. The Mabeyn Ballroom at the magnificent Ciragan Palace hosted the opening press conference with Euroleague Basketball CEO and President, Mr. Jordi Bertomeu; Turkish Airlines Chairman of the Board, Mr. Hamdi Topcu; President of the Turkish Basketball Federation, Mr. Turgay Demirel; Mayor of Istanbul, Mr. Kadir Topbas; Detur CEO and President, Mr.Firuz Baglikaya; as well as the head coach and a player from each of the participating teams – CSKA Moscow, FC Barcelona Regal, Olympiacos Piraeus and defending champion Panathinaikos. The Euroleague trophy, which is ultimately what the teams here are all fighting for, was displayed before the dais as the players fielded questions from dozens of reporters and media outlets.
Built in the 19th century for Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Abdulaziz, Ciragan Palace housed a number of Turkish rulers before parts were destroyed by fire in 1910. It was restored in 1989 and renovated in 2007 to resemble its authentic look. In the years since, it has welcomed foreign dignitaries and heads of state and hosted lavish events as one of the must-see sites in the city. Here is what they said:
Euroleague Basketball CEO and President Jordi Bertomeu:
"It’s a real pleasure to welcome you all to this press conference at this Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four 2012. We are proud to do this here in the amazing city of Istanbul and magnificent arena, Sinan Erdem. We expect to offer our fans a great weekend of basketball and if that happens, it will be because of those sitting with me at this table. We thank the Turkish Basketball Federation for its expertise. We thank the mayor of Istanbul. From the very beginning he has shown great enthusiasm for hosting this event. And a special thanks to our main partner, Turkish Airlines, because they have helped in all the aspects involved in making this Final Four successful. Thanks to all our sponsors, media and coaches and players. Thanks to them, we have enjoyed a great season this year."
"The Final Four is growing every year. It’s growing in many aspects. In TV distribution, this Final Four will reach 174 countries on five continents. We have 650 members of the media here. We expect millions of television viewers and even more on Euroleague.net, our official web site. And we will have 15,000 passionate fans at Sinan Erdem Arena. The Final Four is also about the Nike International Junior Tournament and the Devotion Fan Zone. The Final Four is about all these things. I hope all the teams have a successful weekend and I hope you all will have fun in Istanbul."
“I am extremely proud of the quality of our teams and coaches. I had the opportunity to state my opinions on this when the NBA had its lockout. No doubt we have unbelievable talent in Europe. No matter what, we are satisfied with our players and coaches."
“Every Final Four has special measures for security. We do not have any new measures this time because we are sure what has been done before has been enough and successful and everyone was comfortable with the measures taken. This year we have two teams from Greece, but we proved in Berlin that with the great cooperation we have from both teams, we can have a an absolutely safe Final Four. So for the two teams are staying at the same hotel and the measures in the arena are the same as in Barcelona and Paris. We expect we will all enjoy as always in the Euroleague, a safe Final Four.”
President of the Turkish Basketball Federation, Mr. Turgay Demirel:
"Thank you press members and valuable guests. We are gathered in this beautiful city and are happy to be organizing and hosting the 2012 Final Four in Istanbul, which has been elected as the European capital of Sports. We will be watching and enjoying big games, successful coaches and great basketball teams. I am really grateful to the Mr. Kadir Topbas, Metropolitan Municipality Major of Istanbul and Mr. Hamdi Topcu, Turkish Airlines Chairman of the Board to offer us this great organization. Until now, the Turkish Basketball Federation is an organization with good experience in this field of organization competitions at the senior and junior level. I believe that we will keep succeeding in this event, offering you a pleasant basketball competition. Good luck to all coaches and players and I wish that the best will win."
Turkish Airlines Chairman of the Board, Mr. Hamdi Topcu:
"Dear guests, valuable press members, welcome to the press conference of such an important event. On behalf of Turkish Airlines, I would like to greet you. As one of the best airlines, we are happy to offer sponsorship to this basketball organization. We have an agreement with the Euroleague for five years, which could be extended for five more, and now have the privilege to host the Final Four in Istanbul in the second year of our agreement. We kept our promise, bringing in all members of all four teams free of charge. We provided flights for two Greek teams, a Spanish and a Russian team under this agreement. On behalf of Turkish Airlines, I wish success to all four participating teams. From now on, Turkish Airlines will carry on contributing to the Euroleague and the Final Four. The fact that this great event takes place in Istanbul is due to the attention the organizing committee had. More than a year ago, Istanbul hosted the World Championships and that proved to be a successful event. Istanbul is a city on the rise and I would like to mention our Major, Mr. Kadir Topbas. I thank him a lot for his decision and support to this event. I would also thank Mr. Turgay Demirel, president of the Turkish Basketball Federation, and the organizing committee. I believe that the Final Four will be successful, with so many forces joined together for the event. I wish success to all teams and welcome the audience that came here to follow the Final Four."
"At the moment, Turkish Airlines Euroleague games are shown in four of our USA aircrafts. There is the facility to watch games during the flights. The service will be undertaken by NTV. They have not started broadcasts yet, but will try to offer the broadcast."
Detur CEO and President, Mr. Firuz Baglikaya:
“This is the greatest basketball organization in Europe and start from the day Istanbul was chosen to host the Final Four, we have enjoyed the privilege and trust to work with them. I would like to thank the Euroleague and Turkish Airlines and also the municipality of Istanbul. In the name of Detur, we think these organizations are fit for the magnificent city of Istanbul."
Mayor of Istanbul, Mr. Kadir Topbas:
“Here we meet in the final stage of a great organization. Let me thank everyone that contributed. I am probably the happiest because of this event. Because not all cities can afford to host such an event. I would like to talk about branding, something all cities try to do. And this event helps our brand. We are very happy to host these event. Before this, we hosted world basketball championships and were successful. Now we have chance to host the Final Four of the Euroleague. I also want to note that Istanbul was chosen as the European capital city for sport for 2012. We have been prepared in all aspects and put in immense effort. Our city of basketball lovers is very excited. So I wish success to all the teams here. Also I want to say that the greatest success here is of the city of Istanbul. I would also like to thank Turkish Airlines for its sponsorship and efforts, which contribute to the city of Istanbul itself.”
CSKA Moscow head coach, Jonas Kazlauskas:
"It is very nice to be back to the Final Four after so many years. These are the four best teams in Europe and I like to feel this atmosphere in an excellent city like Istanbul. I hope that my team can win the trophy. From our side, I am sure that my team will give its best to compete for this trophy.
"For sure, if you are winning titles, you become more and more confident. I want more and more Chinese basketball fans to support CSKA. If they support us, it will be very good. I must admit I am a bit disappointed - these are four very good teams and there is only one trophy!"
CSKA Moscow forward Andrei Kirilenko [WATCH VIDEO INTERVIEW]:
"I very happy to be here. The Euroleague is a great competition and the four best teams in Europe are playing this Final Four. It is going to be very tough to lift the trophy, but I think we did a pretty good job during the season and deserve to play here."
"I am pretty sure all four teams here could be in the NBA playoffs. There are different rules and players, but all four teams have the heart of a champion and that is the most important thing. Talent and skills are important, but what you have in your head and heart are the main things – and I am sure all four teams in this Final Four have it."
"We had different experiences when we played in Turkey - we beat Efes and lost against Galatasaray. The fans were unbelievable and very, very passionate about basketball. I personally liked it even when they cheered against us. It is very nice to have people come to cheer that way. When you play against a lot of fans, even if they are cheering against you, is always nice."
"From the very beginning of the season, I have been very excited to play in the Euroleague. I stayed in Europe and love to play for CSKA, where I started my professional career at the high level. I have a title with my national team and now I want a European title with a club team. It is not going to be easy, as all four teams are equally ready to win it. It is going to be a very tough matchup tomorrow. Panathinaikos is a great team, it won the title last year. This is our first step here in Istanbul and we have to be very focused against them."
Panathinaikos head coach Zeljko Obradovic:
"I am sure it will be a very good Final Four. We have a great four teams here. We at Panathinaikos will try to do our best."
"Everybody is talking about the problems in Greece, but I believe that many countries have similar problems. I believe for Olympiacos and us it is a great result to be here. We know that there are always people that support us and this is always important for the team. We play against a great team like CSKA and will try to do our best."
Panathinaikos guard Dimitris Diamantidis [WATCH VIDEO INTERVIEW]:
"We are facing a formidable opponent in CSKA. I believe we will put 100 percent effort into winning."
"We played Fenerbahce Ulker [earlier this season in Istanbul]. The stadium was great and the fans were really supportive of their team. At the Final Four, the situation is a little different. We are glad we had the experience of playing here."
"We lost the regular season games [against CSKA]. It didn’t work out well for us, but that is in the past and we won’t repeat the mistakes of the past. We will try hard to advance."
Olympiacos Piraeus head coach Dusan Ivkovic:
“I want first to congratulate the Turkish Airlines Euroleague for a great season. All the teams that were a part of this league and of course I want to wish good luck to all players, coaches and fans at the Final Four. As for my team and myself, it is a great pleasure to be here in Istanbul. We have to do our best. We have a great opponent in FC Barcelona. They have experience. I expect a great semifinal game."
“I think this season the best teams are here and my team is very talented with players that grew up very much this season. I remember our first game in Bilbao and until now I am very satisfied with how we have grown. I enjoyed very much my job with these players. The semifinals – all of the Final Four games – there are so many details that are important. We have to forget about all that has happened until now. I expect my team to play more than great basketball."
“It is true that there are so many problems all around the world. We play basketball to do our best. In this situation, I know that my team has the best fans that have come to support us. Since the last Final Four that Olympiacos played in Paris, we have had so many changes; I am very happy that we are here. I expect great games."
“There are so many details in this game. It is very difficult to speak about the key points. I think in general Barcelona has great experience. On the other side, Olympiacos is younger, has more energy. I expect a great game. The main thing for my young players is not to be under pressure.”
Olympiacos Piraeus guard Vassilis Spanoulis [WATCH VIDEO INTERVIEW]:
“It’s great pleasure to be here. It was a tough road just to get here. This season I think we proved we belong here. Our goal is to play well against a great team, Barcelona, that has all our respect, and to do our best to get to the final."
“It’s one more Final Four, but a different team and a totally different situation. I have to say for my team that we will do everything to win. A lot of guys don’t believe in us or give us possibilities to win. We will try to prove on the court that we can do it."
“For us its fifth time we have been here. We came for preparation games against Fenerbahce Ulker and Efes and then played Galatasaray. It was a great experience. The arenas were full and it is always great to play in front of full arenas."
FC Barcelona Regal head coach Xavi Pascual:
"Hello everybody. We are happy to be here in Istanbul, it has been a long road; we played many games to make it to this Final Four. It will not be an easy game against Olympiacos, but we know we have our chance to win. They have experienced coaches and players and physical and technical skills. We will see what happens tomorrow."
"It is true that one lives the emotions of facing those who, just a short time ago, had been your coaching references or idols, as the three magnificent head coaches who sit with me right now. Seeing them turn into your rivals is exciting. I have been through that already and I face every opposing coach without getting excited about it. I don't think that the age difference or experience are significant at this level, in a good or bad way."
"I don't know the impression I give up here but I am very even-tempered facing the competition. I am looking forward to it, waiting for the games to start as soon as possible, especially ours. We have a lot of respect for our opponent, but we prepared for this game and I am sure it will go down to details. Personally, I am happy to be here."
"To begin with, it is an honor that a big institution like FC Barcelona can be competitive in all other sports sections, especially in basketball, where it is right at the top level. We all have to understand the number of people each sport moves, football is different than basketball, and be fully aware of it."
"Juan Carlos Navarro's fasciitis problems have returned. At this moment, he is being treated and undergoing some tests, so we will see his development. There are still more than 24 hours before the game, so we will see how he progresses, if he can play the game and in what condition. We are looking forward. Since he had to undergo some tests he couldn't be here."
FC Barcelona Regal forward Erazem Lorbek [WATCH VIDEO INTERVIEW]:
"Trying to win a second Euroleague title has inspired us a lot. I mean, it is a great feeling for me to win the Euroleague title, and you always want to come back. We didn't make it last year and are really happy to be back and have another chance."
"We played against Galatasaray this season and the fans were great. The game was very difficult for us and the fans made it more difficult. I think Turkish fans are great."
"I feel very comfortable in Istanbul and am proud to be here. Above all, I am very happy to be in the Final Four, it is a great experience to be here."