“Speak, Memory, of the cunning hero”
Homer, Odyssey, book 1.
For almost 10 years, Milos Teodosic wrestled with the Euroleague title. He saw it passing in front of him like a Holy Grail, unreachable when he thought it was in his hands. He lost in a variety of ways: in the semifinal, in the final, by a large margin or at the last second. He also grasped it in 2012, when probably his nails left some scars on the metal of the cup.
Everybody thought it was the right moment, for him, whenever he made it to the final four. However, every time, but one, the cup went through him as if he was a ghost, to land in someone else’s hands, who wanted it more.
Which does not mean that Milos did not want the Euroleague. He wanted it. It became an obsession, the only important competition of the year, given CSKA’s almost secure victory in the VTB League. But he wanted it in the way somebody in love does not want to demonstrate his love, and loses it to one who gives all of himself to win it.
Why was it so important that Milos won the EL?
Why was it important to us, to the viewers, besides him?
The main reason is that Milos Teodosic is, indisputably, the GEBP (Great European Basketball Player), of his generation and, as every GEBP, the Euroleague victory represents the real step towards greatness. It does not matter if it’s one or more, the most important thing is to win it.
All the great champions go through victories and losses, but Milos’s defeats in the Final Four frustrated his ambitions and transformed his quest for the Euroleague in a drama of its own.
In 2010, when he reached the first final with Olympiakos, the pressure, though strong, was still bearableOlympiakos met the powerful Barcelona team, headed by Juan Carlos Navarro at his best, with a young Ricky Rubio, Gianluca Basile, Pete Mickeal. Olympiakos was never in the game, losing by 18 and never showing the capacity to come back after a bad first quarter.
In 2011, Vassilis Spaoulis landed in Olympiakos with Theodoros Papaloukas, to create a powerful team. Game 1 of the Euroleague Playoffs seemed to confirm that, when Olympiakos beat Montepaschi Siena by 89 to 41! (It’s correct, Oly won by 48 points).
In Game 2 at the Pyraeus, Olympiakos was heavily favored, but Siena came into the game with a different attitude. The defense closed the doors and the offense finally sank the ball into the basket. Mysteriously, everything changed and the Italian team became an inextricable puzzle for Olympiakos. They lost also game 3 and 4, paving the way for Siena to get to the Final Four.
Milos found himself for the first time in front of the power of will. Siena wanted that final 4 more than Olympiakos did. A good team, but with less class, Montepaschi fought every ball, stunning Olympiakos, that mentally had probably thought the series was won. An odd thing for such a talented team.
In 2011, Milos became a CSKA player. He joined a lineup with Ramunas Siskauskas, Andrej Kirilenko, Nenad Krstic, to set up a seemingly unbeatable squad. The strange laws of Nemesis, set CSKA against Milos’s former team, Olympiakos, now led by Spanoulis alone and with Dusan Ivkovic on the bench, in the Euroleague Final.
CSKA started strong, amassed an impressive advantage, +19 at the 28th minute, then something happened. CSKA stopped scoring and Olympiakos, led by the bench players, defended better and began to score. The game, which seemed gone, showcased an incredible comeback by Olympiakos, that won with a last second basket by Georgios Pryntezis.
At this point, Milos’s awkward relationship with the Euroleague became evident. Every year everybody expected his victory, and every year something happened. CSKA was the best team in Europe, hired the best coaches, but could not win. And Milos kept shaking his head in despair.
Which he did also in 2013, when CSKA lost against Olympiakos in the semifinal, a very low scoring game, dominated by the defense and the tension between the players.
In 2014, Ettore Messina, the last coach to win a Euroleague with CSKA, returned to the team, and everything seemed prepared for Milos’s victory. However, in the Euroleague semifinal, Maccabi, led by coach David Blatt, played an incredible defense, a game of sacrifice and will, that kept CSKA to 67 points. Maccabi won at the last second again, and the Euroleague curse kept hanging over Milos’s head.
Dimitris Itoudis, Zelimir Obradovic’s pupil, became the CSKA coach, heading into the 2014-15 season. After 11 years of mental coaching from the most demanding coach in Europe, Dimitris was prepared for the challenge to finally be a head coach of his own. The arrival of Nando De Colo seemed to seal the deal for a CSKA team that finally owned all the weapons to win.
Yet, Olympiakos did not have the same idea, when they met again in the semifinal. At 3’39 to the end, CSKA led by 9, but again, in the key moments, Olympiakos showed the strength to come back and win, with two key three pointers by Vassilis Spanoulis. Milos scored only two baskets in the game, dished out 5 assists, and played ferociously, against the destiny he saw hanging over his head.
You can also read the second part here.