A trip down memory lane: The 2012 EuroLeague Final Four

With the announcement that the 2017 EuroLeague Final Four will be held at the Sinan Erdem Dome. TalkBasket’s John Hobbs thinks back to the 2012 Final Four at the same venue, which he calls “the best Final Four that he ever covered”.

The EuroLeague Final Four will return to Istanbul in May, 2017, five years after perhaps the most memorable Final Four that I have ever covered inside the Sinan Erdem Dome.

For me, the 2012 Final Four had it all: Drama, emotion, games that went down to the wire and most importantly, the most unforgettable game winner arguably in EuroLeague history.

Olympiacos’ Georgios Printezis hit a dramatic baseline floater with 0.7 seconds on the clock to stun CSKA Moscow and break the hearts of their fans that were seated to the right of press row. Unfortunately for us, on our left were the Panathinaikos supporters who were under heavy watch throughout the Final Four weekend due to their hooligan-like behaviour away from the arena.

But thankfully, the moment the final buzzer went, the hoards of green Panathinaikos jerseys and flags made a quicker getaway than a child running from their grandparents embrace. The CSKA fans: Motionless, gobsmacked. They didn’t know what just hit them. Honestly none of us did. The Muscovites with on paper the deepest and most talented roster were up 19 going into the fourth quarter and the Olympiacos fans on the far side to us almost conceding defeat and turning their attention to their bitter rivals to our left, taunting that they made it to the championship game and that Panathinaikos had nothing to show for their efforts.

But slowly and surely, Olympiacos’ infamous Gate 7 mob switched their focus back to the happenings on the court as their heroes in red and white were shrinking the lead against an all of a CSKA side who, all of a sudden were making countless errors and they eventually caved in against the younger and much quicker team from Pireaus.

Watching the Olympiacos fans and players celebrate at the end in 2012 is a memory that came flooding back to me the moment that this year’s EuroLeague Final Four was to return to the Sinan Erdem Dome. The Greek side’s success in 2012 was a victory for the underdog. A Final Four that had CSKA Moscow’s name ready to be engraved on the trophy but instead held off for at least four years until they won last season in Berlin.

But the 2012 Final Four in Istanbul was much more than just perhaps one of the finest championship games in EuroLeague history. CSKA Moscow stood tall in the final seven seconds to edge Panathinaikos 66-64 in the first semi-final. Milos Teodosic missed two free throws for the Russian champions but with the Greens’ final possession, Dimitris Diamantidis was smothered by a sea of red CSKA jerseys and Panathinaikos were unable to get a shot up as time expired.

With everyone inside the Sinan Erdem Dome still catching their collective breath, Barcelona and Olympiacos took to the floor for the second semi-final encounter -with the rival Panathinaikos supporters sticking behind to taunt the Olympiacos fans directly on the other side of the arena.

But the sheer beauty of Olympiacos’ eventual title win that year began with their richly deserved victory over the Catalan juggernaut, who many expected to reach the championship game against CSKA.

The Reds took Barcelona out of their comfort zone and challenged them like no other team was able to.

Olympiacos were the first real challenge put forward to Barcelona past the regular season stage and the Greek team exposed them. Shutting them out defensively with a simple man-to-man defence and with that, earning them a massive win.

The atmosphere created by the Olympiacos fans following their unexpected win was spine tingling. Unfortunately, it did not sit well with the Panathinaikos fans who retaliated in their own way on finals day. They confronted the Olympiacos fans who were waiting to get inside the arena and when the Istanbul Police intervened, they made life difficult.

Now, as Istanbul and indeed, Turkey recovers from its own political and public unrest due to terror attacks around the nation, they get a chance to put together two of European basketball’s elite events: the Eurobasket 2017 group and final rounds but before that; the EuroLeague Final Four returns next May.

Next year, Turkey can finally put their frightening and emotional twelve months behind them and use the power of basketball to put Istanbul back on the map as one of the world’s most beautiful cities, as it should be.