Maccabi Tel Aviv might be an accomplished team when it comes to European basketball, but one man has overshadowed the Israeli club for the better part of two decades.
Zelimir Obradovic has captured ten Greek championships in the last 11 years, and seven European championships since 1992. Tonight, Panathinaikos' head coach will try to do it again.
The statistics are in his favor. A decade ago, Maccabi dealt him his first loss in a Euroleague final game, when it defeated Panathinaikos in Paris. Since then Obradovic has captured the European crown three times. His record in the championship game as head coach of Partizan Belgrade, Joventut Badalona, and Real Madrid is an impressive 7-1.
Before his arrival in Athens, Obradovic had made the rounds in his coaching career. Between 1991 and 1999, he worked for four different clubs in Serbia, Spain and Italy. He also helmed the Serbian national team, leading it to a European championship title in 1997 and a world crown in 1998.
In the 2000s, Obradovic put his wandering days behind him. He has made a home for himself in Athens while turning Panathinaikos into the most successful club in Europe during his tenure.
Not only has it cast its dominating shadow over the Greek league, but it has also collected four European championships.
In the 2002 European semifinals, it vanquished a Maccabi Tel Aviv squad that included head coach David Blatt and players like Anthony Parker, Nate Huffman, and Ariel McDonald.
Winning the final round seemed like a monumental task, since awaiting the Greeks was Italian club Kinder Bologna, whose roster included the likes of Manu Ginobili, Marko Jaric, and Rashard Griffith.
Obradovic, the winningest coach in Euroleague history, simply turned the reins over to his small Serbian forward Dejan Bodiroga, whose dominating performance was one for the ages. Panathinaikos had done the unthinkable, pulling off a major upset.
After Friday's victory over Siena in the semifinal round, Obradovic is leading his Greek squad to its third title game in five seasons. Nick Calathes registered a career-high 17 points and guard Dimitris Diamantidis handed out nine assists to lead the way for Panathinaikos.
"Maccabi is a very talented team, with players able to play one-on-one, solving tough situations in the final seconds of each possession," Obradovic said. "They have an inside game with Sofo [Schortsanitis] and the defenses that Blatt likes to use are very important in Maccabi's game. We have to prepare the game well and see if we are able to organize our offense and above all, have a good start."
"Being here is not our target, but winning another Euroleague title," the Panathinaikos coach said. "We will try to do that [tonight]."
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