The first time Cologne crowned the EuroLeague champion: Cantu 1982

Feb 26, 2020 by Javi Gancedo, Print
The first time Cologne crowned the EuroLeague champion: Cantu 1982

When the winning team raises the trophy at the end of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Championship Game on May 24 at LANXESS Arena, it will become the second club to celebrate becoming the king of European basketball in the city of Cologne, Germany. The first, Squibb Cantu, did so 38 years earlier.

Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv and Squibb Cantu battled for the 1982 EuroLeague title at a packed Sporthalle in front of 8,000 fans. Sporthalle was the home court to four-time German basketball champion Saturn Cologne and the city's premier indoor sports and concert venue until 1998 when LANXESS Arena opened its doors. Over its four decades in service to the city, Sporthalle hosted championship boxing, tennis and cycling events among many others and top-class concerts with the likes of The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, David Bowie, Queen, Elton John, Depeche Mode, and Prince, among many others, playing Sporthalle.

The only music to be heard on March 25, 1982, was the chants of Maccabi and Cantu basketball fans. Cantu was perhaps the most experienced EuroLeague championship game newcomer in history after winning three Korac Cup and four Cup Winners' Cup titles between 1973 to 1981. Its main players were Antonello Riva and Pierluigi Marzorati, who shared his recollections of that night with

"When I arrived at the hotel the day before the game, I found a message from the FC Juventus President, Giampiero Boniperti, and it was extra motivation for me and the team because the whole Italian sport was looking to us, hoping for continental success," Marzorati said. "The arena was full of yellow fans coming from all Germany and all over Europe, but also from Cantu we had 600 fans yelling for us from the first minute."

"The arena was full of yellow fans coming from all Germany and all over Europe."

Maccabi was the defending champion and looking for its third EuroLeague title after lifting the trophy. It was also Maccabi's third consecutive championship game appearance; it had lost to Real Madrid in 1980 and defeated Virtus Bologna in the 1981 final with Mickey Berkowitz, Lou Silver, Earl Williams and Aulcie Perry as its main players.

It was a basketball celebration and the City of Cologne made sure it was as good as it could get. Before the game, Daugava Riga of the Soviet Union and Minjor Penrik of Bulgaria played the EuroLeague Women's Championship Game. Riga prevailed 78-56.

Marzorati remembered how the team prepared for the game with an off-court activity before an action-packed evening: "I just walked around the city the morning before the game and I had to admire the cathedral of Cologne, a superb building, one of the best examples of Gothic architecture. The city looked beautiful in general to me."

The tension was so high around the team that Cantu's president Aldo Allievi fell ill the morning before the game, probably a from a nervous reaction. Despite his doctors' advice, Allievi attended the game.

"The arena wasn’t so good, at that time German basketball is not at the top level like now and the infrastructure had many problems, for example, the press facilities, and the court was not a real parquet, but in the end, on the court, we won and that was the most important thing," Marzorati said.

"It was an amazing achievement for the little Cantu against a giant."

Maccabi was the favorite and led 18-20 after 10 minutes, but Cantu's foreign duo of Bruce Flowers and Charles Kupec led their team to a 44-39 halftime edge. Maccabi nosed in front 46-47, but Riva and Flowers rescued Cantu, giving the Italian powerhouse a double-digit margin, 65-55, with 12 minutes left. Maccabi managed to get within 81-78, but Perry missed a shot with 40 seconds left and free throw accuracy allowed Cantu and president Allievi to celebrate the win.

When the dust settled, the scoreboard read: 86-80. Kupec led the way with 23 points, Flowers added 21, Marzorati scored 18 and Riva 16. Berkowitz and Silver netted 16 each for Maccabi. Cantu became the first team to win all three major European titles in that era: the EuroLeague, Cup Winners' Cup, and Korac Cup.

"It was an amazing experience because it was the first victory for Cantu in the EuroLeague. I remember the night after the game we did not sleep, me and my roommate Giorgio Cattini, after the ceremony and the dinner we went around the city with our fans chanting, and it was a joy, as our Coach Valerio Bianchini described to us before the game," Marzorati explained. "It was an amazing achievement for the little Cantu against a giant, an entire nation, everybody knows what Maccabi is for Israel and European basketball."

Cantu went on to successfully defend the title in 1983 by downing Olimpia Milan 69-68 in Grenoble, France. It was the ninth European title won by Cantu, which would eventually add a 10th - the 1991 Cup Winners' Cup. Maccabi won the FIBA SuproLeague title in 2001, but had to wait until 2004 to again become the continental champion when it routed Skipper Bologna 118-74 in an unforgettable final in Tel Aviv.