On Sunday, in the Basketball Champions League final, Telekom Baskets have a chance at the first major trophy in the club’s history. The Bonn club has been waiting a long time for this moment
Fun is, and this may be the least controversial take I’ve ever made in a lifetime of irritatingly largely calm and reasoned views, a good thing. Fun makes us feel good even if we have no personal attachment to the source of the fun.
In basketball, this version of Telekom Baskets Bonn is definitely fun. I had the pleasure of commentating on a couple of their games in the Basketball Champions League and wow, they really brought it. They will need that joie de vivre on Sunday even if it sometimes makes their games more dramatic than they might otherwise need to be.
To never have considered losing
The one thing that Bonn has been extraordinary at, by any standard in European basketball, this season is winning. Telekom Baskets win and they win a lot. In the whole of 2023 to date, they have lost just twice. The first was a Bundesliga game away to Alba Berlin on 15 January and the second was Game 1 over their 2-1 quarter finals series win over SIG Strasbourg on 5 April.
Throughout the 2022/22 season their record is an eye popping 46-5 in all competitions. They don’t have any one name on the roster that screams of superstar yet they also have the BCL & Bundesliga MVP in TJ Shorts and the BCL & Bundesliga coach of the year in Tuomas Iisalo. They have secured home court through the Bundesliga playoffs and won’t meet either Alba Berlin or FC Bayern until the finals at the earliest should they progress that far.
A culture of winning has basically fuelled this team’s approach to victory. It sounds basic but it’s also vital on a deeper level. Sides with notably deep rosters have the resources to surf a more fractious campaign, absorbing defeats as part of doing business. Bonn’s philosophy is built on the need for continuous victory, one rooted in ensuring the players of today never get haunted by the ghosts of the past. They live for each win because, to borrow a phrase from the Jem’Hadar, victory is life.
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So come all ye full-time small-town heroes
I’ve been over this before when writing about Bonn but this really is the sword that hangs over the club. In its more than three decades of basketball, most of which as clearly the biggest show in the city (for context, the football club in the over 300k population town plays in the fifth tier) yet it has delivered heartbreak upon heartbreak through those 30 years.
There have been trips to the cup final, a few, and they ended in defeat. There have even been trips to the Bundesliga championship series, and the result was the same. Even in this gloriously historic season, they exited the cup early to quickly remove one of their three chances at a trophy this year.
There were however two moments above all others this year that made me think that this Bonn team has the potential to be truly different. The first was that Game 1 defeat to Strasbourg. For a team that needs to win, they showed that they could come back by taking the road game win in the series.
The second was Game 3 against Strasbourg where they looked repeatedly like a side that was going to lose that golden chance at a trip to Malaga before finding a way to win because this is not the old Bonn and they are determined to show it. Their win over Unicaja on Friday, while a huge upset, was built on these foundations. The belief that there is no obstacle too great to overcome and no opposition comeback too powerful to halt.
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As if to win is by your choosing
Their opponent on Sunday is no joke. Hapoel Jerusalem have been one of the most topsy turvy teams in the sport all year but when the pressure is greatest they have delivered. They showed that in the Israeli State Cup and through elimination games in this competition, not least their win over Tenerife on Friday.
Bonn and the rest of us watching should expect the absolute best version of Hapoel on Sunday because this is the kind of moment when they are truly locked in. Jerusalem knows what the job is and it will be ready with, you can safely bet, the lion’s share of the fans in Malaga cheering them on.
While they haven’t won the BCL before, Hapoel knows how to win championships and knows how to do so fighting as either favourite or underdog. That culture has been engrained into this side and they will be anything but pushovers.
The game is on
Throughout this piece I’ve been making references to a song that is moderately well known in Ireland and essentially unknown anywhere else but it seems apt for Telekom Baskets Bonn. It’s called ‘To win just once’ by the Saw Doctors and it tells the tale of fighting against the odds, the doubts, and the utter expectation of defeat from all within and without, to prove to yourself that you can get a win and that life isn’t just the painful march of inevitable failure.
As basketball fans, indeed as humans, we live for those brief moments of elation, joy, and realisation that we can be happy and that those around us can bring us that emotional high. For everyone in Telekom Baskets on Sunday, they will be seeking to have that feeling and know it will mean all the more after what they have been through to get there, to overcome the odds, to win…just once.
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