Navarro on a celebrating rage
The spring of 2003 will always be remembered by FC Barcelona fans, whose team managed to clinch its first-ever Euroleague title in a Final Four which took place in its own city, Barcelona, between May 9 and 11. The whole city had reasons to celebrate, as Barcelona had lost 5 Euroleague finals in the previous 20 years, and managed to lift the trophy in a fully-packed Palau Sant Jordi, in front of 16,670 people, a new record in Spain, showing that the Euroleague project was more than a reality. The competition system went down from 32 to 24 teams, divided into 3 groups of 8 teams each during the first phase. The top 5 teams in each group plus the best-ranked sixth, Montepaschi Siena of Italy, made it to the Top 16. The teams were divided into 4 groups of 4 teams each, in which only the group champions would make it to the Final Four. Barcelona, Montepaschi, Benetton Treviso and CSKA Moscow were the 4 teams classified for the Final Four. In the first semifinal, Barcelona managed to rally in the final minutes to beat CSKA, 76-71, after a back-and-forth battle, with many lead changes. Gregor Fucka, with 21 points and 9 rebounds, and Dejan Bodiroga, who had 17 points, led Barcelona to the final. Benetton filled its role as favourite in the second semifinal by beating Montepaschi 65-62. Benetton led with authority until a mamooth 32-8 run gave Montepaschi a 55-47 lead with 8 minutes to go, but Benetton managed to come back and seal the win with 4 free throws by Massimo Bulleri in the final minute. In the final, the local fans created an atmosphere never seen in an European basketball game, and Barcelona lived up to the expectations, beating Benetton 76-65. Bodiroga, with 20 points and 8 rebounds, earned MVP honors for the second year in a row. Fucka, Rodrigo De La Fuente, Juan Carlos Navarro and Patrick Femerling also played key roles. Svetislav Pesic, in his first season coaching Barcelona, took his team to its most desired title. Tyus Edney had 16 points for Benetton and Bulleri added 11 more, but it was not enough to stop Barcelona from breaking its jinx and, at the same time, entering its name into the the list of Euroleague winners.
Interview: Dejan Bodiroga of Barcelona
Bodiroga scores third
The European market was marked by a great move in the summer of 2002 when Dejan Bodiroga announced that he would move to Spain to play with FC Barcelona the same year that the Euroleague would have its final event, the Final Four, hosted in the same city. Bodiroga delivered and he stepped up with a huge performance of 20 points and 8 rebounds in the title game against Benetton Treviso of Italy to give Barcelona and its fans the first European crown after failed attempts during the last 19 years. What's more, Bodiroga even put the right end to his great Euroleague season with the MVP title of the Final Four, just as he had done the previous season when he led Panathinaikos of Greece to the title in Bologna. "Every title has its value" Bodiroga said to Euroleague.net. "The one with Barcelona makes me proud because we met high expectations."
Which do you think was the key to defeat Benetton in the final?
"First I would think the key was in the defense that our whole team played against Benetton. We stopped their transition game and the fastbreak that was their great weapon. Also the defense against Edney and their big men who play outside."
Many people might ask themselves how can you remain so concentrated even in difficult and pressurefull situation like the final of Euroleague?
"That was a victory by the team, everyone, and personally, I like to enjoy finals as much as I can. To play a final, above all in the Euroleague, is the most fun to play. I like them and I like winning them, and for that reason I play the best I can."
What is your impression about the event organization and about Barcelona's championship repercusion in the main media of Europe?
"First, I think that basketball has won with this Final Four. With four sets of fans together and no problems, just a basketball party, everyone enjoyed their teams. The semis and the final, with 16,000 fans or more, it was a demonstration of great organization and the beuatiful event that is the Final Four. Winning the Euroleague is so important for every player. To have this league is very important for every player. To win it is a precious thing, a title with weight behind it. It's a cup with a lot of prestige for any player. It's the most important."
Which Final Four was better or special for you, Bologna 2002 with Panathinaikos or Barcelona 2003 with Barca?
"Every title has its value, its importance and its memories. The one in Thessaloniki was the first, the one in Bologna we won against the predictions and this one with Barcelona makes me proud because we met high expectations."