As part of a tour of Turkish Airlines EuroLeague cities at the start of the new season, Jordi Bertomeu, President and CEO of Euroleague Basketball, joined Shimon Mizrahi, President of Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv, in a press conference on Thursday preceding the game between the home club and Crvena Zvezda mts Belgrade at Menora Mivtachim Arena. The press conference was a celebration, as well, with a EuroLeague delegation marking Mr. Mizrahi's 80th birthday and 50th year with Maccabi, occurring as the EuroLeague begins its 20th season under the organization of Euroleague Basketball and its member clubs. "It's a great pleasure and honor to have Mr. Jordi Bertomeu here with us again, and also Roser [Queralto] accompanying him," Mr. Mizrahi said. "I am sure you have a few questions for him to answer"
Jordi Bertomeu, opening statement:
"It's always nice to be here in Tel Aviv, but especially today, because we have a great celebration. We couldn't miss it because – but not only because – Shimon is our friend. It's also because during all these years I personally have been learning so many things from Shimon. So it was important for us to be here, not only Roser and myself, but also on behalf of all EuroLeague and EuroCup clubs, all of them, as a sign of respect for a person who, in my opinion, is a unique personality, with a unique career, not only in European basketball history, but I would say in European sports, also. This is the reason why we are here, but also it's a time for celebration because we as the EuroLeague are celebrating 20 years. That's something big for us. It's a short history, but a history made by disruption and innovation, where we have managed to create a league owned by the clubs, run by the owners, and a league that is a European league, a competition where all the clubs can play all the others, which is something unique and innovative in the European sports landscape.
"Now we are focused on the next years, where we will finish the design of this league. I already expressed a potential to expand the number of teams with long-term licenses. We would like to finish this three-year cycle by having 16 teams with long-term contracts, plus the two teams coming from the EuroCup. That is our plan for the next years. So as always, we are thinking to the future, a future that starts with this 20th EuroLeague season, with 18 teams – an amazing number of teams and amazing quality of our games. But also I want to mention our EuroCup, with its very impressive roster of teams, and I want to welcome again the Israeli team, Maccabi Rishon LeZion, which yesterday played a game here. So, we have in front of us a very exciting season and I think we will enjoy it a lot."
Question on future of relegation and promotion system
Jordi Bertomeu: "What we announced is that promotion and relegation is already here but limited to the teams that have already played in the EuroCup. So as you know, this season, if one of the teams that came from the EuroCup last season, which are Valencia and ALBA Berlin, performs well in the EuroLeague – and by performing well, that means to play the playoffs – it will stay next season, meaning that only the champion of the EuroCup will be promoted. So this system is the beginning of this concept. Probably, time and the evolution of basketball will give you more of the idea that we have teams that are investing in infrastructure. You have to take into account that in the next four years we will have new arenas built in cities like Milan, Munich, Lyon and Barcelona. When we are encouraging teams to move to these arenas and to look for investments, it will probably be difficult to have a perfect system of promotion and relegation. We have to respect that, but we have in place what I already mentioned with the EuroCup."
Question on EuroLeague strength, players returning from NBA
Jordi Bertomeu: "I always try to be very cautious about the competition. I remember that when we started three years ago with the round-robin system, everybody was very excited because it was excellent, and everyone was asking about it. I always answered something not very optimistic. I said, 'Competitions need time to be consolidated, and to see if it works or it doesn't work.' I am still on the same page. We have just played a couple of games, so it's still too early to say how the competition will be this year. Of course, we have many signs that we will enjoy another excellent competition. But it still is early, so we have teams that did not have all their rosters, because of injuries, because of players coming from the World Cup and all these things.
"The second question is something that, back through the years when our players were leaving, I always tried to say that we cannot be dramatic, that the market is going in the direction where it is more global, and players going back and forth will be natural in a few years' time. And I believe we are starting this point. The good thing is that, as I said, we cannot cry about our players leaving. What we have to do is create the conditions where our players feel comfortable, and for them it is interesting to play in our league. This is what we have to do; not to cry. And probably, as a consequence of the great job our clubs are doing, they are creating this environment and that's why players are coming back. So, I am not surprised. I am happy; I am not saying I am not happy. But I am not surprised because that was my expectation a few years ago, that as the market becomes more and more global, players would be moving in both directions, overseas and back to Europe. That's normal, and that's what we will see more of in years to come."
Question on Olympiacos and teams playing more EL
Jordi Bertomeu: "First of all, Olympiacos has to be read in terms of Greek problems. And as I said many months ago, we cannot be contaminated by what happens in domestic leagues. It's a consequence of something going wrong in the Greek championship, and we don't want to be involved. We don't see this as an example, and not even a trend, for our clubs. The fact that we stay at 18 teams and don't go forward and expand to more than 18 is because 18, in our opinion, is a good balance between our distribution in the European territory, the quality of the teams, and compatibility with the domestic leagues. So if we would want to go further, it’d probably be a situation where our clubs would not be able to play their domestic leagues. If this happens, and when, is something that no one knows. And of course, I do not know."
Question on David Blatt's departure and legacy
Jordi Bertomeu: "David is one of the most amazing persons that I've met in my short history in European basketball. In these 20 years, David impressed me many times. Of course as a coach, but last time we talked we only talked about how much he impressed me as a person. I think he's a guy who's teaching us all how to face not only difficulties but how to understand basketball in ways that go beyond the sport. It's something that, to me, the way he can communicate – probably other colleagues have a similar vision – but the way he's able to communicate these values is unique. Of course, we are not happy that he's not on our courts, coaching a team, but that's something that belongs to his personal life. Our duty as a league is to be sure that his conditions and everything go in the right way. And, of course, while he's not on the court, we miss him very much."