Basketball in Greece
The sport of basketball in Greece erupted with the win in the EuroBasket 1987 in Piraeus, which caused a basketball euphoria in the country. Since then, Greek national teams have achieved international success, causing Greece to join Russia, Serbia, Italy, Spain, and Lithuania, in the circle of the European basketball powers. In addition to the success of the senior men's Greek national basketball team in 1987, they won a gold medal at the EuroBasket 2005 and the silver medals at the EuroBasket 1989 and the 2006 FIBA World Championship, and the bronze medal at the EuroBasket 2009. At the men's professional club level, the Greek clubs have, at European Cup competitions, under FIBA Europe and Euroleague Basketball (company), won 15 international pro club championships, as well as a 16th international pro club championship at the FIBA World Cup for Champion Clubs.
- 1 Professional national club competitions
- 2 Successes of the pro club teams
- 3 International successes of the Greek national basketball teams
- 4 Medals
- 5 Arenas
- 6 Major basketball events in Greece
- 7 Notable Greek basketball players
- 8 Notable Greek basketball coaches
- 9 Notable foreign basketball players in Greece
- 10 Notable foreign basketball coaches in Greece
- 11 Greek players abroad
- 12 Players from the Greek diaspora
- 13 Greek NBA players
- 14 Basketball in the Greek media
- 15 Recent developments
- 16 See also
- 17 References
- 18 External links
Professional national club competitions
The Greek Basket League
The first official men's basketball championship in Greece was held in the 1927-28 season. Until 1963 however, there was no unified national championship, and the champion was chosen through games between the regional champions. In 1963, the A National Category (Α' Εθνική Κατηγορία) was created. In 1992, the championship abandoned its amateur status and was officially recognized by FIBA as a professional league under the name HEBA A1 (Greek: ΕΣΑΚΕ Α1), organized by the Hellenic Basketball Clubs Association (HEBA). The league now operates under the name of Greek Basket League.
The Basket League is ranked as one of the 3 "A" level national domestic leagues in European basketball by the European national basketball league rankings and was considered Europe's best pro league during the 1990s. This professional league consists of 14 teams. Under the regulations, the bottom two teams at the end of the regular season are relegated to the HEBA A2 (Greek: ΕΣΑΚΕ Α2), while conversely, the top two teams from the A2 are promoted to the Basket League. The first placing eight teams of the regular season qualify for the playoffs.
The Greek women's championship also consists of 14 teams. The Women's A National Category (Greek: Α' Εθνικής Κατηγορίας Γυναικών) began with the 1984-85 season, and it became known as the Women's A1 National Category (Greek: Α1 Εθνικής Κατηγορίας Γυναικών) in 1997.
The men's Greek Basketball Cup was held for the first time in 1976. After 36 cups, Panathinaikos Athens has won the most Greek Cups with 12. From 1995 to 2004, the tournament was held in a Final Four style tournament. It is organized by the Hellenic Basketball Federation (E.O.K.). In the women's competition, the cup tournament was first held in the year 1996.
Successes of the pro club teams
Greek men's professional basketball teams have a total of 26 appearances in the finals of European cup competitions, of which they have won a total of 17 championships. One of the achievements of Greece are the victories of Panathinaikos Athens (1996, 2000, 2002, 2007, 2009, 2011) and Olympiacos Piraeus (1997, 2012, 2013) in the finals of the men's Euroleague competition. Panathinaikos Athens also won the international World Cup for Champion Clubs competition in the year 1996. Olympiacos Piraeus won the same title in 2013.
International championships won
- Panathinaikos Athens
International successes of the Greek national basketball teams
Since winning the senior men's basketball EuroBasket 1987, the record of Greek national basketball shows numerous successes. Ten's national youth teams especially have recorded successes in international competitions.
Successes of the men's senior national team
Since the senior Greek national basketball team won its first EuroBasket in 1987, it has been a regular competitor at the EuroBasket, FIBA World Championship, and the Summer Olympics. The men's senior national team from 1987 included legendary players such as Nikos Galis, Panayiotis Yiannakis, Panagiotis Fassoulas, and Theofanis Christodoulou. Panayiotis Yiannakis also later became the senior team's head coach and he led the Greeks to win the European Championship (EuroBasket) again in the year 2005 at Belgrade. Yiannakis became the first person ever to have succeeded in winning the FIBA European Championship (EuroBasket) both as a player and as a head coach. After Greece had earlier in 2004 also won the European Championship in football, it gave Greece the rare extinction of being the European champion in the two most important team ball sports at the same time. At the 2006 FIBA World Championship held in Japan, Greece reached the final and won the silver medal. They accomplished this after becoming the only team at the tournament to beat Team USA, whom they defeated in the semifinals by a score of 101-95.
Senior national teams
The senior men's Greek national basketball team took part in its first FIBA European Championship (EuroBasket) at the EuroBasket 1949, where they won the bronze medal. Greece's first big success as a nation in basketball was when their senior men's national team won the gold medal at the EuroBasket 1987, which led to a breakthrough for the sport of basketball in the country. In the EuroBasket 1987 tournament's final, which was played in Piraeus, Greece, at Peace and Friendship Stadium (SEF), Greece defeated the heavily favored Soviet national basketball team (which included star player Šarūnas Marčiulionis) in overtime, by a score of 103 to 101.
The MVP of the EuroBasket 1987 was Nikos Galis, who to this day, still remains the biggest sports icon in Greece. In the subsequent EuroBasket tournament in 1989, Greece again reached the final, where they lost to the Yugoslavia national team, which led by its star player Dražen Petrović, went undefeated during the tournament. By taking the silver medal at the EuroBasket 1989, Greece cemented its position among Europe's leading basketball nations.
Greece's senior men's national basketball team took part in a World Championship (now known as the FIBA Basketball World Cup) for the first time at the 1986 FIBA World Championship, where they finished in tenth place. Greece made it to the semifinals of both the 1994 FIBA World Championship and the 1998 FIBA World Championship, which Greece also hosted. At the 2006 FIBA World Championship, which was held in Japan, Greece won the silver medal, after defeating the heavily favored USA by a score of 101-95 in the semifinals.
Junior national teams
The Greek junior national team won a gold medal at the 1995 junior men's FIBA Under-19 World Championship. As the tournament's host nation, the Greek junior national team won the gold medal by defeating the junior men's Australia national basketball team by a score of 91-73 in the final. The gold medal winning under-19 team of 1995 included such players as: Michalis Kakiouzis, Nikolaos Hatzis, Giorgos Kalaitzis, Dimitrios Papanikolaou, and Efthimios Rentzias, who was voted the MVP of the tournament.
Greece has also always taken part in the Mediterranean Games. The greatest success of the men's national team at the Mediterranean Games is the gold medal, which they won in 1979. Furthermore, Greece has won four silver medals at the tournament, in the years 1991, 2001, 2005, and 2009. In addition to that, they have also won three bronze medals at the tournament, in the years 1955, 1971, and 1987.
The Greek women's national team won the bronze medal at the competition in 1991.
The first professional indoor basketball arena in the country was opened in 1959 in Athens. Located at the Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium, it holds 1,500 spectators and is still home to the ladies' basketball department of Panathinaikos. Because of its confined environment, the sports hall was named The Tomb of The Indian, after the Fritz Lang feature film The Indian Tomb. In the subsequent years, a number of other arenas have arisen in Greece, located mainly in Athens and Thessaloniki. In 1966, in Thessaloniki, the Alexandrio Melathron was opened. This 5,500 seat arena was for decades home to the two arch-rivals Aris and PAOK.
The Peace and Friendship Stadium (SEF), a 17,000 capacity multi-purpose hall opened in Piraeus, Athens in 1985. The arena was for the next ten years, the biggest indoor sports hall in Greece and it hosted events such as the EuroBasket 1987, the 1994 World Volleyball Championship, the 1995 European Volleyball Championship, the 1998 FIBA World Championship, and the 1999 Olympic Weightlifting World Championship. SEF is the home of the Olympiacos Piraeus basketball club.
By the early 1990s, the sport of basketball had become well established in Greece and the Greek A1 League had become the strongest professional league in Europe, as well as the richest. A rising number of television viewers in Greece watching the A1 League, a high level of Greek media interest in the sport, and the application of the country to host major sports events had left many of the nation's existing gyms too old and too small. In Athens, the OAKA Indoor Hall was opened in 1995. It holds about 20,000 spectators and it is still the biggest indoor sports hall in Europe where regular basketball games are held. The Athens Olympic Indoor Hall has already hosted the 1995 FIBA Under-19 World Championship, the EuroBasket 1995, the 1998 FIBA World Championship, and the 2004 Summer Olympics. Currently, Panathinaikos Athens and Maroussi Athens play home matches in the Olympic Hall. AEK Athens has played home matches there.
Also in 1995, the 5,500 capacity arenas Larrisa Neapolis and Dimitris Tofalos were built. In 2000, the first modern indoor sports arena in Thessaloniki was built, PAOK Sports Arena. The arena is under the possession of PAOK and it holds around 8,700 spectators. For the 2004 Olympic Games, the Helliniko Indoor Arena was built. It holds 15,000 spectators and has been used as the home arena of the clubs Panionios, Panellinios, and AEK Athens.
Plans have been approved to build several new modern indoor arenas in Greece. This is due to several factors, one of them being ULEB's new arena rules which state that by the 2012-13 season, Euroleague contract clubs must play in arenas that seat at least 10,000 and all Eurocup clubs must play in arenas that seat at least 5,000. Another big reason is that Greece is in line to host the 2013 Mediterranean Games. Some of these planned new indoor halls will include: a 10,000+ seat arena owned by Panathinaikos, a 10,000+ seat arena owned by Aris, and a 5,000+ seat arena owned by Iraklis.
Major basketball events in Greece
- EuroBasket (2x): 1987, 1995
- FIBA Basketball World Cup (1x): 1998
- Summer Olympics (1x): 2004
- Euroleague (4x): 1985, 1993, 2000, 2007
- Saporta Cup (4x): 1968, 1972, 1973, 1989
- FIBA EuroCup Challenge (1x): 2003
Notable Greek basketball players
The following is a list of some notable Greek basketball players and some of their important career accomplishments:
- Fragiskos Alvertis:
- Dimitrios Diamantidis:
- 4x Greek League MVP: 2004, 2006–2008
- 6x Euroleague Defensive Player of the Year: 2005-2009, 2011
- FIBA European Champion: 2005
- Vice FIBA World Champion: 2006
- 2x All-Euroleague Team: 2007, 2011
- 3x Euroleague Champion: 2007, 2009, 2011
- 2x Euroleague Final Four MVP: 2007, 2011
- European Player of the Year: 2007
- 2x Triple Crown Champion: 2007, 2009
- Greek Cup MVP: 2010
- Euroleague 2001–10 All-Decade Team: 2010
- Antonios Fotsis:
- Nikos Galis:
- Theodoros Papaloukas:
- FIBA European Champion: 2005
- Russian Cup MVP: 2006
- 4x All-Euroleague Team: 2006-2009
- 2x Euroleague Champion: 2006, 2008
- Euroleague Final Four MVP: 2006
- Triple Crown Champion: 2006
- Vice FIBA World Champion: 2006
- European Player of the Year: 2006
- Euroleague MVP: 2007
- Euroleague's 35 Greatest Players: 2008
- Euroleague 2001–10 All-Decade Team: 2010
- Vasilios Spanoulis:
- Panayiotis Yiannakis:
- Nikos Zisis:
Notable Greek basketball coaches
- Ioannis Ioannidis:
- With 18 titles won, the record holder among Greek coaches
Notable foreign basketball players in Greece
With the financial rise of the professional men's club basketball competition the Greek A1 League during the 1990s, and the media interest for the league in Greece that was generated by large television viewership - there came a desire among viewers and fans to see Greek clubs bring in professional basketball players from abroad. Due to the A1 League's immigration provisions, top foreign prospects chose the path of naturalization in order to circumvent the league's rules. Among them were players from the former Yugoslavia, like Peja Stojaković and Marko Jarić, and from the ex-USSR, like Tiit Sokk. With the Bosman ruling in Europe in 1995, the Greek sports market was finally opened to foreign players and as a result, today major players from around the world are active in the A1 League. The most notable foreign player that has played in the Greek League, is the American player Dominique Wilkins, who scored more than 26,000 points in the NBA and is a member of the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame. He left the Boston Celtics in 1995 and signed with Panathinaikos Athens. Another well-known American player that moved to the Greek League was the three-time NBA champion with the Los Angeles Lakers, Byron Scott, who now coaches the Cleveland Cavaliers. Some of the other prominent American players that moved to the Greek League were Walter Berry, Antonio Davis, Tony Delk, Eddie Johnson, Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, Roy Tarpley, the four-time NBA champion John Salley, and the current coach of the Milwaukee Bucks, Scott Skiles.
The most significant foreign European players in the history of the Basket League are the Serbian player Dejan Bodiroga, the Croatian player Dino Radja, and the Lithuanian player Šarūnas Jasikevičius. All three were named among the 50 Greatest Euroleague Contributors in 2008, and Bodiroga and Jasikevičius were also named to the Euroleague 2001–10 All-Decade Team. Bodiroga, a two-time FIBA world champion and a three-time FIBA European champion, played for four years with Panathinaikos and with them he won the Euroleague championship twice. Despite the fact that he never played in the NBA, he was widely regarded as one of the world's best players at this time. Following a successful NBA career, Radja moved to the Greek League and became one of the few players to star for both arch-rivals Panathinaikos and Olympiacos. Jasikevičius, who is widely considered one of the best European players of all-time, also moved from the NBA to the Greek League. Another well-known foreign European player to play in the Greek League was the Serbian player Dejan Tomašević.
Other well-known foreign European players that have played in the Greek League include: the Serbs Žarko Paspalj, Željko Rebrača and Zoran Savić, the Croats Arijan Komazec, Stojko Vranković and Nikola Vujčić, the Slovenes Rasho Nesterović and Jure Zdovc. As well as the Lithuanians Artūras Karnišovas, Ramūnas Šiškauskas, and Linas Kleiza, Frenchman Jim Bilba, and the Ukrainian Alexander Volkov.
There have also been some other notable foreign players that have played in the Greek League like the Israeli player Oded Katash and the Turkish player İbrahim Kutluay. In recent years, key American players like J.R. Holden, Roger Mason, Maurice Evans, Von Wafer, and Josh Childress have also played in Greece.
Notable foreign basketball coaches in Greece
Many foreign coaches have been active in the Greek League. The most important one among them is the Serbian coach Željko Obradović, who has been head coach at Panathinaikos since 1999. Since starting his coaching career in 1991, Obradović has won eight Euroleague championships, five of them with Panathinaikos, and a total of 31 championships as a professional club coach, making him the most successful head coach in European basketball history. Another foreign coach who has worked in the Greek League is Boža Maljković, who has won 19 championships in his coaching career. In 1996, he led Panathinaikos to their first Euroleague championship, which was also the first ever for a Greek club.
Another foreign head coach who works in the Greek League is the multiple world and European champion, Duda Ivković. Ivković coached five teams in Greece (Aris, PAOK, Panionios, Olympiacos, and AEK), and he twice led Greek clubs to winning a European Cup. The three-time Euroleague-winning head coach, the Israeli Pini Gershon, has also coached in the Greek League. Obradović, Maljković, Ivković, and Gershon were honored in 2008, when they were named four of the 10 most important coaches in the history of the Euroleague. Some other important foreign coaches that have coached in the Greek League are the American NBA head coach Scott Skiles, the legendary Krešimir Ćosić, Željko Pavličević, Dragan Šakota, Jonas Kazlauskas, and Zvi Sherf.
Greek players abroad
Historically, the best Greek players generally did not play abroad because of the financial strength of Basket League, enabling its clubs to keep the country's top players at home. Until the late 1990s, virtually all of the national team played their club basketball in Greece. This situation began to change in the early 2000s when the top leagues in Russia and Spain experienced huge financial growth, and a few top players chose to chase the even greater financial rewards and competitive challenge of the NBA.
This can be illustrated by the makeup of Greece's two EuroBasket-winning teams. All 12 players on the 1987 roster were under contract to Greek clubs, while five of the 2005 squad were playing outside Greece. More recently, this phenomenon has begun to change as many Greek clubs, most notably ancient rivals Panathinaikos and Olympiacos, have offered top-notch salaries to once again attract Greece's top players back home. Today, relatively few Greeks play in foreign leagues, and as a rule they are not the country's best players. The final 12-man Greek squad for the 2010 FIBA World Championship included only three players who were under contract with a club in another country. Only one of the three, Nikolaos Zisis, had played outside the country for more than one season going into the 2010 Worlds (he was preparing to start his second season with Montepaschi Siena of Italy). At the same time, Georgios Printezis was entering his second season at Unicaja of Spain, and Sofoklis Schortsanitis had just left Olympiacos for Maccabi Tel Aviv of Israel.
In addition to the players already named above, some other Greek players who have played for significant periods outside the country include:
- Dimos Dikoudis (2003–06, 2008)
- Antonios Fotsis (2001–02, 2003–08)
- Mihalis Kakiouzis (2002–09, 2010–11)
- Lazaros Papadopoulos (2004–09, 2011)
- Theodoros Papaloukas (2002–08)
- Jake Tsakalidis (2000–07)
Players from the Greek diaspora
The Greek diaspora has produced a number of prominent players who chose to start or establish their careers in Greece.
Perhaps the country's most celebrated player, Nikos Galis, is the son of Greek emigrants who was born and raised in New Jersey. More recently, Pat and Nick Calathes, born and raised in Florida, who are descended from their Greek grandfather, chose to start their professional careers in Greece. The older Pat began his career at Maroussi, went from there to Kolossos, and then joined Panathinaikos, where Nick had played since beginning his professional career. Both remained at PAO through the 2011–12 season, after which they left Greece to continue their careers elsewhere in Europe (Pat in Israel and Nick in Russia). Michael Bramos is another American born player from the Greek diaspora that chose to begin his pro career in Greece with Peristeri.
Lazaros Papadopoulos and Jake Tsakalidis were born to diaspora Greeks in the former Soviet Union, respectively in modern-day Russia and Georgia, but moved to Greece with their families at young ages and were developed there. Both began their professional careers in Greece, but had extensive tenures outside the country before eventually returning. Papadopoulos established himself as a star with Panathinaikos, but spent many of his best years in Russia, Spain, and Italy, while Tsakilidis spent seven years in the NBA after starting with AEK Athens.
One current Greek NBA player, Kosta Koufos, is also from the diaspora, but has never played with a Greek club. Like Galis, he is the son of Greek emigrants and was born and raised in the U.S. (in his case, Ohio), but went directly from Ohio State University to the NBA without a stopover in Greece. However, Koufos chose to represent Greece internationally, as did both Calathes brothers.
Greek NBA players
The first Greek-born basketball player that made the leap to the NBA was Antonios Fotsis. Fotsis was selected in the 2001 NBA Draft by the Memphis Grizzlies and he played with them in the NBA for one season. After one season in the NBA, Fotsis returned to Greece due to homesickness. Efthimios Rentzias and Andreas Glyniadakis also played in the NBA for one season before returning to play in Europe.
Vasilios Spanoulis, who is regarded to be the top current Greek basketball talent and the main Greek-born NBA prospect, moved to the NBA in 2006 to play with the Houston Rockets, but returned to Greece after a disappointing season for both himself and the Rockets. This was mainly due both to some personal disagreements that he had with then Rockets head coach Jeff Van Gundy, and because of personal family problems.
Giannis Antetokounmpo is a Greek professional basketball player of Nigerian descent who currently plays for the Milwaukee Bucks of the National Basketball Association (NBA). He is currently the youngest player in the NBA. His older brother, Thanasis, currently plays for the Delaware 87ers of the NBA D-League. His nickname is "The Greek Freak".
Jake Tsakalidis, who was born in Georgia and raised and developed basketball-wise in Greece, played in the NBA from 2000 to 2007, after beginning his career in Greece. Some other NBA players with Greek citizenship include: Peja Stojaković, Rasho Nesterović, Marko Jarić, and Dragan Tarlać, whom all moved to Greece at a young age and the Greek-American players Kurt Rambis and Kostas Koufos. The Lebanese-born Rony Seikaly, who played in the NBA from 1988 to 1999, and also played with the senior men's United States national basketball team, was also raised and developed basketball-wise in Greece.
Greek WNBA players
Basketball in the Greek media
On a daily basis, 16 newspapers in the country publish what is happening in the sport. Although the media's main focus is always on the men's club Greek Championship, they will also report on the lower level divisions like the men's A2 League, as well as the NBA and the other major European national domestic championships like Liga ACB and international competitions like the Euroleague.
Greek television has the ability to broadcast all of the men's Greek Championship games. The men's club Greek Championship has the TV rights to distribute itself on the Greek public broadcaster ERT, the private channel ANT1, and the pay TV station Novasport. Euroleague games are also broadcast on Novasport and the private channel Skai TV. Live broadcasts of the men's national championship and European Cup games are also offered by the country's large number of sports radio stations.
After the senior men's Greek national basketball team won their second EuroBasket 2005 in Belgrade in 2005, there was another revival of the sport of basketball in Greece. As a result, there was a strong rise in attendance figures in Greek basketball arenas after years of stagnation in attendance numbers in the previous years. One major reason for this is that most of the players of the senior men's national team also play in the men's senior national league.
Another reason for the revival of basketball interest in Greece in recent years is the resurgence of the great rivalry between the European powers Panathinaikos and Olympiacos. Panathinaikos has been the most successful European basketball club since the modern Euroleague Final Four era began in 1988. Also, after years of mediocrity, Olympiacos has once again become a European basketball power under their new management and they have boasted the biggest budget of any Euroleague team for three straight seasons (2008-09, 2009-10, 2010-11).
Another reason is that the long-time historical club Aris has returned to prominence and become one of the powers of European basketball. Another promising development is that the long-time traditional Greek power, PAOK, also appears to be returning to prominence. After suffering through years of mediocrity due to poor management, PAOK has, under new management, greatly increased their budget and added many high class players to its club.
There are two main problems that the senior men's Greek basketball league faces. The first one is the very high turnover rate of foreign players each year in the rosters of small clubs, which prevents any continuity being established in the smaller clubs from season to season. Second, and most important, is the huge disparity in the budgets (as of the 2010-11 season) of the big first-tier clubs like Olympiacos at €35 million euros, Panathinaikos at €30 million euros, and the budgets of the second-tier clubs like Aris and Panellinios, which have budgets of €2.4 million euros.
- Men's Greek A1 National Basketball League
- Men's Greek A2 National Basketball League
- Men's Greek National Basketball Cup
- Senior Men's Greek National Basketball Team
- Acropolis International Basketball Tournament
- Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium on stadia.grm
- Alexandrio Melathro on stadia.gr
- Stadium of Peace and Friendship on stadia.gr
- the Athens Olympic Indoor Hall on stadia.gr
- PAOK Arena on stadia.gr
- Athens Indoor Arena on stadia.gr
- match information on the official website of the organization
- score information at the official website of the organization
- statistics/TopContests.asp?Category=ΓΥΝΑΙΚΩΝGetRowsNum=50& match information on the official website of the organization
- score information at the official website of the organization
- Spanoulis says he won't return to play for Rockets Spanoulis says he won't return to Rockets.
- Official HEBA Site (Greek)
- Sportingreece.com A1
- Official Hellenic Basketball Federation Site (Greek)
- SuperBasket.gr (Greek)
- Basketblog.gr (Greek)
- Greekhoopz.com (Greek)
- Greekbball.com (Greek)
- Galanis Sports Data
- Basket.gr History (Greek)
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