David Pick | Nr. 53

Der Krieg und die EuroLeague | David Pick erklärt die Hintergründe der Verlegung des Final Fours von Berlin nach Belgrad und erläutert die Folgen der Suspendierung der russischen Teams

Let's be real and honest with each other. If I told you I'm giving away FREE tickets to the latest blockbuster movie where Pierce Brosnan and Russia declare WW3 attack on George Clooney and the Ukraine, with co-star Leonardo DiCaprio leading a sidekick Chechen invasion, while WNBA superstar Brittney Griner is held hostage in a Russian prison isolated from the world for weeks; and all of Europe cut ties with Russia - no bank transfers, no imports/exports of foods, no commercial flights .... would you go watch it? Seriously, I'm throwing in free popcorn as well. GO WATCH THE MOVIE.

Unfortunately, this isn't a movie. It's reality. It might not be our reality in Germany or Israel, but what's going on between Russia and the Ukraine is affecting millions around the world. Sports clubs are falling apart, violence and descrimination is rising. Jews fleeing the Ukraine in an attempt to enter Israel have been held hostage at the airport with babies sleeping on the luggage crucel and the elderly passing out and getting sick on the floors, due to lack of food, water and supplies as the Ministry of Interior refuse to grant them access into the country out of fear that they'll never leave. And it seems like no one really cares. 

This is now our reality. But as much as I have to say and elaborate on the political situation, there’s a time and place for everything, and this is nor the time or place for it. Thus, let's focus less on global scandal and more on basketball drama, the Euroleague in particular and the disaster it's facing, thanks to one - Vladimir Putin.

BEFORE the effects of the war on basketball, I want to briefly touch on the real reason the Euroleague chose to transfer the 2022 Final Four from Berlin to Belgrade. There’s been much speculation around whether or not the Euroleague’s grand finale will relocate out of Berlin due to the restrictions and limitations in attendance of large masses in Germany.

It wasn’t long before the official announcement that this season’s Final Four will take place in Belgrade, Serbia, that Bayern Munich traveled to Chemnitz with only seven players and got blown out. If that wasn’t enough, Bayreuth had just six (!) players total - all guards under 2.00 meters, in their incredible overtime 92-91 loss against Gottingen. Earlier this month, Munich again announced over a dozen players and staff members have fallen victims to Covid, cementing the importance of relocating the Final Four outside of Germany.

The main reason for the change of scenery, though, because the Final Four will indeed return to Germany perhaps in 2024 or 2025; is because the political restrictions of acceptance of Covid vaccinations that are imposed in Germany, aren’t as strict in Serbia, and German health measures, if prolonged, would not allow a large number of fans to attend the Final Four and might even prevent some athletes from participating. Last season’s Final Four in Germany was without fans as Vasilije Micic and Shane Larkin led Anadolu Efes to the title, while this time the Euroleague wants no surprises with regards to the limitations of spectators in attendance. 

This year’s Final Four will take place in Belgrade, four years after it hosted Luka Doncic’s farewell party to the NBA. with ticket pricing ranging from approximately €110 to €552, respectively.

HOOPS CRISIS: With the grace of Maradona’s hand of God, or the hand of Putin in this situation, Maccabi Tel Aviv and Bayern Munich have a serious shot at making the Euroleague playoffs. Before the alleged WW3, no one in either camp believed this was possible. While Russian clubs CSKA Moscow, UNICS Kazan, and Zenit St. Petersburg were expelled from the remainder of the 2021-22 season, the 15 other clubs voted in favor of cancellation of all results played against them this season. Crazy, right?! As Russia began their attack on Ukraine, coaches and athletes abandoned their Russian teams. Avtodor Saratov and Parma Perm Lithuanian coaches returned home, as did players Zenit’s Mindaugas Kuzminskas and CSKA’s Marius Grigonis. Zalgiris Kaunas were the 1st to publicly boycott all Russian temas and even redesigned their uniforms in solidarity of the traditional blue-and-gold colors of the Ukraine flag. Zalgiris also led a shipment of medicines worth 18 thousand euros to Ukraine. 57-years-old Hall of Famer Arvydas Sabonis addressed a number of pressing issues stemming from the war in an interview with the local Lithuania media. “Never again in our lives can we believe these liars.” Sabonis, a member of the former Soviet Union, elected to play for the Lithuanian National Team upon receiving its independence. “Bombing children and free people? I’m speechless. I have no desire to communicate with them. There’s no doubt all Russian teams should be excluded from the Euroleague.”  

Sabonis worries not only about the present conflict, but the future ramifications this war will have on sports down the road: “I have no idea how they could play together in the future. It is difficult to imagine such a scenario. Now the Slavs are killing Slavs. Two Slavs attacked a Slav. It is cruel. Brother kills brother.”

Another FIBA HOFer and owner of Euroleague club ASVEL Villeurbanne, Tony Parker, came out with a statement canceling all ties his club might have with Russian teams. “We will not go to Russia, this goes beyond sports. We cannot accept the situation, it's the opposite of our values.” The Frenchies were set to play back-to-back Euroleague games in Saint Petersburg and Kazan.

Let’s stick with Kazan for a moment. While players across Russia left their teams, UNICS was reportedly suing forward Jarrell Brantley for $250,000, according to Ian Begley of SNY. While CSKA players Daniel Hackett and Toko Shengelia paid buyouts to terminate their existing agreements to sign with Italian power-club Virtus Bologna, it’s rumored that Kazan was “disappointed” in Brantley's departure from the team. Begley also reported that Kazan were blocking his FIBA Letter of Clearance, but it appears a resolution has been reached as Brantley recently signed in the G-League. Brantley played 23 EuroLeague games, averaging 3.3 points and 1.6 rebounds in 12:58 minutes, and was among the several non-Russian players that left the country in light of the invasion of Ukraine.

It’s not easy for Russian teams to sign new players. No one wants to travel to Russia at this time, and the visa process that normally can take a few weeks, can now drag out even longer. It’s worth mentioning that former No.3 overall NBA Draft Pick, OJ Mayo, is still in Russia, as are other Americans like Will Clyburn and Casper Ware, who chose to use his Russian visa with VTB club Enisey to sign with CSKA for the remainder of the season. Iffe Lundberg also reached a resolution of his contract with Moscow, allowing him to sign a two-way contract with the Phoenix Suns, making the jump to the NBA.

CSKA's President Andrey Vatutin doesn't voice his opinion publically too often, but when he does - it's worth listening to. The longtime Russian Chief commented on the Euroleague putting Russian teams at a disadvantage without clear reasoning: "The situation is very complicated, and there is no solution that would suit everyone. It's clear that the general priority of the clubs and the league is to finish the season. Unfortunately, during the meeting, I got the impression that the final decision to transfer the matches of Russian teams to a neutral field was decided in advance, and I was never able to understand on the basis of what exactly Russia is deprived of. Today, there are no recommendations from the governments of European countries or the European Union to refrain from traveling to Russia, while it is worth recognizing that it is impossible to predict the development of events". Without games in Russia, or Russian teams in the Euroleague in general, Vatutin believes these disadvantages, "deprived their fans, doom additional expenses, and undo promises and obligations to sponsors."

The war behind the scenes was nothing short of a dog fight. The Euroleague club's stance became personal and selfish, while each executive voted on what was best to promote their own club’s agenda. The decision to void all records of games against Russian teams was determined by a vote that didn't sit well with the losing side (Fenerbahce, Anadolu Efes, and Monaco).

Munich lost all of its three trips to Russia by a thin margin of 4.3 PPG, and felt it had pretty good chances to pick up some wins at home if given the opportunity. Thus, all three losses have been eliminated from their record, jumping from 11th seed to 7th. Maccabi were 1-3 against Russian teams this season, and the voting allowed them to dismiss three losses and climb from the 12th seed, to the 8th spot. On the flip side, Monaco recorded three huge wins over the Russian teams but can’t carry them over into the new Euroleague standings format.

The conflict between the clubs circled around canceling games played vs all games against the Russian teams. On the one hand, clubs that lost to Russian clubs said the remaining 15 teams can only be measured in games against each other. On the flip side, as Fenerbahce tried to convince: only the games scheduled to be played AFTER the dismissal of the Russian clubs, should be terminated. But that argument doesn't make sense to the opposing side as clubs like Munich played just three games against the Russians - ALL ON THE ROAD; while Fener already recorded a handful of games and a bunch of wins at home as well.

“With the decision that was taken as a result of the voting, a disadvantageous situation occurred for six teams, including Fenerbahce,” said Anadolu Efes coach Ergin Ataman in solidarity and reference to his crosstown Istanbul rival. Anadolu voted in favor of disregarding all games versus the Russian clubs, unlike Fener, who had won all of its three games against the Russian teams (AT HOME) and, right now, these victories aren’t counted in the final tally. “We would like to underline our disappointment in having different sides with the other representative of our country, Anadolu Efes, on such a sensitive opinion, which we strongly believe in its truthfulness; and we would like to leave the evaluation of it to public’s and fans’ discretion,” reacted Fener in a release on their social channels

The world has changed since the 2004 Intifada saw 182 minors and a total of 915 people killed in Israel. At the time, Valencia refused to travel to Israel, but no one boycotted Israel. The Spanish were handed a technical 0-20 loss, and not long after, CSKA Moscow, coincidently, made their way to Tel Aviv for the Final Four that took place despite the war, and Maccabi hoisted the trophy.

On March 21st, the decision with regards to the future of the Russian clubs in the Euroleague will be finalized. There are two current situations that need to be resolved, because right now, as one Euroleague GM told BIG Magazine: “No one knows what fuck is going on.”

1. WHAT HAPPENS THIS SEASON? The Russian clubs cannot return from a practical aspect due to the fact that A. They can't travel B. They can't host. C. Their rosters fell apart. D. No one will agree to travel to Russia amid an ongoing war.

2. WHAT HAPPENS NEXT SEASON? UNICS are out. Monaco stays should they qualify for the Playoffs. Who will be added (Virtus Bologna, Partizan Belgrade)?

Like all great movies, to be continued …


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