They have waited so long to be in the conversation when it matters. On Tuesday night, in front of their own fans, Telekom Baskets Bonn earned their shot by making it to the Basketball Champions League Final Four. Emmet Ryan on the journey for a fanbase that has earned these kinds of nervy nights.
I wish I knew what it was like to be a Telekom Baskets Bonn fan. This is a club that endures a rare kind of pain, they tend to lose just before the point where things truly cut the deepest. Of all the people that cover this sport in Europe I should really get it. I’m a sports nut yet even as a lifelong fan of UCD football, this team, I’ve at least had the odd chance every few seasons to experience the guys I care about playing at a stage when things really mattered.
Bonn? They have one relegation battle of note to discuss since their first Bundesliga season in 1996/97. It has been over a decade since they reached a BBL Pokal final (they lost) and their lone time playing in the Bundesliga championship series was all the way back in 2009 (they lost 3-2 to Oldenburg). That is a long time to go without such sharp emotions.
Instead, they’ve had to deal with a pain I wouldn’t wish on anyone. An inability to truly let it all out, good or bad. The 2015 quarter final playoff series loss to Ulm was probably the best example. They weren’t expected to make the finals but Telekom Baskets had home court, lost it, won it back, and then lost the series anyway. Yet we should have known that things are changing.
Last season Bonn made it to the Bundesliga playoff semi-finals with home court and promptly fell into an 0-2 hole against Bayern only to come back, tie things up at 2-2, and force a decisive Game 5. That’s the drama those fans had waited so long for but, of course, this is Bonn and they can’t truly have nice things. They lost and their season end.
Yet this is not the Bonn of old. I’ve written before about this creatively constructed roster that screams of pure moneyball with a young coach guiding them. The history of almost three decades in Germany’s top flight without a single honour of note to celebrate or relegation to lament or fight back from.
That lone relegation battle discussion? It ended up not remotely mattering because, of course, it came during the pandemic abridged season so there was no relegation to speak of and Bonn were outside the relegation places when play stopped in any case. Even when Bonn hurt their fans, the universe denies them the extremes they deserve.
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So here they were, in a Game 3 to make it to the Basketball Champions League Final Four. Win this and they’re two wins from a first major title but automatically guaranteed an utter hearts in mouth before the game, probably through it, and the great unknown awaiting after.
That’s the pain Bonn fans need to have on the line, that they’ve earned to have on the line because without the risk of that heartbreak why do we even love in the first place? It makes the joy that follows if it works out all the better.
Bonn isn’t a city with a football club of note to fall back on as a distraction or really anything else as the go to alternative. Telekom Baskets are the show in Bonn and their fans have been waiting for a climax for far too long.
Multiple times throughout the first three quarters, Telekom Baskets looked so like the old Bonn teams. The ones that would give a let down like their lives were written by John le Carré. Then, late in the third and pushing through to the fourth, they finally got it going.
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Rhythm, scores followed by stops, big plays from the littlest man in TJ Shorts and the lanky Finn Delany throwing himself around like a lunatic as he realised he needed to switch his drive into a pass to Leon Kratzer.
They will go, almost certainly to Malaga, with hope more than expectation but, more importantly for their fans, absolutely no idea what comes next and the chance for either the greatest of highs or the worst of lows.
It’s been too long since Bonn fans got a chance to have such hopes and fears smashed together like so all at once. I didn’t know what it was like for Bonn fans before Tuesday night, now they get to share our extremes. Congratulations Telekom Baskets fans, welcome to the true madness.
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