The 2017 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four formally began Thursday with the traditional Opening Press Conference held at the magnificent Ciragan Palace, which welcomed players, coaches, dignitaries and members of the media from all over Europe. Representatives of the four teams competing for the title gathered at Ciragan Palace, a 19th century Ottoman mansion that will also host the 2016-17 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Awards Ceremony on Saturday night. Sukran Albayrak served as master of ceremonies for the event, which featured Coach Dimitirs Itoudis and Nando De Colo of CSKA Moscow, Coach Zeljko Obradovic and Bogdan Bogdanovic of Fenerbahce Istanbul, Coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos and Vassilis Spanoulis of Olympiacos Piraeus and Coach Pablo Laso and Sergio Llull of Real Madrid at the dais to discuss this weekend’s games to be played at Sinan Erdem Dome. Turkish Basketball federation president Hidayet Turkoglu, Turkish Airlines Chairman of the Board and the Executive Committee Ilker Ayci and Euroleague Basketball President and CEO Jordi Bertomeu also addressed the assembled crowd before the attention turned to the players and coaches. Below is a synopsis of what was said.
Jordi Bertomeu, Euroleague Basketball President and CEO
“Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the 2017 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four. We could not have asked for a better setting for this first official event of the Final Four than Ciragan Palace and the city of Istanbul. To begin, I would like to thank our main partner Turkish Airlines and its president, my friend Mr. Ilker Ayci, for showing from day one their great determination to bring the Final Four here, and for the commitment, enthusiasm and collaboration that they have given us every step of the way. And thanks also to the Turkish Basketball Federation and its president, Mr. Hedo Turkoglu; as well as the Municipality of Istanbul. Both have been extremely helpful in delivering a first-class event to our fans and our partners.
“We return to a magical place. Magical because Istanbul is a city with a distinct aroma and a unique blend of cultures that always welcomes the visitor with a smile. It's also a city where one can breathe in the great passion for basketball that is only comparable to the passion found in the biggest basketball capitals of Europe. This weekend is magical because it culminates a season in which basketball has been once more a sports pioneer, breaking barriers and creating, for the first time ever in professional sports, a true European league, our EuroLeague. And here, in Istanbul, the first champion of that new era in European basketball, will be crowned.
“In all honesty, this weekend is not merely the finishing touch of this first season in the new EuroLeague. It also culminates a five-year trip that started back in 2011 with the vision of the clubs to make this European league a reality. Along the way, the clubs have shown the determination and the commitment to work together on a common project to bring pro sports to a new level. I cannot fail to mention WME | IMG, our partner on this journey. IMG has allowed this project to become a reality and has shown itself to be the best partner that we could have imagined five years ago. As always, in this process the fans have been the focus of all our discussions and decisions. We are proud and thankful for their response towards this new league, whose growth levels are never seen before in terms of both quantity and quality. As an example, this Final Four will be watched on TV in 213 countries, which is another EuroLeague record.
“This change has gone hand in hand with a clear and well-defined global vision for the future of professional competitions in Europe, with a revised and reinforced 7DAYS EuroCup, whose place in this project must become bigger year after year. We have enjoyed six months of an excellent regular season, in a round robin format, and a great series of playoffs, preparing this Final Four. This is THE format, and it's here to stay, regardless how many teams we will have in future expansion, even if very soon we will start looking forward, looking for new challenges and asking ourselves: 'What comes next?', the format will stay.
“Before giving the floor to Mr. Ayci and Mr. Turkoglu and, of course, the true protagonists – the players and the coaches – I would also like to thank the partners that are constantly at our side. Our broadcasting partners, who work day by day to offer the fans the best on-screen experience on any device; our marketing partners and sponsors, who keep trusting Euroleague Basketball to connect with the fans in a variety of ways; our media partners, who help us multiply the distribution and the impact of the competition in the most relevant manner for the fans. Thanks to our legends: our success belongs to you, as well. Thanks for everything you did in the last 16 years. And of course, thanks to our players and coaches, our referees: all of them have made this 2016-17 season, the best ever.
“I hope that you enjoy the games that the best four teams in the continent will offer us this weekend, and also everything else that will come around the Turkish Airlines Final Four, like the Euroleague Basketball ADIDAS NEXT GENERATION TOURNAMENT, the FanZone at the Marmara Forum, the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Awards Ceremony, which will take place here, and the International Symposium on Basketball Science. Many thanks to all of you for your continuing support and good luck to the four teams.”
lker Ayci, Turkish Airlines Chairman of the Board and the Executive Committee
"On this very special day, I would like to welcome you to Istanbul, the crossroads and cradle of civilizations that bridges the east and the west, a true cosmopolitan metropolis with a vibrant city life and scenery, such as the Bosphorus, that mesmerizes even the most-well traveled visitors. I hope in the coming days you will enjoy this global mix of sports and culture. As Europe’s best airline for the last six consecutive years, it is a great pleasure to have you in our city for the press conference of European basketball’s signature event, the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four. It is the third time Istanbul is hosing this distinct event after 1992 and 2012. Following last year’s finals in Berlin, we were determined and enthusiastic to bring the Final Four to Istanbul once again. Despite intense competition, our hard work paid off and once again it is our pleasure to welcome you here.
I would like to thank the EuroLeague officials, but in particular my friend, Mr. Jordi Bertomeu, who shared our enthusiasm and is now greeting you together with us. I would like to thank him especially on behalf of my company, on behalf of our city. I hope similar to the extreme competition in the 2012 Final Four, we will once again have an exciting tournament augmented by the 16-team setup league. Being a proud title sponsor or Europe’s premier basketball competition, a global sponsor of the EuroCup for seven consecutive years, as the Turkish Airlines family, we want this partnership to stand strong. With a form belief in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague’s growing global reach, we expanded our title sponsorship until 2020. Concurrent with our trust, European basketball continues to grow and expand its horizons. European basketball continues to display a rising performance, with an arena performance of 8,200 fans on average signaling a 15% increase after the adoption of a total round-robin regular season. I would like to thank Mr. Bertomeu for his strong leadership on behalf of us. Since the beginning of our sponsorship in 2010, we believed in the growing role of basketball among team sports. Thanks to the changes instituted by the EuroLeague, not only did the live television audience increase by 32%, but also the online audience by 166%. Furthermore, the fan engagement and social media increased significantly. Twitter interaction rose by almost 200%, Instagram by almost 400% and Facebook by 471%. Euroleague is followed by 180 million sports fans in Europe, which are great numbers and show the success of EuroLeague management. Turkish Airlines is the proud sponsor of the most prestigious basketball event in Europe. This shows how important basketball is to our brand.
Ladies and gentleman, at the heart of the three old continents, namely Asia, Europe and Africa, and as a touristic hotspot, Istanbul is only within a three-hour flight to 37 countries and 78 important cities. Beyond this, as the Turkish Airlines family, we are proud to be flying to more countries than any other airline in the world. This mere fact makes us more responsible in terms of our mission and sentiment to bridge cultures and widen the world. We are also passionate about sports and sponsorships, given how much as human beings we come closer to thanks to international sports events. As a flag carrier airline, the best airline in Europe in the last six years, we are not only sponsoring the Final Four, but we are also looking forward to it. With our global vision, we think that basketball is a sport representing a global vision similar to other sporting events. At Turkish Airlines, we are proud to support European basketball as well as other events. To this end, we are sponsoring various golf, tennis, football, rugby events all over the world. Our partnerships and sponsorships with the Turkish Airlines Open Golf tournament and European professional rugby are among these.
As Bob Knight, legendary American basketball coach once said, “the key is not the will to win; everybody has that. It is the will to prepare to win that is important.” I am sure all the teams taking part in this exciting Final Four are bringing with themselves the will to win and they are prepared accordingly. Keeping with this sentiment, we are also giving our full effort to present a great experience for all fans in Istanbul. To this end Sinan Erdem Arena underwent significant upgrades in terms of its friendly environment, facilities, technology, security. I hope while enjoying this welcoming and convenient environment, you will have a chance to observe our will to be prepared at any moment. And I would like to thank during this preparation process, first of all our president, Mr. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and I’d like to thank our minister of sport and I’d like to thank the governor of Istanbul. And the police chief of Istanbul. And the Istanbul greater municipality I’d like to thank. And also our Basketball Federation and my dear friend Hidayet Turkoglu I’d like to thank. During the preparation process, within the coordination with the EuroLeague management, our dear friend Mr. Jordi Bertomeu and all of the partners got together to prepare this great organization.
In this regard, we teamed up with the YouTube stars, who are already shooting the landmarks of Istanbul, including Galata, the Maiden Tower and the Bosphorus Bridge. We already have a double-decker bridge touring the city right now, the FanZone at Marmara Forum mall complete with live concerts, sessions with European basketball legends, contests and shows. We wanted to turn the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four event into a festivity enjoyed by all fans. Last but not least, a Turkish Airlines aircraft is carrying the EuroLeague logo and extending its spirit to the whole world. Once again, I hope you enjoy your time here in Istanbul and share our sentiments that we, Europe’s best airline, have been preparing this great event for you and all the basketball fans around the world. I wish a very successful event for all the four teams representing their countries and European basketball.
Hidayet Turkoglu , Turkish Basketball Federation President
"I want to welcome you to the city of Istanbul and a home of basketball. Tomorrow, this year's most important weekend of European club basketball starts. I am extremely happy to welcome the most successful teams in Europe, with their supporters, to the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four. Turkey is a basketball country. The Turkish Basketball Superleague is accepted as one of the leading leagues in Europe. With its increased popularity, basketball is continuously going up with great organization, as in this Final Four. Basketball has strong private and government support in Turkey with these encouraging assets, today we are delighted to see a Turkish brand, Turkish Airlines, as the main EuroLeague's main sponsor and Istanbul, as its Final Four host city. I would like to add that Istanbul is hosting the Final Four for the third time, and this time with a Turkish team, Fenerbahce, as part of this exclusive competition. With this opportunity, I would like to congratulate all the EuroLeague participants for their breathtaking competition that they have performed throughout the year. I strongly wish that the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague Final Four will be a very successful tournament, with thousands of spectators in the venue and millions of people in front of their screens will watch the inspiring sports competitiveness and beauty of basketball. I would like to welcome you once again and feel the excitement of basketball in the city of Istanbul."
Dimitris Itoudis, CSKA Moscow head coach
[The season] was exciting. For us actually a new direction and something new for us in terms of preparation, in terms of relaxing or having so many travels with players and etc. But it was very exciting and we enjoyed the round-robin system, playing against everybody. The fact that we played each other helps for sure towards the scouting and towards knowing each other a little bit better than in previous year. Last year we faced Fenerbahce first time, we had not played games against them [earlier]. But Final Four is a different thing, a different story. After a marathon we are called to play a semifinal which is actually a final. There is not another day. We are going to approach it like that, and we are looking forward to it.
This gives me an opportunity of congratulating the other three opponents that made the Final Four. They all well deserve it; they played constantly good during the whole season. Of course all of us had ups and downs due to injuries or new format, but I would like to say congratulations to them. Regarding our back-to-back-to-back showing in Final Fours, this is something that has to congratulate our organization, and I am happy personally to lead such a team, such an organization, that has played in the last six Final Fours, the last 14 of 15, which is a huge accomplishment for the CSKA organization. At the same time it is an obligation, and we do realize what our obligation is over here, what we have to accomplish. But the whole journey is important as well. It was a marathon, there was a lot of expectations, we are defending champions and we are happy that we do have a chance to be in this Final Four and to try to defend the trophy, which is not going to be an easy job. But I just mentioned semifinal is a final, that is the system. With all the respect and the excitement that gives you, that is how it is and we are looking forward to that.
Regarding Milos, he did not play three playoff games in the VTB League, he did not practice after the last EuroLeague playoff game against Baskonia. He had a big wish; he did play that series against Baskonia with injections. He did come back to practices. Not 100 percent. But his desire, his wish and his determination is at the highest level. So, we will see tomorrow how it goes.
In 2015 it was a very exciting game. Olympiacos won it at the end, well deserved, we congratulated them. This is 2017. We did have some significant changes. I understand the need, with all the respect, you want to create about psychology. But this is a basketball game. We play against a very good team, against a great team, a well-organized team, with great players. That's what it’s all about. Two great teams will face off in the semifinal, and two other great teams will face in the other semifinal. Of course, it is not only X’s and O's. It is not only about that. The psychology is about the way you prepare. Players, they have their own routines, they have their own standards to approach the game, to approach the moments. But it is not about the past, it is about living in the present moment.
I will repeat for the millionth time, it comes from my heart, comes from my profession. This is not a game of chess or tennis, it is not Zeljko against Dimitris, or Dimitris against Zeljko, it is Fenerbahce against CSKA, or CSKA against Fenerbahce. Great clubs, with history, present, and of course, future. My team, we are all happy that we became European champions against a great team, against a great coach, great players and great organization. And you should avoid asking me about being first or something like that, those things are wiped out. We are basketball coaches; we try to help players to do their best on the court. We are all happy at the end of the day when the outcome is good. The journey shows us a little bit of more how we can handle the confrontations, how we can handle different situations, how we can handle injuries. So, that's what it is all about. It is not a one-on-one game, and I feel like a normal person, being very happy to work in such organization, surrounded with great people having passion for basketball which we try to gather and grow in our great city of Moscow to attract some more fans to come. Because the passion we have in the club will eventually give us results in the future.
Nando De Colo, CSKA Moscow guard
Yes, I think like coach said, it was a pretty long season, and really tough. And all teams who made the Final Four deserve it more than ever. I think it would be the first time that you arrive to the Final Four and you already played the other teams. For example, last season you did not know the teams you played against, and this is the first time and it is more exciting. We already played already against Olympiacos, and it is interesting to see how we can change things to do better.
I think this is the difference between a player, and the best player like Spanoulis. I think he now has a lot of experience, and I am sure he knows how to [go through] a season. It is a long season, and he knows his team needs him to become a better team. That is why he is a leader of his team. And I think he knows exactly how to play, and he knows when the time to make a step up is. He knows that. That is important for the team, and that is why Olympiacos is so often in the Final Four. He got the experience, and he showed to his team how to do it. As our coach has been saying whole week, Olympiacos have a great team, they have a lot of good players, and they know exactly how to play. It starts with him. How to stop him is not just one-on-one, it is basketball, we have to do it all together. It will be a tough game.
Giannis Sfairopoulos, Olympiacos Piraeus head coach
“We are very happy that we are here after this new format of the EuroLeague. It was an exciting season, great players and I hope and I believe strongly that this Final Four will be even better for fans, for the spectators and the teams. The fact that in last seven years, six different teams have won the trophy shows that all the teams are very strong and have had their chances, but also that to be first is very difficult. For the fans, it is very interesting to watch a spectacular Final Four without knowing which of these teams will be champions. The unpredictability of the Final Four keeps all the interest at a high level and this is very important.
“I think it’s a combination of two things. First is the stability of the ownership, the two presidents that we have control the team and have rally big love for the sport from one side and from the other side support in a very difficult economic crisis in Greece. You know that in Greece the economic crisis is big. Our presidents do their best to keep the team at a high level. This stability goes to the team. From the other side, I think this team has players with character, personality and through all these years they build good mettle and know how to play these difficult game, especially when they have their back to the wall.
I can say that from my point of view, this game is completely different from 2015; we already forget that game because these are new conditions, CSKA now is European champion and we are back to the Final Four after last year’s absence. Psychologically I don’t think there is any different way to get prepared than any other game for both teams. The mental preparation is very important for the players to play these types of games. I think all the teams here deserve to be here. They have stability all season and we saw the same performances in the playoffs. They deserve to be here and the players know this. Only thing now is which team will be more ready than the other. For sure all the players want to win the trophy and will do their best. Psychologically I don’t think you need to do anything different than to prepare one game like all the others.
I believe that surprises are not easy to happen and all these unexpected games and unexpected ways to finish games are not easy to watch. I believe all teams here have one characteristic, that the base of the team are players that are many years together and all the coaches are many years with the team, so that means they have the same philosophy, the players know the philosophy of the coaches and that gives stability and with stability it is more difficult to find surprises.
For sure we need to do something about the charter flights, because with the new format, yes the trips are more difficult. And the teams that have charter flights to fly, I think they have a small advantage compared to the other teams.
Vassilis Spanoulis, Olympiacos Piraeus guard
For sure it is great memories. We had here our EuroLeague trophy and helped a lot for this team grow up and encouraged our mental character. This was the past is for sure great memories, but now in the present we are looking forward to new challenges.
First of all I feel very proud for my team that made these achievements in the past, it is not easy; everybody knows this. We made a lot of sacrifices to do that. Respect in life and in sports you cannot buy. You have to work very hard to get respect from opponents. This is one big achievement for this team.
I want to say that basketball is a team sport; it’s not about me or some other player. For sure all the teams set their roles and find their chemistry and set their responsibilities. I want to say that the team gives me some responsibility, but all the team works like this, it’s most important for me to help all the team to achieve the goals. It’s not about me; it’s a team sport. Everybody wins, everybody loses.
I enjoy to play basketball. I prefer to play basketball. It’s going to be a really tough game. CSKA is one of the best teams and very well organized with good chemistry and leaders on the court. I think what’s most important is control the game and the rhythm of the game to do our best to follow the game plan. Coaches makes the game plan and we must concentrate to follow the plan.
Pablo Laso, Real Madrid head coach
"Good afternoon. First of all, it talks very good about the four teams; they have the ability and capacity to stay at the top level. It is not so easy and I give a lot of credit to all four teams for coming back after two years. For me, every Final Four is different. Same teams, same matchups, but different basketball games, for sure.
"I didn't know the statistics [six losses against Fenerbahce in the last two seasons], but you forgot one preseason game that we played, so that the statistics would be better. I am not worried about the statistics, I am worried about tomorrow's game, so I don't care if I lose 20 times against one team, we will be thinking about winning that game, not about what happened before."
Sergio Llull, Real Madrid guard
(on if he would take the last shot with the EuroLeague final on the line) "Probably! If we get there, it will be good for us to arrive to that point. First of all, we have to play a hard game against Fenerbahce and our minds are focused on that game."
"We know this is a Final Four and had the luck to play several of them in the last few years. We have that experience, which we can use to keep our heads cool and focus on tomorrow's game and preparing it well. We know it will be a battle, but the team is really looking forward to it, very excited."
Zeljko Obradovic, Fenerbahce Istanbul head coach
"I don't think [overall experience matters], but I believe that the most important thing is that my players have the experience from last year, especially last year with the same roster. This will help us be ready in the Final Four this year."
"Since the beginning of this season, everybody talked about the Final Four being in Istanbul. ‘you must be in this Final Four, you must do this and that.’ We are finally over here and are very happy to have the opportunity to be in this event. Nothing is different. Last year, we already had lots of Fenerbahce fans with us. It is one part of the game, but the players and myself must be ready to play good games."
"What will be a surprise in this Final Four? Everyone agrees that every team in this Final Four has a possibility to win. We are very happy to be part in this Final Four. Real Madrid won the EuroLeague nine times, CSKA has seven titles, Olympiacos three and this is our third time in the Final Four. It is not a reason to believe in ourselves, but we have a possibility. It is very, very tough and difficult, always. As for charter flights and everything, I suggested my players to take a rest, because after such a long trip yesterday night, they needed to rest. Like everybody say, it is a new era of basketball. We are playing two games a week and I like this very much and I believe that in the future we will play more and more. This is a benefit for the players - to play more games and not to have so many practices. And of course, one of main things will be to have private planes and have the possibility to go quickly, game by game. "
"Behind being in three consecutive Final Fours is the great organization of my club. Everybody works the same way, starting by the president, the members of the board, my GM Mr.Gherardini, the staff that I have, people in the office and players, who are most important. If you have an organization like this, everything is easier. It is very important to keep that. Going back to the previous question, what changed in my life? This year, our president showed confidence in me and my staff, and we have three more years of contract over here in Fenerbahce. Not bad!"
Bogdan Bogdanovic, Fenerbahce Istanbul guard
I want to thank everybody who organizes this amazing event. We need to forget everything that was in the past. The next two games, first of all semifinal, are something special. From my experience, when you come to the Final Four, you can feel some different kind of energy, and that for sure makes a different kind of pressure on players. But, we need to be focused on the things we worked on during the season, and especially in the last couple of weeks, to do a great job.
I think all of [the players here] were in my position before they won the title the first time. I work every single day on my fundamentals and put really hard work into basketball, so I am focused to do my things good.
There is nothing to hide. We know each other so well. We played Madrid so many times, there is nothing to hide.