Long before they were walking the sidelines in suits and ties, the head coaches of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague were first fans, players and basketball lovers themselves. EuroLeague.net asked them to cast their memories back to when they discovered the sport and tell us what about that discovery made basketball the game of their lives.
"I used to play soccer, because my father was a soccer player, and quite a good one, at that. So I was playing soccer, but one soccer coach who used to coach my father, as well, he kept teasing me because of my hair. Back then, I had long hair, which probably was a good fashion at the time, to have long hair as a soccer player. Therefore, the coach started calling me 'philosopher'. And because I answered back to his criticism, quietly or loudly, he pushed me out of soccer when I was about 15 years old. At that same time, in 1985 and '86, the Greek national team, as well as Aris Thessaloniki and PAOK Thessaloniki, were playing good basketball, and I turned myself totally to basketball.
"That was the moment in 1987 that I fell in love in the sport."
"I remember trying to find films of George Gervin, Julius Erving, Bernard King, those big NBA stars, great scorers. And back then, there was no Internet. Back then, we would be waiting in line at the video club just to get one tape from an NBA all-star game, or a Lakers vs. Celtics game. And you had to have a VHS player. I was lucky because my parents, amazingly, bought a VHS player for me as a gift in 1985.
"Then, in 1987 there was the European Basketball Championships in Greece, with Nikos Galis, Panagiotis Giannakis, Panagiotis Fasoulas, Fanis Christodoulou, Argyris Kabouris and those guys – they made miracles! We won the European Championship title, a small country against the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Italy and those titans of basketball. Everyone went out on the streets, and now even every grandfather and grandmother knew about basketball. So, that was the moment in 1987 that I fell in love in the sport.
"I am thankful to that coach...who kicked me out of soccer."
"I remember one of my first books was This Is Basketball. How you shoot, how you dribble, how you teach other kids. I was interested in that. Then I had my first coach, Pavlos Parisopoulos – my first normal coach, if I may say – in Thessaloniki. He is a teacher now in school. He taught us how to pass, the give-and-go, the screen-away, terminologies that were not that familiar to us. And that's how it all started off with me.
"Even before that, however, I played with my friends on the playgrounds. We played from the morning until it was dark. We played with mosquitos chasing us and had one street lamp giving us just enough light to keep playing. I put up my own basket in my room. It was not a basket, actually, but I put a tomato can over the window and used a hammer to stabilize it. I played with a soccer ball, because I could not have a basketball at the time. My mother would say, 'You are late again. Basketball is not going to fit you.' Well, eventually, I told her that basketball did fit me, and her, and everyone else. It was destiny.
"I was touched with the success that our country had in 1987, definitely. But I have said it before, that I am actually thankful to the coach, who has unfortunately passed away, who kicked me out of soccer into something I fell in love with."