Turkish Airlines EuroLeague superstar Vassilis Spanoulis is one of the most successful players in European basketball history. He has taken part in five EuroLeague Championship Games and won three of them - with Panathinaikos Athens in 2009 and with Olympiacos in 2012 and 2013. A father of five children, Spanoulis has been able to get his team to the Final Four in every year in which he and his wife Olympia Chopsonidou had a baby. Moreover, Spanoulis won his three EuroLeague titles each year his first three sons - Thanassis, Vassilis and Dimitris - were born. In less than a decade, Vassilis and Olympia have become a big family and they love it. "I am very happy. Family is number one for me. I pray that everything will be alright and that we will be a happy and proud family," Spanoulis said.
"My life changed a lot when we started to have kids, but we wanted it a lot. I am a family person and so is my wife. We are really, really happy to have such a big family. We are all the time with the kids and have a great time with them. It is miracle, what happened to our family." Spanoulis said he dreamed about a big family, but having five kids it is something you don't really get to think about. "I didn't expect to have so many kids, but you never get to expect things in life. We are so much in love and needed a big family and thank God, we have it."
How has Spanoulis's life changed with so many children around? If you see the way he plays and behaves on the court, you can tell he is still the same professional, focused player he has always been and is aging better than most players his age.
"For sure, having kids makes you more mature and more responsible... but I was very responsible when I was young. For me, personally, having my family supporting me in everything I do makes me stronger, psychologically speaking. It gives me great confidence and put me in a great mood," Spanoulis admitted. His kids give him the boost he needs to be positive and keep working hard. "Every time I come back from practices and games, especially after trips, the first thing I want to do is see my wife and kids. This is great. Seeing them smile when I come home takes out everything bad that could have happened during the day."
Asked about him winning EuroLeague titles and going to the Final Four every year one of his kids was born, Spanoulis doesn't pay that much attention. "Well, it happened like this! The most important thing for me is that my kids are healthy and I don't believe such things like this. Whatever happened, happened!" he said.
"I don't pay so much attention to that, you know? The most important thing for me is being focused on the game, not thinking 'Oh, now my wife had a baby, we will go to the Final Four for sure this year.' I don't think like this. I don't pay attention to this," he added. "People like to get busy with these things and give more attention to it. It is normal, but I just don't do it."
Of course, Spanoulis credits his wife Olympia for taking care of the family when he is on the road, which is pretty often. He is also happy that he and Olympia are doing a good job raising them, which is his number one priority in recent years. "My kids are great. They are very responsible, very disciplined. I have to say they make my life easier because they are super good kids. I feel blessed. Olympia is doing great; it is not easy, but she is outstanding when it comes to taking care of the kids and being close with them all the time. She gives her life for them."
Some of his kids have very famous godfathers, including EuroLeague legend Theo Papaloukas and former EuroLeague champion Nikos Zisis, who currently plays for Brose Bamberg. "Well, once you play basketball, you make friends. It is good for me to have some people close to home, and I am really happy and proud about this. Family and basketball are my big two loves, so it is good they are connected. And my kids love basketball!"
That led us to the next subject in this conversation. His kids are being raised in a basketball family, with a lot of basketball players around them. Spanoulis – and Zisis, for that matter – are well-known for talking basketball non-stop. There may be some expectations regarding his kids, but Spanoulis puts family first again. Basketball is a great way for his kids to have a lot of fun and meet great friends, but there is no pressure for any of them to become a professional player in the long run. "Right now, they are very young and what they have to do is enjoy playing basketball with their friends and spend time with them. Of course, they are growing up in a basketball family and they are always at my games, in the stadium. That makes them love the sport even more.
"Thanassis is eight and is playing on a team in my home, Vouliagmeni, but just playing for fun. I go to see him play when I am around. It is nice, but again, I am happy that he enjoys it and has fun playing basketball, it is just a regular father-son relationship, nothing else," Spanoulis said. When asked about some parents going too far in youth competitions, Spanoulis does not want to be one for them. "It happens everywhere, but my parents didn't do this and of course, I will not do this. It is not my character and I won't do that to my son. I just sit on the back, support him and enjoy watching him play."
How does he manage to stay in touch with Zisis and make sure he sees his kids here and there? Well, we are living in the 21st century, after all, and it is easy to catch up. "Theo and Nikos are great godfathers, they love it! I am very proud of them being my kids' godfathers. With modern technology, it is easy to catch up with anybody, even when I travel a lot and Nikos lives in Bamberg. We are in daily contact through FaceTime," Spanoulis said. Still, every time there is a chance, Billy and Nikos get together and relax in some quiet place with their wives and kids. "It is much better when we are together, but this is our job and we must do it. We try to spend a week of holiday together and every time we have a chance to be together, we take it."
Being a family man, it is not easy for Spanoulis to be apart from his family. "It is difficult, but I have to do it, it is my job. Like I said before, we try to catch up on FaceTime, just like I do with Zisis, and see my kids when I am away. They are always asking when I will be back!" he said with a smile in his face. Asked about the possibility of moving somewhere else during his career, Spanoulis loves his country and raising his children in the best environment possible. "I love Olympiacos and they love me back, there is a great connection. We share the same feelings and this is why I stayed here, for sure. I am Greek and being here makes things easier for the kids, to go to school. If I had decided to leave Olympiacos, of course I would have moved my family with me, but like I said, I love Olympiacos and staying was an easy decision for me."
His family does not change the way Spanoulis is on the court - simply put, one of the biggest winners in this game. He remains hungry and wants more championships. "Of course, I am motivated to win more EuroLeague titles. I want to make my family happy and that gives me extra motivation, too. I want to make my family proud, so if I am tired or disappointed and think about my family, everything stops and I am more thirsty than ever. "
His son Thanassis likes some players from the other side of the ocean, but Spanoulis has a great story to tell him. "He likes some NBA players like LeBron James, Steph Curry, Kyrie Irving, Kevin Durant... I tell them that I beat some of these players in 2006, and I like to tell them that story!" he said.
Five kids, five Final Fours... We also had to ask, is it some sort of tradition? Spanoulis wants to prove to everyone that it was just a coincidence. "I am good with five kids, no more."