O2 ARENA, LONDON − In the derby of the bankrupt European states, played between two nations with a lost young generation, the Greek fans could enjoy a night out in London at the expense Spanish fans. In the middle of the last quarter, when Olympiacos Piraeus led Real Madrid by 12 points, their singing became a victory chant.
The bankrupt nation succeeded in winning the most prestigious European basketball title, proving once again that success in sports can sometimes be completely unrelated to economic reality. Whole communities might lose their chance to make a living, but as long as men run after a bouncing ball, fans will sing, TV stations will broadcast and someone will be found to sponsor the occasion.
There was one rare moment during the final when the Greek fans were silenced: Real Madrid took a 27-10 lead, the result of a blitz in the opening minutes. The Greek fans, reinforced by Barcelona supporters, seemed to succumb to their fate. But they only rested for a while and quickly returned to sing their songs as Pero Antic slammed in a monstrous dunk. That was the moment things turned around.
Bald, bearded and somewhat lanky, Antic provided two dunks during Olympiacos’ run that saw the Greeks trail by a mere four-point margin at half time. The momentum changed, and the Greeks rode the energy that was coming from the stands. In an almost fully-packed arena − minus the seats purchased by CSKA fans − the Olympiacos fans totally silenced the Real supporters, and demonstrated to the English how a basketball event should look and sound when the stakes are high.
There were moments when a three-point shot was making its way toward Real’s hoop that one could practically hear the O2 Arena holding its breath − and exploding with a Greek-Catalonian celebration as the ball hit home. This happened over and over again during Vassilis Spanoulis’s incredible run of three-pointers in the beginning of the second half. This writer can think of only one moment reminiscent of this magic, in Istanbul, 2005, when Liverpool won the Champions League final, coming back from a 0-3 deficit.
In last year’s final, against CSKA, Olympiacos also cut down a huge deficit, so this probably wasn’t a fluke. The players on court became aggressive in defense, while Real’s three-pointers weren’t as accurate as in the opening half, but all this would have been impossible without the fans’ support. When Spanoulis scored his fifth three-pointer a minute and half before the buzzer, there was not doubt it was all over. The O2 Arena was buzzing, and all the woes were forgotten. For a while, at least.