To a weekend that will go down as one of the best in basketball history, an extra touch of class was added by the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Final Four team that had the most to be disappointed about. A day after losing the final in the most shocking manner possible, CSKA Moscow president Andrey Vatutin proved that his club honors the spirt of fair play with a congratulatory letter to newly crowned Euroleague champion, Olympiacos Piraeus, published on the latter's website Wednesday.
“Dear friends, we congratulate you on winning the Euroleague title after a dramatic final," Vatutin wrote. "Your team has shown great progress during the season and deserved victory. It was an honor to play this decisive game against such honest opponents and great friends. Please accept one more time our warmest congratulations!"
Of course, CSKA had every reason to be crushed by its last-second defeat, especially after having led in the final by 19 points with 12 minutes to play. But CSKA also has every reason to be proud of its own spectacular season. A year after its record eight-year streak in the Final Four was snapped unexpectedly, CSKA bounced back this year with one of its best seasons ever. While its stated goal and every ambition was to win the Euroleague title, not even losing the trophy in the season's last second was able to alter CSKA's sense of sportsmanship.
The definition of sportsmanship - that it's not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game - already applied to CSKA. Now, so does the maxim that true character in sports is not measured in how well you win, but in how courageously you accept even the most stinging defeat. Congratulations to CSKA Moscow, too.