On Olympiacos Euroleague championship: From crises emerge heroes

Printezis: Hero of the day

European basketball fans know that history was made with Olympiacos’ stunning victory in the 2012 Euroleague championship. And so BallinEurope contributor, the self-proclaimed hoops history junkie Uygar Karaca looks back with perspective on the title bid, reaching all the back to the Great Depression of 1929 through the collapse of the Soviet Union and into today’s European Union crises. Whether or not God Himself played a role, the importance of the Reds’ win, as Karaca sees it, is history repeating itself. Gloriously.

This is how things have worked throughout history: From crises emerge heroes. And heroes create the losers. Sometimes underdogs have more advantages simply because they have nothing to lose. It’s not unusual that we see situations like a 10-man football team winning against a stronger side. Sometimes having options confuses minds, creates problems in concentration and ambiguity in methodology. Those who have no real options perhaps have just one way and they become focused on the goal, which brings about greater optimization and efficiency.

I was thinking like this before the match: “If CSKA wins, there will be not many stories but in case of Olympiacos winning, there will be a variety of options in exposing the classical underdog story with many different perspectives. I hope Olympiacos wins.”

The day before the Euroleague final, I was at Abdi İpekci Hall to see some action in the Nike International Junior Tournament. There I saw Stevislav Pesic, also one of the greatest coaches in European basketball, the man who famously brought a European title to both Germany and Alba Berlin, who were real underdogs. I thought that it would be a great idea to take some predictions from him. Said Pesic: “I was not suprised when Olympiakos won against Barcelona, because Barcelona changed its game this year and were somewhat inconsistent throughout the season, whereas Olympiakos improved much compared to the beginning of the season.”

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Why Andrei Kirilenko and CSKA Moscow must win the Euroleague

Regular readers of BallinEurope may recall a similarly entitled writeup on Montepaschi Siena on these pages from a long time ago – actually two weeks, but already it *feels* like quite a spell. Contributing writer Enrico Cellini was as surprised as any of us when Olympiacos began Siena’s ejection from the tournament, Facebook-messaging BiE with the note that “Siena is trying its best to prove me wrong…”

But this post doesn’t concern BiE’s now-busted bracket, a frustrating finish to what had been a good-looking campaign for Montepaschi Siena, or even the Final Four surprise Olympiacos. Nope, we’re talking CSKA Moscow and that individual symbol of all of international basketball in 2011-12, Andrei Kirilenko.

In fact, why waste time? BallinEurope gets right down into an even 10 reasons why CSKA and the AK must win the 2012 Euroleague title.

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Pop Quiz: The Euro-/NBA-centric year in basketball

For bonus points, identify this player

Just because the NBA Draft is over, the big league is heading toward a lockout, and the top European teams are thick into the wheeling/dealing of off-season acquisitions with an eye to 2011-12, that’s no reason to forget your history. Were you paying attention this season? Test your knowledge with the official BallinEurope 2010-11 season-ending pop quiz. (And you thought your semester was over…)

The quiz is multiple choice and is European- and NBA-centric in topic. It is multiple guess choice, and so choose the one answer that best completes the phrase or answers the question. You may use any writing implement at your disposal to fill in the answers – as long as you don’t mind marking up your screen, that is. Good luck. You may begin the exam now.

1. In the 2010-11 season, Dirk Nowitzki became most known for:
a) Being a clutch player, despite an arguably disappointing past history.
b) Entering the conversation as one of the NBA’s top 20 players of all-time.
c) Passing 22,000 career NBA points.
d) Take Dat Wit Chew.

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Notes on Panathinaikos-Olympiacos, most important game of 2010-11

Spanoulis drives the Big Red Machine...

If tonight’s Panathinaikos-Olympiacos match isn’t the most important game thus far in the 2010-11 basketball season in Europe, BiE can’t think of what would be. Of no little significance in this clash of the titans, too, is its status as the first meeting between the teams since the 2009-10 EΣAKE championship final game, a.k.a. “The Night of Shame.”

Since closing out last season with the forfeit, the franchises have taken different paths in 2010-11, but are enjoying most enviable success in pursuit of both Greek and Euroleague titles: The Greens and Reds have turned in identical records in Greek League play at 11-0 (though Panathinaikos is listed atop the table with its superior +32.5 *per game* point differential against Olympiacos’ +20.4) as well as mirror 7-3 marks in the EL. They’ll be playing tonight not to break the tie in the EΣAKE, but also their no. 2 standing in BiE’s Top 100.

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The 20 best (Eurocentric) dunks of 2010

Retrospective time comes again to BallinEurope! But hey, who doesn’t like an excuse to watch a bunch of air-raising slam dunks? Following are 20 of the best dunks pulled off in Europe, by Europeans or on Europeans; whether historically significant or not, all have one thing in common: That awesomeness inherent only in a proper jam. Enjoy a year’s worth of emphatic twos from BiE!

• How great is everything going for Maccabi Tel Aviv this season? They even produced one of the greatest jams of the calendar year with Jeremy Pargo’s bitchin’ double-posterization in which first he breaks ankles before jamming it over (through, really) the hapless Zalgiris Kaunas big man.

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BiE’s Top 10 most popular stories of 2010

Yeah, we’re gonna do the “Top 10” retrospective thing, but trust BiE: It’ll be mostly painless. (After all, a little reviewing of crazy highlights never hurt anyone – even with a hangover.) These are the stories running on BallinEurope in calendar year 2010 that got the most “reads,” but how many do you remember?

Relive 2010 with BiE through championships Euroleague and FIBA, the NBA offseason, the greatest basketball documentary in years, Allen Iverson abroad and dunks. Oh yes, there will be dunks. Click on any the titles in bold to read the original post. Enjoy and as always thanks for reading!

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Basketball Dreaming: Will Taiwan Phenomenon continue?

Now something of a personal story, if you’ll allow BiE. One of the great things about working a blog such as BallinEurope – after getting proper press seating for stuff like Euroleague Final Four and FIBA World Championships, of course – are the people you meet as a journalist.

BiE’s not talking about hobnobbing with coaches and players so much – though talking (actually talking!) with Pops Mensah-Bonsu is quite the fulfilling experience – as the warm association with enthusiasts and peers. Happily in the sports journalism world, these are one and the same.

At the Euroleague Final Four alone, BiE had the pleasure of chatting up sportswriters from Serbia and Italy, the braintrust of quality sites like DraftExpress, freelancer Tim Warren on assignment with the Washington Post, the amazing Slam and Freaknick of Euroleague Adventures, fantasy basketball **#$#*#$%ing mastermind Javier Gancedo and scads of hardworking Euroleague front office folks.

But no one who met one particular writer there would forget the incredible whirlwind of drive and enthusiasm for all things basketball: Some of us know her as Nancy, but thousands of her readers daily identify her as “A Taiwanese Basketball Girl With A Basketball Dream.”

See, after first receiving a lightning bolt of revelatory inspiration from a newspaper photograph some 13 years ago – The Basketball Dreamer’s only a twentysomething now, it should be noted – she finally up and quit her job last March and, in Kerouackian fashion enviable to sentimental old dudes such as yours truly anchored down with young children, took to the road and came to Europe.

The purpose: As the bumper sticker-like intro at the Basketball Dream website reads, “63 days, 33 cities, 8 countries, 25 matches & 50 teams (including the Eurocup Finals & Euroleague Final Four). The journey, the Dream of a Taiwanese Basketball girl leaving her footsteps on the European courts, sharing her Basketball love in Europe with the rest of the World.” More philosophically, the “Dream is to promote Basketball & inspire, and that is all there is to it.”

Yes, the term “philosophy” is appropriate her, for this woman’s philosophy *is* basketball, BiE tells ya. The Basketball Dreamer lives a life of wall-to-wall basketball. When she’s not kicking around the courts looking for a game (or perhaps watching the games, what with a recently-gotten bum knee), she got an eye on a zillion screens and scores. Just yesterday, A Basketball Dream managed to fire off update-style posts and/or commentary – the Dreamer’s favorite online medium appears to be Facebook – on the Golden State-Phoenix, Duke-Michigan State, Cleveland-Miami, Los Angeles-Houston, and Maccabi Tel Aviv-Žalgiris Kaunas games. Even more impressive: Taiwan is EST +12.

In any case, this self-proclaimed aspirant to the title “Mother Theresa of Basketball” succeeded in her amazing road trip while the story captured hearts and minds of media worldwide. After landing on Euroleague TV (see above), the cause also landed her time on Taiwanese national television and print everywhere from Greece to Serbia to Hong Kong and back to Taiwan again – to name only a few paying attention to this whirlwind of basketball obsession.

Naturally, without an “On the Road” at the publishers’ to fund a second summer voyage in 2011, the Dreamer finds herself with few financial possibilities to fuel an even more enthusiastic trip. Ever the optimist and armed with a good cause, however, A Basketball Dream has applied for nonprofit backing in Taiwan.

Much to BiE’s surprise, the Dreamer somehow figured that perhaps might help in the quest for funding or possibly provide further armament in the perpetual war for publicity. BiE often chats up this tremendous natural force of an enthusiast but this week, Nancy spared some time to talk specifically about her goals, hopes and the future of the Basketball Dream.

BallinEurope: So what’s the status of A Basketball Dream 2011?
A Basketball Dream:
I’m applying to a fund for Taiwanese “dreamers” like me to see if they can sponsor me to keep on travelling and promoting inspiration through basketball. My plan is [to start at] the NCAA Final Four in Houston, then spend 2.5 months visiting all 30 NBA teams, then on to Latvia to support Chinese Taipei (Taiwan) at the FIBA U19 Worlds, then into the Balkans to hopefully getting involved with some camps there, then the FIBA Asia championship in Lebanon, EuroBasket 2011 in Lithuania, and finally the World Deaf Basketball Championship in Italy.

BiE: And the goal is…?
To INSPIRE through basketball by promoting all the different games around the world. And to especially inspire the kids through [basketball] camps where interacting and teaching them about this game of basketball in turn teaches them about life and lets them have a sense of belonging. And when i say kids, i ‘m particularly into working with those who are “less advantaged.”

BiE: So you’re basically a one-woman FIBA…
Except also with the NBA and NCAA!

BiE: Everywhere you go, people want to hear your story and are willing to publicize it. What makes you and your quest so compelling, in your opinion?
Because i’m a girl. A Taiwanese girl. A Taiwanese girl who *plays* basketball.

BiE: Really? You think that’s it?
OK, because my love for basketball is second to none. Basketball gives me the strength and the supporters of A Basketball Dream that I meet along the journey give me the power, but i can’t do it on my own. I have *started* on my own … but i can’t finish it on my own.

BiE: Tell me about the picture on the website
The second i saw it in the newspaper about 13 years ago, it touched my heart, went straight down inside. I was GRINNING at the newspaper (gladly, if i remember correctly, that nobody saw me). I love kids, love to see smiles on their faces because it makes me smile. And not just on my face but from the heart! It brightens you up. And the fact that that kid was trying to pick up that huge-a** basketball, that just spoke to me.

I knew that I wanted to do something like that – I wanted to put smiles on kids’ faces (and see the happy faces, personally!) through this wonderful sport that I hold so dear, that I call mine.

Back then, i was just getting into the NBA, by the way. But basketball was already a big part of my life then. It’s all I wanted to do all day (waiting for PE class so I can shoot some with my friends.

BiE: Now, how tall are you?
Between 5’5” and 5’6”. (I only got to know my height in feet and inches, by the way, because of basketball.)

BiE: And you told me you *played center in college*?
Yes, i played center in varsity at National Chiao Tung University, because i was the third-tallest, i believe.

BiE: Do you play these days?
Not with my knee.

BiE: What happened?
I played too hard, pushed myself too hard, the weather changes (in the morning, it’s 5ºC degrees, 25ºC at midday, and then there’s another bigtime drop in the evening) and i didn’t warm up well. I woke up after two days straight days of ballin’ for two- to five-hour stretches in non-stop 3-on-3s. Finally, i woke up on January 17th at 6am in pain and i couldn’t bend my right knee at all. And i had just ordered a P90X – i was about to work on that “dunk” – ha ha!

BiE: So who did you manage to actually meet on your 2010 tour?
I met the coaching staff of Efes Pilsen, the players on Montepaschi Siena, Vlade Divac and his wife, Stephen Curry, Bostjan Nachbar, Josh Childress, Linas Kleiza, Kevin Durant … also A.C. Green. He’s a good person.

BiE: And you just approach these folks, tell them about the mission and chat?
Yeah, it’s pretty much all for A Basketball Dream

BiE: Do you have a personal life?
ABD: Ha ha, yes, i do, but i really wouldn’t mind spending all my time on basketball. I mean, the fact that i’m injured now helps. Or else i’d *always* be out on the courts.

But dedication is what it takes, right? So before I can sit back and relax, until the Dream is realized (if ever), i’ll dedicate myself to it as much as I can.


Talking Turkoglu: Considering Hedo’s career moves, position in Phoenix

After seeing the new starting lineup for the Phoenix Suns against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday – featuring Hakim Warrick on the floor for the opening tipoff and Hedo Turkoglu back to his familiar role coming in off the bench, BallinEurope got to thinking about the well-traveled Turk and his effect on various teams as he bounces about seeming from contender to contender. (Hey, that’s how it is being BiE.)

Despite the fact that he’d racked up nearly five straight seasons’ worth of starting for the Orlando Magic and last year’s Toronto Euroraptors, Turkoglu only really got the nod in the Suns’ starting five due the huge wake of Amare Stoudamire’s departure.

Hindsight is 20/20, though, and BiE at 2010-11 tipoff time was somewhat stoked to see Turkoglu’s addition to the go-go Suns in a near-exhumation of the eight-second offenses of Mike D’Antoni. Slightly warping the “Cancer Effect” statistic as detailed in the FreeDarko guys’ Macrophenomenal Pro Basketball Almanac shows Turkoglu to have a CE rating of minus-32 spread over five different teams. In nearly every new spot, Hedo at least leaves a positive effect on his new squad.

(The Cancer Effect statistic is calculated simply by totaling the increase in losses suffered by a team after picking up a player plus the increase in wins enjoyed by the team departed by the player. CE was used in the ‘Almanac to measure that great disruptive force Stephon Marbury, who scored a +80 in over 10 NBA seasons; all-time CE “leader” going into 2008-09 was the immortal Cadillac Anderson with a tumorous +150.)

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The Eurocentric 2010-11 NBA Preview (or How the Hoops World revolves around Europe)

With the 2010-11 NBA season tipping off tonight, BallinEurope marks the occasion in the best way possible: By overrating the league’s Continental players and making a few offhand Fearless Predictions™ in the guise of a preview column.

Brief notes and snarky remarks on all 25 NBA teams follow. (Yes, BiE said “all 25.” Since the Cleveland Cavaliers, Denver Nuggets, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers, and Los Angeles Clippers boasts no Europeans, they can’t really be considered proper NBA teams for our Eurocentric viewpoint.

Southwest Division
Some folks are calling the 2010-11 edition of the Dallas Mavericks its strongest team ever; it’s also a pretty good Team France embryo, with Ian Mahinmi, Alexis Ajinca, and last year’s sensation Rodrigue Beaubois helping make up Dirk Nowitzki’s posse. Unfortunately, the Western Conference may be tougher than Western Europe this year…

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Bricks, snickers and root canals: The week in Twitter

BallinEurope thinks he’s in love … with Twitter. (Yes, BiE knows he’s behind the times for this relevation, but still.)

And so, for no better reasons than idle amusement and trying to justify a bit too much time spent over on *that site*, BiE presents a look at some of the top basketball-related tweets of the week. Enjoy the link-laden goodness!

First of all, let’s welcome a certain Dallas Maverick to Twitter. (BiE congratulated him for landing the lead role in Tron: Legacy, but doesn’t think he was amused.)

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