Anticipating a milestone in Munich

Oct 23, 2014 by Frank Lawlor, Print
Anticipating a milestone in Munich

With its fine Turkish Airlines Euroleague debut last season and the promise of better things to come, it's easy to forget as Panathinaikos Athens visits Munich for tonight's Game of the Week that FC Bayern is a newcomer to Europe's basketball elite. Although it once thrived there, high-level basketball had disappeared for decades from Munich until a recent revival, making its German League title last spring the first for Bayern in almost 60 years, since 1955.

There are many reasons that a world-famous club like FC Bayern was attracted to the basketball offered in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague, and one was no doubt to become part of a tradition offered by games like tonight's, when the fans in Munich may become witnesses to a milestone that will help define one of the Euroleague's most remarkable players ever in his first visit to their city.

Few people anywhere had registered the potential of Panathinaikos Athens guard Dimitris Diamantidis when he first stepped on a Euroleague court 10 years ago. He played exactly one international tournament for Greece at the youth level, in 2000, and had modest roles at the 2003 EuroBasket and 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, where he averaged 4.5 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.5 assists.

What Diamantidis has accomplished since that first Euroleague game on November 3, 2004, when he was already 24 years old, is nothing short of amazing. He and the Greens won three Euroleague titles between 2007 and 2011, with Diamantidis as Final Four MVP in the first and last, when he was also voted the Euroleague's full-season MVP. He also has been chosen to the all-Euroleague First Team four times by fans and media, and won the Best Defender Trophy six times in votes by the competition's head coaches.

Last season, Diamantidis set the Euroleague's career assist mark by breaking the old one of 978 belonging to another Greek legend, Theo Papaloukas. Should he dish eight tonight, he will become the first Euroleague player ever to reach 1,000 assists.

Although Diamantidis has dominated at both ends of the court as no other Euroleague player of his generation, the imminent milestone of 1,000 assists - whether he achieves it tonight or in the coming weeks - is an appropriate moment for considering the vast impact he has had on 21st century basketball.

There is no denying his superstar status, neither at the club level nor the international one. His three-point game-winner on the buzzer in the quarterfinals propelled Greece to the 2005 EuroBasket gold medal. That led to silver the following summer, when Diamantidis's near-perfect 39 minutes knocked the USA from the 2006 World Championships semifinals - the last such upset of the Americans in international play.

By his clear leading role in so much success, Diamantidis has helped redefine what it means to be a superstar. Although he can and does score - in fact, he has made the seventh-most three-pointers in the Euroleague this century - Diamantidis has averaged only 9.3 points over his first 10 Euroleague season. Scoring, in other words, does not define him the way it has most basketball superstars to date.

Instead, by dishing assists better than anyone at one end of the court, defending better than everyone at the other and rebounding like no other guard at both, Diamantidis has made his all-around game, and by extension that of other players, much more appreciated than ever before.

Diamantidis had already broken the steals record held by Papaloukas. It's safe to say that with 389 steals and counting and no active player under 33 years old within 200 of him, no one will break that record for a long, long time. Steals are by nature hard to see, however, the product of sleight of hand, a flick of the wrist. Few of them make the highlights. Same with rebounds, where his 850 to date are hundreds more than the nearest other guard or any player shorter than 2 meters.

Assists, on the other hand, are what make evident that even if he never needed to be a double-digit scorer, Diamantidis has had as much impact as almost anyone on offense, too. If you factor in just two points for every assist - as it's not recorded how many led to three-pointers - and add those to career points, it's clear that Diamantidis is second only to the Euroleague's all-time leading scorer, Juan Carlos Navarro of FC Barcelona, in total offense generated this century. And that is despite Diamantidis playing three fewer seasons than Navarro.

It is worth noting, too, that Diamantidis gets better at assist-making as he gets older. All of the 15 games in which he made 9 or more assists have come after Diamantidis turned 30 at the start of the decade. So have all of his 10 games with 8 or more assists on the road. Another of those tonight will give him a mark that young players will be trying to match well into the future.

So to the fans of Munich, root for your team, of course, tonight. But appreciate the maestro who comes to visit you for the first time. The privilege of witnessing one of the best ever make history in your house may be yours.