The Turkish Airlines EuroLeague FanZone, the colorful meeting point for every basketball fan at the Final Four and a perfect place to interact with EuroLeague stars of past and present, is once again drawing a massive interest halfway through Final Four weekend.
Located at the trendy Marmara Forum in Istanbul, packed with fans wearing the colors of their favorite teams, the FanZone gives an opportunity to kids and grown-ups of all ages to enjoy all the possible fun that basketball and the Final Four can offer, and experience it alongside their basketball idols from each of the teams battling in the games at Sinan Erdem Dome that will determine the continental champion.
The FanZone fun on Saturday morning got off to an exciting start, as five Final Four stars – Kyle Hines of CSKA Moscow, Othello Hunter of Real Madrid, Ahmet Duverioglu of Fenerbahce Istanbul, and Olympiacos Piraeus duo Kostas Papanikolaou and Ioannis Papapetrou – demonstrated the values of the One Team programme with Special Olympics athletes before mixing and mingling with all fans in the FanZone.
At the same time, Luigi Datome of Fenerbahce, Anthony Randolph of Madrid and Vangelis Mantzaris of Olympiacos drew a huge crowd when they appeared in the FanZone before proceeding to Marmara Forum's adidas store as part of the traditional Trophy Tour event.
"I won this trophy twice, but it is always very nice and a great feeling to be close to it again because you feel excitement," Mantzaris said after signing more than a hundred autographs and posing for as many photos, mostly with Fenerbahce fans, who lead in the numbers game at the FanZone. "We will try to do our best to win it for the third time on Sunday."
"It was actually very nice seeing all these Fenerbahce fans wanting to get my autograph and take a picture with me. It shows respect, and that is what sports and basketball is doing. They should unite people. I think this is a perfect example here in this FanZone. We are here together to enjoy the sport. The best players and the best teams in Europe are here. Surely, everybody wants to win, but off the court, we are all friends."
One of the lucky ones to get a photo with Randolph, Datome and Mantzaris and autographs on his Fenerbahce jersey was nine-year-old Atilla Derya Usten, who arrived to the FanZone with his father Hazim.
"Atilla loves Fenerbahce very much, and especially Gigi Datome, Ekpe Udoh and James Nunnally," his father said. "For him, to see all these players, this is a dream. But I am excited, too."
If the first part of the day was reserved for the visit of the EuroLeague stars of today, on Saturday evening it will be the EuroLeague Legends who will re-visit the FanZone. Matjaz Smodis, Michalis Kakiouzis, Ermal Kuqo and Nikola Vujcic will serves as judges in the slam dunk contest that will feature U18 basketball stars participating in the EuroLeague Basketball ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT.
A busy FanZone day will be capped with a live concert by popular Turkish rock band maNga, however, another feature in the bundle of entertainment at the place where basketballs never stop bouncing. To the beat of the music played by DJs from Kral Group, the official radio partner of the Final Four in Istanbul, anyone at the FanZone can choose to participate in any of the different activities set up for them. There are many basketball shooting contest for spectators to win prizes in the Turkish Airlines Entertainment area, Dogus Stay in the Game area, Nesine and Tadim arenas, or Powerade and Efes stands. Fans of all ages can also take a photo with the EuroLeague trophy at the 7DAYS stand, or get their avatar projected on the Sinan Erdem Dome court at The Portal. Fans can also get their ever-lasting Final Four souvenirs at Intersport and Turkish Towel stands. The most skilled ones can try to show off their own basketball skills on any of more than a dozen basketball courts set up in the FanZone, or watch others do it when teams square off in three different categories of the classic adidas 3X3 Tournaments.
The FanZone is open again on Sunday in the run-up to that night's championship game, offering something for everyone and a place for every basketball fan in Istanbul.