"101 Greats of European Basketball," a limited-edition collection published in 2018 by Euroleague Basketball, honors more than six decades' worth of stars who helped lift the sport on the Old Continent to its present-day heights. Author Vladimir Stankovic, who began covering many of those greats in 1969, uses their individual stories and profiles to show that European basketball's roots run long and deep at the same time that the sport here is nurtured by players from around the world, creating a true team dynamic unlike anywhere else. His survey covers players who were retired before the book was published and who inspired the many others who came after them. Enjoy!
Fragiskos Alvertis: The man with 25 titles
In modern basketball, it's not easy to find examples like that of Fragiskos Alvertis, who played his whole career in the same club. Eternal love between Alvertis and Panathinaikos Athens lasted for 19 seasons – from 1990 to 2009 – and continues today because the legendary captain is still close by, as team manager, ready to join in the celebration of a new title.
Born on June 11, 1974, in Glyfada, an Athens suburb, Alvertis is one of the most-crowned players ever in basketball. With Panathinaikos, he won 25 titles, among them five EuroLeagues. Only one player, Dino Meneghin, has won more EuroLeague titles, and only two others, Clifford Luyk and Aldo Ossola, have won as many. No player has won more than Alvertis in the Final Four era that began in 1988. With five titles and eight Final Four appearances between 1994 and 2009, he is living history of the competition. In his trophy case, we can also find 11 Greek League titles, eight Greek Cups and an Intercontinental Cup from 1996.
Start with a silver
Only the best basketball connoisseurs will remember that the name of Fragiskos Alvertis – Frankie to his friends – was already in many scouts' notebooks at the 1991 EuroBasket for cadets, played in his native Greece. In that tournament's title game in Thessaloniki, Italy beat Greece by 106-91 as Andrea Meneghin – son of Dino – led the winners with 18 points. But the Greeks had many reasons to be happy. Apart from the silver medal, players like Maslarinos, Liadelis, Nikolaidis and, especially, Alvertis had blossomed. His scoring average was 13.1, lower than Maslarinos (19.0), but Alvertis was much more promising. He was a tall kid with long hands and he was good at rebounding. But what drew the most attention was his shot. Due to his team's needs, he played close to the rim, but he used every chance he got to move away from the basket, look for the corner of the court – his favorite spot – and drop his three-point bombs. His shooting technique, launching the ball from behind his head and with a high arc, was very difficult to defend. At 2.06 meters, he was more of a small forward than a power forward, but his versatility was one more advantage for him.
At 17 years old, Alvertis had already made his debut with the first team of Panathinaikos, a club that at the start of the 1990s was under the shadow of eternal rival Olympiacos and the two Thessaloniki teams, Aris and PAOK. Little by little, with some great signings (Nikos Galis, Alexandar Volkov, Stojko Vrankovic...) PAO – the nickname by which fans and media know the team – started a revival, until reaching its first Final Four in 1994 in Tel Aviv. In an all-Greek semifinal, the Greens lost 72-77 to Olympiacos and Alvertis scored his first 2 points in a Final Four. In the third-place game against Barcelona, a 100-83 victory for PAO, Galis had 30 points, Volkov 29 and Vrankovic 14, but next in line was Alvertis with 9 points. The following year, in the Zaragoza Final Four, history repeated itself: Olympiacos was better than PAO in the semis (58-52) and Alvertis stayed at 3 points. But in the battle for third place against Limoges (91-77) he scored 29 points, which would remain his best personal mark in European competition.
European and intercontinental champ
Finally, the third time was the charm for Alvertis and the Greens. At the 1996 Final Four in Paris, Panathinaikos defeated CSKA Moscow in the semis 81-77 with 35 points by Dominique Wilkins and 13 by Alvertis. Barcelona was waiting in the final. In dramatic fashion, Panathinaikos won 67-66 in a game that is part of the history books. Alvertis shined with 17 points and almost perfect shooting: 6 of 8 two-pointers, 1 of 2 three-pointers plus 3 rebounds in only 23 minutes. He became a European champion at 21 years old. Galis had retired and Alvertis's 1995-96 teammate Panagiotis Giannakis would do so imminently. Greek basketball was in need of a new face in its star system, and Alvertis appeared at just the right moment.
In the big year of 1996, Panathinaikos completed a great run by also winning the Intercontinental Cup in September. The opponent was Olimpia BBC of Argentina, the South American champ, and that year the cup was played as a best-of-three playoff series. The first game was played in Rosario, Argentina on September 4. Olimpia won 89-83 with an interesting team featuring Lucas Victoriano, Jorge Racca and Andres Nocioni. Alvertis, with 21 points, was the best man on Panathinaikos, together with John Amaechi (23 points). In Athens on September 10, Panathinaikos won by five, 83-78, with 30 points from Alvertis. In the third game, on September 12, Panathinaikos won 101-76 with Byron Dinkins as best scorer, with 24 points, while Alvertis added 8.
The Obradovic era
In order to play in the Final Four again, Alvertis would have to wait for the arrival of coach Zeljko Obradovic. At the 2000 Final Four in Thessaloniki, Panathinaikos got rid of Efes Pilsen in the semis by 71-81 with Dejan Bodiroga (21), Zeljko Rebraca (15), Alvertis (11) and Johnny Rogers (9) as scoring leaders. In the final, which marked the start of a great rivalry at the turn of the 21st century, Panathinaikos beat Maccabi Tel Aviv by 82-74. Rebraca (20) and Oded Kattash (17) starred, but Obradovic kept Alvertis on court for 35 minutes. His 4 points and 3 rebounds seemed discreet, but Obradovic had discovered a great defender in Alvertis. His long hands and his speed contributed things that no stat sheet could reflect.
The following year – in the season of "two EuroLeagues" due to the ULEB-FIBA conflict – Panathinaikos defeated Efes Pilsen 74-60 in their semifinal, but lost to Maccabi 67-81 in the title game of the FIBA SuproLeague in Paris. The following year, with a re-united competition, Panathinaikos again reached the Final Four, in Bologna. First, it defeated Maccabi 83-75 with an outstanding Alvertis scoring 11 points while missing only one shot. In the title game, the Greens shocked host Kinder Bologna by 89-83 with Ibrahim Kutluay (22), Bodiroga (21) and Alvertis (11) as protagonists.
In Moscow 2005, Panathinaikos suffered a rare semifinal loss to Maccabi (82-91) and defeated CSKA Moscow for third place (94-91). By 2007, however, the team was back to the top, this time on its home floor in Athens. Panathinaikos defeated Tau Ceramica 67-53 in the semifinals and outlasted CSKA Moscow 93-91 in a thrilling championship game. Alvertis lifted his fourth title. His fifth and last EuroLeague trophy arrived two years later in Berlin, even though he was semi-retired. He played at the start of the season, enough to be considered part of the roster of the champions despite not appearing in the Final Four. By lifting his 25th trophy overall, he retired as one of the all-time greats.
Zeljko Obradovic had big confidence in him, and for good reason. Alvertis was a very stable player who never – or hardly ever – played a bad game. If he didn't stand out, he was at least a decent player who always contributed good things to Panathinaikos. If he didn't score, then he pulled rebounds or guarded the most dangerous forward of the opponents. He always showed his character. He was the extended hand of the coach on the court. Obradovic has said many times that Alvertis was "the best captain I ever had."
While he triumphed with his club, he didn't win any trophies with the Greek national team, whose jersey he wore 155 times. He played at EuroBasket in 1995 and 1997. He then missed the 1999 one due to injury after having averaged 18.1 points in the qualifying tournament. He was back in 2001 and 2003 and he also played the World Championships of Athens in 1998, but the best he did was three semifinals and three fourth places: at EuroBasket in 1995 and 1997, and at the worlds in 1998. His last great competition was the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. He retired from the national team at 30 years old. If he had waited one more year, he would have won the European gold medal in Belgrade in 2005 and, in two more summers, he would have had the world silver medal from Japan in 2006.
It's a shame, too, because Alvertis deserved some of that success. All the sweat and suffering from his hard work over the previous years were a big part of those two triumphs. However, despite being winless with the Greek national team, Fragiskos Alvertis will always have a place in the history books of Greek and European basketball.