While many of us (ahem) were shocked that FC Barcelona did not qualify for this year’s Euroleague Final Four to be played at the Blaugrana’s venue, Barca made good in defending home court the last time the Spanish capital hosted.
In 2003, Barcelona brought a veritable dream team to the tournament to chase the team’s first-ever Euroleague title, including the likes of Dejan Bodiroga, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Juan Carlos Navarro – not to mention a Hall of Fame-level coach in Svetislav Pesic. They’d face a final four composed of traditional powerhouses CSKA Moscow and Benetton Treviso plus then-Final Four debuter Montepaschi Siena.
(Hard to believe this was just eight years ago, eh?)
Enjoy a recap of the 2003 tournament, plus a brief reminiscence about those days from Bodiroga, below. And see you in Barcelona!
The Euroleague Final Four returned to Palau Sant Jordi in 2003 in what was a much-anticipated event, especially after local favorite FC Barcelona qualified. It marked the eighth time that Barcelona had been to a Final Four, but this one was different for being at home. CSKA Moscow, Benetton Treviso and Montepaschi Siena, the latter a first-timer, were the other Final Four participants.
Barcelona, coached by Svetislav Pesic, had superstars in Dejan Bodiroga, Sarunas Jasikevicius, Gregor Fucka and a young Juan Carlos Navarro. Benetton’s main players were Tyrus Edney, Trajan Langdon, Jorge Garbajosa and Ricky Pittis. CSKA, just then reemerging as a force in European basketball, relied on J.R. Holden, Victor Alexander and Darius Songaila. Montepaschi featured the late Alphonso Ford, Mirsad Turkcan and Michalis Kakiouzis.
Barcelona edged CSKA 76-71 in the first semifinal behind 21 points from Fucka. In the second semifinal, Benetton topped Montepaschi 62-65 as Garbajosa scored 14 while Massimo Bulleri sank the go-ahead triple and free throws to win it.
In the final, Barcelona celebrated its long-awaited first Euroleague title by downing Benetton 76-65. Bodiroga scored 20 points and was chosen as the Final Four MVP, only the second player so honored in consecutive seasons. Pesic became just the third person to win the continental title as both a player and a coach.
“Good team, great atmosphere”: A brief interview with Dejan Bodiroga
EL: You were MVP with Panathinaikos in 2002 and again in 2003 with Barcelona. What do you remember most?
Dejan Bodiroga: Even though I always say that basketball is a team sport, those two titles have a special place in my memories. It was the recognition for all the hard work I put in throughout my career and especially in the finals, when my team needed me most.
Barcelona had never won a Euroleague title before 2003. Did you feel extra pressure?
Yes, a lot, both at the individual and team level. Maybe I was looking for this kind of pressure as a challenge. I could have stayed at Panathinaikos, but winning the Euroleague title with Barcelona was a great challenge. We managed to do it because we were a good team and there was a great atmosphere created by our coach, Svetislav Pesic. We managed to win the triple crown that season. It was unforgettable.
How do you see the 2011 Final Four?
Very balanced, as usual. Panathinaikos may have a small advantage because it has more experience in these kinds of games and has an experienced coach who has won titles. On the other hand, Montepaschi Siena is looking forward to reaching the final and can beat anyone, anytime. Maccabi had a great season and wants to finish it with two more wins. Real Madrid is back to the Final Four for the first time in 15 years. It has a young team and young players are always unpredictable. They can make up for their lack of experience with desire and talent. I am expecting to see very good games.