Today marks 15 years since Eduardo Portela was elected President of the ULEB in a meeting held in Paris. The leader of the Union of European Leagues of Basketball takes stock of these three lustrums at the head of the institution. Read the full interview.
PORTELA: In March 1998, the ULEB was almost 7 years old and was formed by the founding Leagues: France, Italy, Spain, plus Greece and Portugal which had joined later; everything was more difficult because we were not officially recognised by FIBA. For me it was an honour to succeed Gianluigi Porelli, of the best directors in the history of European basketball. Now we are 16 Leagues and this number may increase in the future, showing that the organization is alive and that being member of the ULEB represents a plus for the Leagues. Despite the current globalization, each League is a world, with its own economic and sports situation. The exchange of experiences and opinions is very rewarding, as it captures very different experiences and different approaches when it comes to the management of professional basketball.
Q. Which do you think is the most important event in these last 15 years in the ULEB?
PORTELA: The main selling point for the public may be the creation of Euroleague in 2000 as it meant a model change; for the first time in Europe, the Leagues took control of the top clubs competition in a professional sport. Two years later, in 2002, the inception of the ULEB Cup was the ultimate accolade to the project.
Q. The ULEB not always had a placid existence in the last 15 years…
PORTELA: I’m happy to say that we maintain a positive relationship with all institutions, sometimes from the disagreement, but always with dialogue. In some European countries we are seeing moves by Federations aimed to regain the organization of the men’s championship; at this point, it’s clear to us that the role of the Federations should be in promoting our sport, in all matters relating to the national teams and youth teams; the men’s professional basketball management must be in the hands of the League.
Q. The current economic crisis is felt also in basketball…
PORTELA: No doubt, but even in this scenario, the Leagues are working in an excellent manner and the results are there: in France, after the LNB signed an agreement with Disneyland Paris, the Semaine des As has been renamed and held in an arena built especially for the event at Disney Paris. Bringing basketball to families and children is a perfect move. The German League is also growing rapidly thanks to a great business plan, the Leagues of Poland and the Czech Republic organized a joint All Star a few weeks ago and will repeat the experience next season; the Adriatic League is increasingly consolidated as regional competition with the best teams in the former Yugoslavia, the Italian League also works very well, and we can not forget the rest of the Leagues, developing a great job each within its dimensions.
Q. What are the current challenges of the organisation?
PORTELA: The ULEB needs to know where it is, never before has it been so necessary. The ULEB needs to manage, run again, feel owner of its business and its future, and I have great faith that we will get it. We have every confidence that our experience of two decades in basketball and our pioneering spirit will lead us in the right direction at the most appropriate time, which is now. The ULEB is formed by great Leagues with outstanding executives who will take timely and courageous decisions that will bring value to the national Leagues. We are stronger than ever and we are going to prove it.
Q. FIBA approved a new format and calendar of competition last November which brings back the national team qualifiers during the season starting in 2017, a decision that has generated controversy at various levels…
PORTELA: The formula of scheduling games of the national teams during the club season was used years ago and did not generate the interest of the media. In recent years the calendar has been well defined by the 2004 agreement between FIBA Europe and ULEB, an agreement witnessed and signed by FIBA too, which provided a window for national team competitions between the third weekend of June and the third weekend of September. FIBA has now decided to reinstate official matches during the season not taking into account that current club competitions occupy more weeks than then. The majority of the ULEB Leagues have expressed their stance against this new situation and we have forwarded this position to FIBA, with which, however, we keep the dialogue open. This project should only go ahead if there is consensus of all parties involved, including the NBA, and this is not the situation. Euroleague already showed its position against the windows, the ULEB has done so too, and it is clear that the NBA will not stop the competition in November and February so that foreign players can join their national teams. What’s the interest of the national team in countries like France, Italy or Spain without their NBA players? As it stands now, this is a problem and we are prepared to talk with FIBA to find a good solution.
Q. How do you envision the future of European basketball?
PORTELA: It will depend on the evolution of the national Leagues, and everything to diminish its importance will be negative. I find it necessary to keep Saturdays and Sundays as the days of play for the national championships and not follow the formula of some sports which schedule international games over the weekend, forcing the League to schedule national championship matches in the middle of the week. On the other hand, I think that Eurocup and Eurochallenge should merge into just one competition involving teams from as many European countries as possible, in this regard the ULEB submitted a proposal to Euroleague last year. And we also need to change some rules of the game, evolving into the NBA style while keeping the spirit of basketball being played in Europe.