The final image of Dimitris Diamantidis is unfortunately the look of pain as his once former team-mate Vassilis Spanoulis drained a three-pointer as the last seconds ticked by in the Greek League finals.
For a man that has given his all to Panathinaikos for twelve years, winning nine Greek League titles, ten Greek Cups, three Euroleagues and a host of individual awards that could fill a museum, Diamantidis losing in his final ever game against Olympiacos after seventeen years as a professional was a total heartbreaker.
Heck, Kobe Bryant got to end his glittering NBA career on a high. Why couldn’t Diamantidis ride off into the sunset in style, too?
But, as Olympiacos continue their Greek League victory celebrations, which they have every right to as the deserved champions in a thrilling “annual” finals series against their bitter rivals, basketball says goodbye to another of its bright stars.
Starting his career at 19-years-old at struggling Greek side Iraklis Thessaloniki in 1999, Diamantidis quickly turned the fortunes of one of Greece’s oldest clubs and made them formidable opposition for any team that came across them. A fresh-faced Diamantidis scooped his first individual accolade by winning the league MVP in the 2003-04 season, which duly caught the eye of Panathinaikos.
In Greek basketball, if a player outside of the league’s top two, Panathinaikos and Olympiacos claims an award of any note, then it is almost inevitable that the following season will see that particular player join one of the power duos. The only question would be which team would nab that player?
Panathinaikos would ultimately win the battle to sign Diamantidis in 2004. And once the ink dried on the contract, the Kastoria native’s career would propel itself to levels that only a select few could dream of.
For Diamantidis, his life in the famous green of Panathinaikos started with domestic glory aplenty. It didn’t matter if you played for the green side or the red side of Athens, success and silverware would always follow you. But Diamantidis earned his accomplishments. He captured the Euroleague’s Best Defender award in his first season in Europe’s premier club basketball competition, and he would go on to win that very trophy for five straight seasons.
It wasn’t only the domestic scene where Diamantidis was making a name for himself. 2005 brought with it a gold medal from Serbia & Montenegro as he led Greece to a 78-62 win over Germany in the Eurobasket final. And now, fully basking in the highest level of basketball glory, Diamantidis would average a tournament-high 5.0 assists a game for his beloved country.
A year later, Diamantidis’ international exploits would continue in East Asia and reach new and dizzy highs.
Despite Greece falling short in the final against Spain, they would prove that a team with no NBA talent can beat a USA powerhouse that boasted three superstars.
Greece’s 101-95 win in the world championship semi-final against the USA was highlighted by Diamantidis’ sublime skill at the point guard position, as he tore through the United States’ cocky frontline like a knife through butter. The three aforementioned superstars in Carmelo Anthony, LeBron James and Dwyane Wade played well, but Diamantidis had the entire USA team under his spell and he did it by using the basic basketball team fundamentals. Pick-and-roll, the corner and horns offence. For defence … good, old-fashioned team-togetherness.
The basketball beating that Diamantidis put on the USA hurt them, and since that night on September 1, 2006, the U.S. have not tasted defeat since.
Diamantidis, now a crafty veteran returned to Panathinaikos, and signed a new three-year contract, worth €5.7million. The trophies and awards poured in like rain and in his final season with Panathinaikos, after becoming the all-time Euroleague leader in assists, a six-time Best Defender winner, a two-time Final Four MVP, a Euroleague MVP and four-time All-Euroleague First Team, Diamantidis was rightfully crowned a Euroleague Legend in front of his legion of loyal followers inside the OAKA in Athens.
But what earns Diamantidis his reputation and respect will be his commitment to his country and Panathinaikos. In his prime, he was offered contracts by several NBA sides with figures, deals that every basketball player salivates over and snaps up in a heartbeat.
Diamantidis didn’t want that lifestyle. The chants coming out of Gate 13 and the green jersey was his life. And he was true to his word. The man did not sell out; he followed his own path and told aspiring young Greek ballers to do the same.
It was just a shame that it ended the way it did. But regardless of whom you follow, even if it is Olympiacos, you can’t deny Dimitris Diamantidis his place among basketball greats.