Einen Blick nach Griechenland wagen. | David Pick über großes Kino im griechischen Basketball – vor allem über Panathinaikos Vorstand Giannakopoulos.
If you’re looking for EuroLeague drama, look no further than Athens. Have you heard the phrase “Drama Queen” before? Well, warm up some popcorn, grab a front row seat and get ready for the “Drama KING” because here comes Panathinaikos owner Dimitris Giannakopoulos; this is a show you do not want to miss.
Giannakopoulos is largely known for his bold statements attacking the EuroLeague, sitting courtside with cigars and making irregular gestures at referees during games. Don’t worry, he hasn’t stopped attacking – he recently went at Agent Nikos Spanos’ neck in a public statement we will revisit later. But now, he’s “attacking” the player’s market and he’s going all in, building a monster on the court.
Before we dive into the players, PAO reached an agreement with the Greek government to purchase the OAKA Arena for the next 49 years (!), investing over 1.2 million Euros to turn the famed arena into an NBA-like experience, changing the parquet floor, lights, sounds and entertainment suites until it widely becomes the greatest basketball venue across Europe.
Back to the PAO frenzy. Giannakopoulos saw his baby struggle in recent years, sitting at the bottom of the EuroLeague table, failing to make the playoffs for multiple seasons with no Final Four in sight. It’s been almost a dozen years since Pao last hoisted the EuroLeague title. On the flip side – watching his nemesis arch rival Olympiacos advance to back-to-back Final Fours – led Giannakopoulos to go big or go home. Let’s go big. But really BIG. Like BIG Magazine, BIG.
Giannakopoulos decided to hit where it hurts most, and that’s the heart. He reached deep into his pockets and re-signed ex-PAO player and former Olympiacos wingman Ioannis Papapetrou. He then reached so deep he might’ve torn his pockets, but came up with 8 million reasons to snatch longtime Olympiacos legend and 3x EuroLeague champion Kostas Sloukas.
Sloukas joined a club of 25 players to play for both Greek giants, but there are only FIVE to take the direct route and cross the street from one side of Athens, to the other: Nikos Boudouris (2000), Vassilis Spanoulis (2010) and Stratos Perperoglou (2012) went from green to red; Ioannis Papapetrou (2018) and Sloukas (2023) took the opposite express from red to green.
Greece went nuts. Olympiacos fans dubbed Sloukas a traitor. PAO fans welcomed a hero. “Sloukas to PAO is the biggest domestic deal after anything that Giannis Antetokounmpo does”, said one Greek journalist on the massive transfer.
“No one expected this from Sloukas, but I can understand it more than anyone,” said Papapetrou – who did the same some years ago, admitted his emotions to Eurohoops.
Olympiacos legend Georgios Printezis also spoke on the deal: “Kostas is a big boy. Others may view this more emotionally, but you can’t say that something is right and something is wrong. He took the decision he deemed was the best for his future”, per Eurohoops.
If you thought that was crazy, I’m not finished. Before all that took place, Giannakopoulos poked the bear. He made in-season moves while everyone was sleeping. He talked with players and coaches and put wild amounts of money on the table.
Giannakopoulos looked at the champions of Turkey straight into the eye(balls) and ripped the core of their success right out of its chests. Ergin Ataman signed a long term agreement to lead Panathinaikos back to where it belongs. Understandably, the excitement levels are building in Athens and with great excitement, comes great goals. “Our goal is to reach the Final Four, for sure. I can’t lower the target. I can’t say, ‘Our goal is to make the playoffs’ at a club like Panathinaikos”, Ataman said during an interview with Turkish outlet Fanatik.
It took Ataman a handful of years to morph Anadolu from a pitiful last-ranked club in the EuroLeague to a continental force. When Ataman, 57, combined Shane Larkin and Vasilije Micic, neither were considered 1st ballot HOF guards. Larkin had a good debut overseas with Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz in 2016-17. He’d go home inking a deal with the Boston Celtics, but returned in 2018, landing in Turkey, where he’s since scored the third most points (2,297) in the EuroLeague.
Micic? He played a role in Zalgiris Kaunas’ 2018 Final Four Cinderella campaign, but that’s honestly all he was, a “role player”. Micic was on his third club at the time, and Ataman recruited him to serve the same position in Istanbul. But something changed shortly after. Micic became the best floor general overseas, dishing out the third most assists (862) in the league, and went on to sign a $20 million contract with the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Sit back and buckle up because Ataman is cooking the next greatest Euroleague duo to win a EuroLeague title: Sloukas and Argentinian guard Luca Vildoza, former NBA guard and Euro-vet with Baskonia and Red Star Belgrade, is going to be awesome to watch.
Panathinaikos also signed ABA League champion Mathias Lessort as an All-EuroLeague First Team Center. Other notable acquisitions are EuroCup MVP Jerian Grant from Turk Telekom Ankara; and sharpshooter Kyle Guy of Badalona, bolstering its firepower from long range. The Greens added significant domestic muscle with big men Dinos Mitoglou, after a one-season of EuroLeague absence; and Kostas Antetokounmpo – the 2nd Greek Freak member to flash PAO’s colors after his older brother, Thanasis.
That’s it? Nope.
The fun wasn’t over. Giannakopoulos was like a kid in a candy shop reaching for anything he can put his hands on. Jan Vesely and Mario Hezonja received offers, but couldn’t jump out of their contracts. Tyler Dorsey at this time isn’t able to free himself of Fenerbahce.
The hunting continues. The next target to receive a jaw-dropping 4 million Euros offer, according to reports,was free-agent Nikola Mirotic. If that doesn’t go through, look for Georgian hulk Toko Shengelia to escape from Virtus Bologna.
Are we finished? Not yet.
The fireworks continue. It’s not rare for a club to attack agents over a deal that wasn’t executed. Nikos Spanos of Network Sports International is taking serious heat.
Spanos is being targeted by the PAO owner, accusing him of losing Greek center Giorgos Papagiannis to Fenerbahce. Giannakopoulos didn’t hold back, claiming Spanos’ concerns were to care for his other client – head coach Dimitris Itoudis – sabotaging the deal to keep the Green center in Athens. “Panathinaikos is not willing to work again with anyone represented by Nikos Spanos. Everyone who is thinking of wearing this shirt should know that with this particular representative the door will remain hermetically closed.”
Itoudis recruited to Fenerbahce a number of Spanos’ clients from recent big man Tonye Jekiri (now with CSKA Moscow), to Tarik Biberovich, Nigel Hayes and also Papagiannis. Awkwardly enough, Spanos also reps PAO’s Greek youngser Nikos Hougaz, who is bound to be sent on loan this season.
Well, until our next show, please remain calm. Basketball promises there’s much more to come