AGONA Flashback: The triumph at EuroBasket 1987
Today’s AGONA Flashback pays tribute to Greece’s magical run at EuroBasket 1987 where the Ethniki’s Cinderella run ended with European glory 32 years ago today.
Not 32, not even 100 years will be enough to erase Greece’s triumph at the 1987 Euroasket tournament. On this day, June 14, history was made as Greece rose to the top of European basketball for the first time.
No one can forget the first triumph of Greek Basketball in 1987. It is something older generations still remember and younger ones love to hear. Like the football team of 2004, Greece had entered the competition as one of the outsiders, yet the group of 12 players starred in the competition to lift the trophy in front of thousands of Greek fans at the Peace and Friendship Stadium (S.E.F).
The history of Greek basketball can be divided into two time periods; pre-1987 and post-1987. Although great players were born and many achievements took place during the first period, it is without comparison to the outburst that followed the triumph of June 14, 1987. It was a day when 12 men proved that Greece could achieve everything and anything as long as talent was accompanied with hard work, persistence, patience, and above all, teamwork.
The national team began the competition in Group A along with Romania, Yugoslavia, the Soviet Union, Spain, and France.
In the first game, which was a great opening act for the triumph to come, Greece prevailed rather easily against Romania 109-77. Nikos Galis and Panagiotis Fasoulas led the national team with 44 and 20 points, respectively.
The second game against Yugoslavia was undoubtedly a benchmark for Greece’s success as the Galanolefki, led by Galis - scored once again 44 points - were victorious 84-78.
The Greeks were brought back down to earth in the third game against Spain and were defeated rather easily, 89-106, as a result of the players’ fatigue.
The fourth fixture against the Soviet Union was marked by controversial refereeing and the Soviets walked away with a narrow 66-69 victory, putting the national team in a difficult position before the fifth and final group stage game.
In the do-or-die group finale against France, a defeat would mean elimination for Greece, however the Episimi Agapimeni kept their composure to earn a relatively easy 82-69 win. Greece claimed fourth place in Group A and advanced the quarter-finals to face Group B winners Italy.
Quarterfinal: Italy, who finished first in Group B, were Greece’s opponents in the first knockout match in the quarter-final stage. The Greeks were ‘on fire’ from the field and with the duo of Galis and Giannakis scoring a total of 60 points, the Ethniki marched on to the semi-finals with a 90-78 win.
Semi-final: The powerful Yugoslavia stood in the way of Greece’s place in the EuroBasket final in what was a closely contested seme-final. Surely, one of the favorites to win the tournament could not lose to Greece twice in the same week. Despite Greece falling behind in the first half, Galis and Christodoulou came through to score 48 points and lead the Galanolefki to a tremendous 81-77 victory
FINAL: On June 14th, it was time for the final at the Stadio Eirinis kai Filias against the almighty Soviet Union. The national team was ready to avenge their defeat to the Soviets in the group stage as a packed S.E.F. demanded a win and the European trophy. In a real derby, where neither team managed to take a decisive lead, the match was sent into overtime after Liveris Andritsos hit two free throws 39 seconds before the end of regulation.
It was a similar story in overtime as the two teams fought neck and neck for European glory. With the scores tied at 101-101 and just under five seconds remaining, Greece’s Argiris Kambouris came to the rescue grabbing the rebound of Ioannou’s missed effort and was fouled on the put-back attempt. With ice in his veins, Kambouris scored both free throws to put Greece ahead 103-101 with less than four seconds to play. Jovaisa put up a desperation shot at the buzzer to send the game to a second extra period, but to the delight of the Greeks, the shot was off the mark and the Ethniki were crowned champions of Europe.
The players celebrated as the fans rushed the court and people all over Greece ran to the streets where celebrations took place until the next morning. Galis was named the MVP and leading scorer of the tournament with 296 points. Panagiotis Giannakis finished with the most assists and two members of the Greek Team (Galis and Fasoulas) earned their place in the tournament’s starting five.
The triumph of 1987 is one that all Greeks will never forget as the national team defied the odds to achieve European glory, one that would ultimately make Greece one of the powerhouses in the world of basketball today.