While technically this decade doesn’t end until 2010, with millions of sports websites and blogs proclaiming December 31 the end of the 2000s, who is BallinEurope to be pedantic? (Especially when there’s a good excuse to make an all-time team roster.)
Therefore, in the spirit of a new era, BallinEurope seeks to comprise Europe’s All-Decade team for the years 2000-2009. We’ve got two slots free on an ideal 12-man roster, but the first ten spots might be filled by the likes of the following.
Sarunas Jasikevicius. Though Jasikevicius suffered a couple of ho-hum and one utterly lost year in the NBA, this point guard was a dominant backcourt force in ACB, Euroleague and even international basketball for the first five seasons of the decade. Jasikevicius was named “Mr. Europa” in 2003 after taking Eurobasket with Lithuania as tournament MVP; he’d begun 2003 with FC Barcelona’s Euroleague title run, ACB finals appearance and a Spanish League championship MVP nod. All in all, Jasikevicius has bagged 12 national championships and cups to go with four Euroleague titles. Throw in a couple of bronze medals won with Team Lithuania, and Jasikevicius has enough hardware to occupy two spots on this roster.
Juan Carlos “La Bomba” Navarro. Besides perhaps Pau Gasol, no player represents Spain’s dominance in international play this decade better than Navarro. Drafted at no. 40 overall by the Washington Wizards in 2002, the then 22-year-old Navarro wisely eschewed playing a season with ancient Michael Jordan to instead continue to develop his game with FC Barcelona. Navarro snagged an early championship ring while playing on Jasikevicius’ team in 2002-03 and came into his own by 2005-06 to take ACB MVP and Euroleague first-team awards. Despite earning a nod on the NBA All-Rookie second team with the Memphis Grizzlies in 2008, Navarro returned home to Barcelona to wreak havoc, earning a triple crown of his own: Euroleague MVP, ACB Finals MVP and Spanish Supercup MVP.
Tony Parker. Okay, so everyone in Europe is tired of hearing about Parker and some doubt remains as to whether his San Antonio Spurs can win the NBA championship without Tim Duncan at 100%, but you can’t argue with the man’s three rings earned in America playing on probably the second-best franchise of the decade over there. In international play, Parker first woke non-Francophones up to his presence in the 2000 FIBA Europe U18s tournament, wherein he went for a sick line of 25.8 ppg and 6.8 apg. Afterward, Parker played in every Eurobasket tournament with France’s senior team and led Les Bleus to perhaps their biggest win ever in international play, a 96-68 immolation of Team Spain in the 2005 finals.
Andrei “AK-47” Kirilenko. Utah’s favorite Russian was destined to make this list for a long time: After all, Kirilenko was playing Russian Superleague ball at 16 years of age, was drafted into the NBA at 18 in 1999, and was named Russian Championship MVP at 19. Better yet, in this decade – with the exception of an attitudinal blip with the Jazz in 2007 – Kirilenko has lived up to the hype in the NBA and international play. Indeed, the three-time NBA All-Defensive player chased up his distracted and disappointing 2006-07 by focusing on upsetting Team Spain in the Eurobasket finals with he and his teammates applying some serious clampdown D. All Kirilenko got for his troubles was a naming of FIBA Europe Player of the Year. Oh, and his NBA line for 2009-10 thus far: 12.0/5.1/3.1. That’s right, America: He’s baaaaaaaaaaa-aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaack!
Hedo Turkoglu. The second Turkish player ever in the NBA, 21-year-old Hedo Turkoglu plunged into American play with gusto (and a smooth jump shot) to earn NBA All-Rookie second team honors in 2001. Most importantly, however, he permanently fixed Turkey’s spot on the basketball map by taking over in the Eurobasket tournament that year and leading his underdogs to an incredible silver-medal finish. Incredibly enough, Turkoglu earned the NBA’s Most Improved Player award at the age of 29 for turning in a wicked line of 19.5-5.7-5.0 for 2007-08 to buoy a surprising Orlando Magic team he’d be likewise crucial for in the championship run of 2008-09.
Theo Papaloukas. Papaloukas’ Wikipedia entry – “…A perennial All-Euroleague selection and competition icon, Papaloukas symbolizes the rise of European basketball in the new millennium.” – alone justifies his inclusion here, but we’ll throw a brief bio out there anyway. Professionally speaking, Papaloukas’ peak was certainly was CSKA Moscow in 2006, when the team took Russian Superleague and Euroleague titles while Papaloukas bagged Russian Cup MVP, Euroleague final four MVP and FIBA Europe Player of the Year trophies. Papaloukas can be created with much of those dominant Moscow’s teams successes in his time with the club from 2003-2008, as the team took five Superleague championships and made five appearances in the Euroleague final four. Surely the crowning (so to speak) achievement in Theo’s basketball career, though, was his play at Eurobasket 2005 which gained Greece the European title.
Peja Stojakovic. Though Stojakovic had already racked up the accolades in Europe well before the Sacramento Kings brought him into NBA ball, Peja truly came into his own in 2000-01 with a line of 20.4 ppg and 5.8 rpg as the Kings became a perpetual Western Conference championship threat. That summer, Stojakovic helped Team Yugoslavia to 2001 Eurobasket gold; the following year, his squad won its famous gold at the 2002 FIBA World Championship, taking out Team USA in the quarterfinals for good measure. For Stojakovic, it was good enough to earn his second consecutive Mr. Europa award.
Pau Gasol. Let’s see … in the 2000s alone, Gasol’s been FIBA Mr. Europa twice, NBA Rookie of the Year, Euroscar player of the year, Spanish King’s Cup MVP, ACB Finals MVP, FIBA Worlds MVP, Eurobasket MVP, a six-time medal winner (including two golds and three silvers) in international play with Team Spain, NBA champion once, NBA runner-up once, and an NBA all-star twice – all the while helping establish Spain firmly as a top-four world power. The only question here is whether Pau is, in fact, the European player of the decade.
Žydrūnas Ilgauskas. And here’s the most underrated European player of the decade. While Ilgauskas has unfairly earned a reputation as fragile and injury-prone, the Lithuanian in fact has now suited up more times for the Cleveland Cavaliers than any other player in history. The two-time NBA All-Star remains one of the secrets of the league (though not necessarily to Cavs management, who gave him a fat $55 million deal in 2005), averaging a line of 14.1/7.8 plus 1.7 blocks in nine mostly-full (and two mostly missed) seasons. In the last season of his contract and surely a bit frustrated stashed on the bench behind the moderately successful Shaq this year, one wonders if the Lithuanian will return to Europe for 2010-11…
Dirk Nowitzki. The greatest German player ever may have been the greatest European player on Earth from about 2005 to 2008 (when it appeared the Dallas Mavericks might actually legitimately have an NBA championship in their sights). After carrying Team Germany to the silver medal at Eurobasket 2005, Nowitzki got Mr. Europa, FIBA Europe player of the year and Eurobasket MVP awards. He chased up international success with two more consecutive nods to the All-NBA first team and his Mavericks ran up a .752 winning percentage in the regular season from 2004 to 2007.
All right, so that’s 10 for the 2000s All-Decade All-Europe Team. Who has been forgotten?
Next: Ranking the Euroleague’s champions of the decade.