On this day 18 years ago, Panathinaikos Athens captured its third EuroLeague title in seven years by defeating host Virtus Bologna in the championship game 83-89 led by Dejan Bodiroga. It marked the EuroLeague's return to the Final Four format after having played a playoff final series in 2001.
The first Final Four of the modern EuroLeague was to take place in Basket City, Italy, AKA Bologna. Two Italian teams, Virtus Bologna, then called Kinder, and Benetton Treviso faced off in one semifinal while the other featured Maccabi Tel Aviv and Panathinaikos. In the early game, the Greens triumphed with an 83-75 win over Maccabi. Bodiroga, entering the prime of his career, led the winners with 26 points and 9 rebounds, while Tal Burstein had 18 for the Israeli champs. In the all-Italian semifinal, Virtus made the home-court advantage work for an 82-90 victory behind Marko Jaric's 18 points. For Benetton, Charlie Bell and Tyus Edney scored 19 points each.
The championship game
The first quarter was as close as they come, but in the second, Virtus managed to open a small gap for a 48-40 edge at the break. The gap increased to 52-42 before young big man Lazaros Papadopoulos sparked a 2-11 Panathinaikos run that put the Greens in the lead for good as they also won the last quarter en route to the title. Ibrahim Kutluay was the top scorer for the Greens with 22 points while Bodiroga added 21 and was named Final Four MVP. For Virtus, Manu Ginobili led the way with 27 points and Matjaz Smodis added 23.
What happened next
Panathinaikos went on to win three more titles (2007, 2009 and 2011) for the club's current total of six. Bodiroga joined FC Barcelona for the 2002-03 season and led the team to its first EuroLeague title. Virtus would play only one more season in the EuroLeague and then financial problems saw the club struggle for a few years. After re-appearing in the EuroCup, Virtus finally returned to the EuroLeague for the 2007-08 season, but has not played the competition again since.