Photo: EuroLeague Basketball

Joe Arlauckas welcomes Fenerbahce head coach Zeljko Obradovic in this week’s episode of the Crossover podcast.

Their free-wheeling conversation starts in Obradovic’s home town of Cacak, Serbia, where his greatest influence was his father.

“I always said my father was the best friend I had in my life. He understood everything I did,” coach Obradovic tells Arlauckas, his former player. “And the most important thing he taught me is if you want the people to respect you, respect the people. This is always in my mind.”

Obradovic recounts how he coached kids and took notes after every practice during a pro playing career that peaked with his gold medal as a member of the 1990 world champions from Yugoslavia.

Despite his preparation, it still came as a surprise to many when Obradovic went from player to head coach overnight at age 31 when offered to take over the bench at his club, Partizan Belgrade, by two of his idols growing up, Dragan Kicanovic and Moka Slavnic. By the end of that first season, Obradovic had won the first of his record nine EuroLeague titles. 

“If they call you, two legendary players, it was for me an opportunity of a lifetime,” Obradovic recalls. “Nobody in this moment believed that it was a good decision, believe me. Except the guys at Partizan.” 

Speaking about the place where he spent the most time in his coaching career, 13 years, Obradovic pays tribute to the special atmosphere forged at Panathinaikos Athens by the club’s owners, the late Giannakopoulos brothers. 

“Special club, special team, special people… They treated me like a son,” he says. “They showed the love, and they loved Panathinaikos like crazy.” 

The conversation carries Obradovic all the way to his current club, Fenerbahce, where he has built a culture of winning with five consecutive Final Four qualifications. 

“If you want to be a serious organization, you need everybody to be on the same page…,” he says. “We are on the same page and we work. We talk about the fact that a club and team need to be healthy inside. And we are healthy inside.”