On May 6, when Panathinaikos earned the title of Euroleauge champion for 2006-07, a new king among European players was crowned, too. The trophy he raised to the Athens fans made Panathinaikos captain Fragiskos Alvertis the single most successful player in the Final Four era, which started in 1988 and has covered two out of the five decades in European basketball history. Alvertis now owns four continental titles, all won with Panathinaikos, in 1996, 2000, 2002 and 2007. The most-crowned European player ever is Dino Meneghin of Italy with seven titles - five with Varese between 1970 and 1976, then two with Milan in 1987 and 1988. Only the very last of those titles came at a Final Four. One of Meneghin's Varese teammates, Aldo Ossola, finished with five crowns, tying him with Clifford Luyk, who won the same number between 1964 and 1974 with Real Madrid. Alvertis is now tied with six other men who won four titles - Wayne Brabender, Cristobal Rodriguez, Emiliano Rodríguez, Lolo Sainz, Carlos Sevillano, Marino Zanatta - all of them did so before the Final Four era. His fourth title lifted Alvertis above a tie he shared with 27 players, 10 of whom had won three Final Fours. Now he stands alone with the most Final Four victories of any player to date.
Sometimes, basketball greatness is not just a destination, but a destiny. On June 14, 1987, a few hours before the Greek national team won the country's first European Championships at home in Athens, one of that day's heroes, Liveris Andritsos, signed an autograph on the school book of 12-year-old Fragiskos Alvertis. Two years later, the name of Alvertis appeared for the first time in the Greek press, at the bottom of the roster of lower-division Glyfada, the team from the seaside Athens suburb where he grew up. Alvertis was 15 years old and considered a sharp shooter with great size. During the following year, 1990, Panathinaikos president Pavlos Giannakopoulos paid a big amount of money to Glyfada and parted with one of the best Greek water polo players ever, Dimitris Seletopoulos, in exchange for the 16-year-old phenom named Alvertis. Before the year was over, Alvertis was sitting alongside Andritsos on the same Panathinaikos bench. It was the start of a player-club relationship that is rare in modern sports. The Panathinaikos water polo team might have lost its leader, but the basketball team found one to last a generation - and more. In his 17th season with the Greens, Alvertis now has won 19 trophies total, among the most ever lifted by any player in Europe.
"Alvertis is the best captain I ever had in any of the teams I have coached"
- Zelimir Obradovic, Panathinaikos coach and six-time Euroleague champion
In his early days as a pro, Alvertis had to carry the basketballs to practice, but he had his own chauffeur. His teammate and future NBA star Antonio Davis picked up Alvertis every day from home to drive him to practice, as young Fragiskos - who soon came to be called Frankie - did not have driving license. What he had, however, was a license to kill from the perimeter, especially after another experienced teammate of his and now successful coach, Argyris Pedoulakis, advised him that "shooting the ball from outside is your lethal weapon. Practice a thousand shots each day and you will always have a job". So Alvertis did just that. He kept shooting the ball and found himself the best job of all; title-winner.
In the early days of his career there was a lot of discussion about which position Alvertis should play. He was considered too tall to play shooting guard, too soft to play small forward and too good from the perimeter to play near the basket. Time gave the solution. "Life is doing circles," he says. "I started to play in the paint because of my height and later on I went to the perimeter. From power forward, I moved to small forward and then to shooting guard, and then in recent years I reversed the process. Now, I can even play center whenever the coach wants." Intellegence helped Alvertis adjust to new realities in basketball as athleticism became an increasingly decisive factor at the elite level. Alvertis used his height to grab rebounds, his good positioning to win charging fouls, his smarts to play good team-defense and his sharp shooting to punish opposing defenses from the weak side. "I never play dirty," Alvertis says. "But, yes, I will use my body, I will play tough and smart to win every single ball position."
During his 17 years at Panathinaikos, Alvertis has played with some of the sport’s greatest names: Nick Galis, Arijan Komazec, Zarko Paspalj, Dominique Wilkins, Byron Scott, Dejan Bodiroga. "I never gave up trying and I always tried to add to my game the best of each of those players," he says. By 1993, Alvertis had celebrated the first of his long string of trophies, the Greek Cup. The next two years, however, he experienced many disappointments as Panathinakos was knocked out of the Euroleague semifinals twice by its arch-rival, Olympiacos. Although Alvertis celebrated the eventual defeats of Olympiacos, he later admitted his mistake. "I was just a kid," he said. "I was badly influenced by the hostile rivalry between the two clubs." In 1996, Panathinaikos became the first Greek team to win Europe's top club title, beating Barcelona in a legendary final game in Paris. At the age of 22, Alvertis was already the Green with the most years on the team and he was the high scorer in the final game, with 17 points. "I experienced a rare feeling of sweet frisson," Alvertis remembers. The years to come were about to put the names Alvertis and Panathinaikos with gold letters in the book of European basketball history.
"He is the living flag of Panathinaikos"
- Dejan Bodiroga, former teammate and three-time Euroleague champion
In 1998, Panathinaikos won its first Greek League title in 14 years. Since then, there have been seven more, a total of eight in nine seasons, the highest concentration of domestic titles in the club's storied history of 27 since 1946. To their first Greek Cup trophy together, Alvertis and Panathinaikos have added five more. In 1996, after the first of their four Euroleague crowns, Panathinaikos also won an official Intercontinental Cup tournament. Altogether, that makes 19 trophies that Alvertis and the Greens have hoisted together, several of them with him as captain, the first to raise the cups to the sky. Alvertis was a regular member of the Greek National team from 1993 to 2004, suiting up in the national
uniform 155 times and scoring a total of 1599 points. He retired after the Athens 2004 Olympic Games and did not have the opportunity to win a medal with the national teams. However, Alvertis who served captain of the National team, too, had great moments in two World Championships, two Olympic Games and five European Championships in which he participated.
As well as the most-crowned player of his generation in Europe, Alvertis at 32 years old is a family man, a father of one son, Carolos, and husband to Anta, a former water polo player whom he sat next to in high school. Off the court, Frankie loves hunting and fishing, likes to play with his dogs and birds, and enjoys a night out with good food in a traditional Greek tavern. He drinks a glass of red wine before performing his favorite zeibekiko
, a traditional Greek dance for men, to the folkloric music of the bouzouki
. To relax, he prefers a good book, such as "The Old Man and the Sea" by Ernest Hemingway, one of his favorites. On the court, he always has ambitious goals, the next being this season's Greek League title, which would give him a remarkable total of 20 trophies in 17 years of playing for Panathinaikos.
"I just love playing basketball, every single moment of it: a shot, a rebound, fighting for good position," Alvertis says. "And I really feel rich in emotions. I am happy to be part of Panathinaikos. I have spent half of my life here."