A panel of European basketball greats looked to the past and the future during the annual Final Four symposium in Madrid on Saturday. The symposium, "50 Years of European Club Basketball: The evolution of the game on and off the court", offered six distinguished panel members the opportunity to discuss the changes from European club basketball's early beginnings on outdoor courts to today's game as played in glitzy arenas and relayed live around the world through technology. The panelists were Borislav Stankovic, FIBA Secretary General Emeritus; Eduardo Portela, ULEB President; Shimon Mizrahi, Maccabi Tel Aviv President; Dejan Bodiroga, Lottomatica Roma Team Manager; Aito Garcia Reneses, DKV Joventut Head Coach; and Sergio Scariolo, Unicaja Head Coach. The audience consisted of Final Four guests, media members and students of the Masters in Sports Marketing and Communications co-sponsored by Euroleague Basketball and Universita Ca´ Foscari in Venice, Italy. Here are some excerpts of their discussion.
Borislav Stankovic, FIBA Secretary General Emeritus
- "That Euroleague Basketball has 2.5 million spectators in one season now is remarkable. When we started, those kinds of numbers were just unthinkable. There is a great interest in the game but also in the business of Euroleague basketball as well. Overhead costs have gone up, so there is a greater need to generate revenues. "
- "We need unity to have strength in European basketball. We cannot have two groups. We simply need to find the ways to work together and I don't think we are far from it. "
- "We need to work much harder on the organization of the games. Music and entertainment are necessary. We can draw ideas from others of how things can be done. It doesn't have to be only a game. It can also be about listening to music and about being a show. It should be a small show. And this can work if we work with the clubs."
- "If we have a good organization and a good game, I think the economic situation of the Euroleague clubs will improve. I don't think we need to worry about Americans taking our players. If you can earn enough here, I think the players will decide to stay here. "
Eduardo Portela, ULEB President
- "The Euroleague is a great organization but we need to organize with FIBA. Altogether, we've been successful. We've wanted to control our destiny and we succeeded with that. We need to make good use of that capacity. It's good we have the agreement with FIBA Europe which establishes the role of both organizations and where all organizations will benefit."
- "In my humble opinion, I think there is a great crisis in American basketball. There is a problem in U.S. colleges. There are no players coming up. So the NBA is going to find players they like in Europe. But we have to be patient and go on working and redoubling our effort and waiting until the trend reverses itself. We cannot beat them. It's the players themselves who will decide. Bodiroga decided to not go and to stay in Europe. We need to be patient."
Shimon Mizrahi, Maccabi Tel Aviv President
- "Before, basketball was shining in smaller cities like Cantu, Varese and Pau-Orthez, which won the French domestic league and then played in Europe. And now you see big cities like Rome, Berlin and Brussels doing their best to build winning teams. "
- "We cannot ignore the fact that the former Yugoslavia supplied so many players and coaches. And with the Soviet Union there were political issues that interfered with the sport with games being forfeited and played at neutral sites. But will the fall of the Iron Curtain, the issue became history. "
- "We also have more exposure now compared to soccer. In the past it was difficult to find coverage. But today there is a lot more coverage in the papers and on the internet. "
- "Another major factor over the time was foreigners and naturalization of players and the Bosman ruling. We discovered talent in South America and Africa and they have made an impact on the Euroleague basketball. "
Dejan Bodiroga, Lottomatica Roma Team Manager
- "We see more players coming from countries that we would not say are historical basketball countries. But they are very important players for their teams and that is very good for basketball. "
- "The game has changed. We don't see players scoring 25 or 30 points a game any more. The game is more physical. There are more tactics. And the game is more collective, players play more for the team. Also, many of the players are young and many people forget some essential things. You need to have a good fundamental basis to play the game correctly. The game is not just physical. And sometimes young players forget that and that could be a problem in the future."
- "The game has evolved tremendously. We see great talent in the players - even more than 15 or 20 years back. Players leave for America and succeed. Twenty years ago that was unthinkable. But Europe is quite a different place. Only with the help of all will we be able to succeed and I think we have come to a great point in the history of our sport."
Aito Garcia Reneses, DKV Joventut Head Coach
- "We used to look to university and college basketball as our reference. But the main difference was the execution of the fundamentals of the game, they did that at a much faster speed. And I think we in Europe have learned to speed up the execution of the fundamentals. "
- "Early on we were astounded by the level of the NBA game. Eventually we caught up to the NBA. Thanks to the efforts of many managers, players and coaches from the U.S., we improved the level of our game. But we haven't fallen into the overall trap of over-marketing the game."
- "Of course, European basketball is not as strong as the NBA. We don't have the dollars and financial strength of the NBA. But I think over the past few years we are getting there. "
Sergio Scariolo, Unicaja Head Coach
- "I think we have all come to realize that the product that we are trying to sell is the most important part. And the product is the game. And we have to promote the game. But if the quality goes down, it will be more difficult to get fans and sponsors."
- "We have seen an evolution of the physiques of the players, in their bodies. Science has had a very important role in the evolution of the game as well, with training techniques and recovery techniques."
- "I think the turning point came with the three-time champion Split teams (1989-1991) - not because of the results but because of the style of the game, their movement and speed and the participation of more players. That was the turning point - more of a concept of team play for the collective."
- "I think we would all agree that the evolution of the game will always favor the players who can pass the ball and will always favor the teams with many players in their roles who can pass the ball and choose the right moment to pass to the right person."
- "An important part of the step forward as a coach is the area of having most of the games online and being able to work with a huge database. We have seen companies which select images of players and store them. And if you want to know how many three-pointers a player on a team has made from the right side of the court, you can call up the company and get that information. So the web has a great relevance."