Before going back in my memory again about clutch players, there are a couple of things I'd like to note:
- With this series we will have several Top 10s, for instance the top scorers, top Americans, top non-Americans, etc... Many people could be on several lists but, I prefer to spread them through several categories. Therefore, is some player does not appear on a Top 10 in any given week, that's probably because he will appear on another list.
- I limit myself to players who left a mark on the EuroLeague and European club competitions, especially the former Champions Cup.
- As in any personal selection, I know that some people won't agree with my choices, criteria and memories, but that cannot be avoided. I hope we will coincide with mos of them, however.
- The order is arbitrary. As far as I am concerned, all the names deserve to be number one.
10. Dragan Kicanovic (1953)
One of my favorite players, because of his talent and character, the titles he won and his leadership. He was a natural-born winner and a player who shined with his own light, but who also made his teammates better. He formed a great duo in the 1970s with Drazen Dalipagic for Partizan and also for the Yugoslav national team. He was a three-time EuroBasket champion, an Olympic champion and world champion, plus the MVP in several big competitions. He was chosen the best European player twice. He scored the decisive basket against the USSR in the 1975 EuroBasket final, but his presence on the court was almost always decisive.
9. Juan Antonio San Epifanio (1959)
'Epi' was a natural offensive player with extraordinary shooting ability who could score from just about any spot on the court. In 1984, when three-pointers came to the international game, his privileged wrist increased in value even more. From his debut with the first team of Barcelona at age 17 in 1976, Epi established many records. He won 22 club trophies: seven Spanish Leagues, 10 Spanish Cups, two Cup Champions Cups, one Korac Cup, one Intercontinental Cup, silver and bronze medals with Spain in the 1983 and 1991 EuroBaskets, plus an Olympic silver in 1984. He was a shooter who had the full trust of his coaches. The strategy in clutch moments was simple: look for Epi and await his shot.
8. Mirza Delibasic (1954-2001)
He had supernatural talent. He started by winning the cadet EuroBasket in 1971 with Yugoslavia in the final against the host, Italy. He scored 99 points in that tourney and 144 the following summer with a new gold at the junior EuroBasket. That same summer, Delibasic left his native Tuzla and signed for Bosna Sarajevo. In seven years, Bosna went from the Yugoslav second division to European club champion in 1979 against five-time winner Varese. Without Delibasic, who scored 30 points, it would not have been possible. With his national team, from the 1975 EuroBasket through the 1982 World Championships, he won eight medals: two EuroBasket golds, in 1975 and 1977; a World Championships gold (1978); and the Olympic gold (1980).
7. Sergio Llull (1987)
He's a true master of the last shot. In any close game for Real Madrid, any viewer could be the head coach because the play is always the same: give the ball to Llull! There's a long list of his baskets on final shots that have been worth titles, like in the most recent Spanish King's Cup. Fast and explosive, Llull is a point guard by position, but he behaves more like a sharpshooter. In his 10th season with Real Madrid, he became EuroLeague champion in 2015. He also has three national league and five national cup trophies, winning MVP of the finals on four of those occasions. With the Spanish national team, he has two Olympics medals, silver in London 2012 and bronze in Rio (2016), not to mention three EuroBasket golds (2009, 2011, 2015) and one silver (2013) – and if anything his impact keeps growing!
6. Bob McAdoo (1951)
There are a few players who have won both the NCAA and the EuroLeague titles, for instance Jiri Zidek and Tyus Edney, but I do not recall anyone doing what Bob McAdoo has done: win the NBA first and the EuroLeague later! There were a few reverse cases, like Toni Kukoc, Emanuel Ginobili and Zan Tabak. McAdoo won the NBA in 1982 and 1985 with the Los Angeles Lakers. In the summer of 1986, he joined Olimpia Milan at almost 35 years old and he won that season's EuroLeague final against Maccabi, 71-69. McAdoo was the second-best scorer for his team, with 21 points. The following year, Milan repeated the title in the first Final Four of the modern era. McAdoo scored 39 points in the semifinal, which is still the record in a Final Four game. His 64 points that weekend is also a record for a winner of the title. In a single word: huge!
5. Tal Brody (1943)
It is normally said in Israel that Tal Brody marked a before and after in that country's basketball. It's impossible to say it better about such a player in so few words: Brody is a historic figure in Israeli sports. There's no doubt that better players than he have worn the Maccabi uniform, but Brody was the club's first big signing in 1966 and, as such, a key to its ambitions. Expectations came with his position, and in a word, he delivered. He lifted the first Champions Cup of Maccabi in 1977 as team captain after defeating Varese. hat day he uttered a phrase never forgotten in Israel: "We're on the map, and we're staying on the map." The club's ambition was reached with Brody's leadership and has continued ever since. He's still in Tel Aviv as a living legend, a great leader.
4. Sergei Belov (1944-2013)
A master, a natural born leader, a champion, a winner and a gentleman on and off the court. When FIBA had a poll in 1991 to name the best player until that time, Belov won. In 1969, he lifted his first of two Champions Cup – the original EuroLeague – against Real Madrid in an unforgettable game that CSKA won after two overtimes, 103-93. Belov played 50 minutes and finished with 19 points and 10 rebounds. Two years later, he did so again as CSKA's top scorer, with 24 points, against defending champ Varese. With the USSR, he was Olympic champion in Munich 1972, world champion twice (1967, 1974), and EuroBasket gold-medalist four times (1967, 1969, 1971, 1979) . He won a total 18 medals with the USSR: four in the Olympics, six in the worlds, and seven at EuroBaskets. And whenever he played, he was the man for the last shot.
3. Toni Kukoc (1968)
In the summer of 1985, two years he started playing basketball, Kukoc won his first gold medal with the Yugoslav cadet team, and one year later he did the same as a junior. His first men's medal was bronze at EuroBasket 1987 as one of four juniors on the team. That same summer, Kukoc won the junior worlds gold with two victories against the United States, one by 110-95 thanks to his 37 points on 11 of 12 three-point shooting! The rest is history. He was a triple EuroLeague champ with Jugoplastika (1989, 1990 and 1991) and a three-time Final Four MVP. Among five medals with Yugoslavia, he won EuroBasket gold in 1989 and 1991, World Championships gold in 1990, and Olympics silver in 1988. Among three medals with Croatia, he won the Olympics silver again in 1992. On top of that, he was also an NBA champ three times with Chicago. A true champion.
2. Dimitris Diamantidis (1980)
For many, 13 means bad luck. Dimitris Diamantidis didn't believe in that and he accepted that jersey number, which took him great levels of success during a career that lasted from 1999 to 2016. One cannot say whether he was a better defender (six-time EuroLeague best defender), passer (EuroLeague leader in 2011 and 2014), or leader of Panathinaikos, which whom he was a three-time EuroLeague champ (in 2007, 2009 and 2011), Final Four MVP in 2007 and 2011, and full-season EuroLeague MVP in 2011. He is still the all-time king in assists and steals in the EuroLeague. A genius player. He was left-handed – an advantage according to many coaches – smart, a fighter and a great shooter. But above all, he was a great leader. The best years of Panathinaikos, which has more titles than any club in the Final Four era, coincided with the career of Diamantidis – that says it all. The EuroLeague is not the same without him.
1. Vassilis Spanoulis (1982)
More than just decisive, Spanoulis is the second three-time EuroLeague Final Four MVP, after Kukoc, but the only person to simultaneously win that award and the title three times. A gifted playmaker, a consummate leader and a peerless scorer, whether inside or outside, Spanoulis is above all a repository of trust from both his coaches and his teammates. Few teams depend so much on a player as Olympiacos does with Spanoulis. The most extreme case could be seen at the EuroLeague championship game in London 2013 against Real Madrid. Spanoulis did not score in the first half, when his team trailed by as many as 17 points, but ended the game with 22 points on 5 of 9 three-point shooting as the Reds won their second consecutive EuroLeague title. In the previous edition, he set up Georgios Printezis with an assists for the title-winning shot. Spanoulis is two players in one, really, and both are clutch.