AGONAsport Legends: Kostas Politis, the man who conquered Europe
Kostas Politis, the 1987 EuroBasket winning coach with the Greek national team, sadly passed away at the age of 76 after a battle with health issues. In a tribute to his fantastic career, AGONAsport looks back at his legacy.
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LOSS OF A BASKETBALL LEGEND
Nowadays, the term “legend” is thrown around rather too easily, but no one can argue that Kostas Politis deserves such a title. Standing court-side as a coach, Politis brought new success to Greek basketball, in particular winning the 1987 EuroBasket tournament in Athens. He enjoyed a fantastic spell in charge of Athenian giants Panathinaikos too, winning three consecutive championships with the Greens in 1980, 1981 and 1982.
When he decided to tuck away the clipboard and stop coaching, Politis refused to fully retire, later becoming heavily involved in the Hellenic Basketball Federation’s development program. His contribution to the sport in Greece is something which will be hugely difficult to somehow repeat.
EARLY PLAYING DAYS
Kostas Politis was born on March 21, 1942 in Kaisariani, starting out as a basketball player with hometown club Near East BC, before moving to Athenian giants Panathinaikos at the age of 18. However, when joining Panathinaikos, it wasn’t certain whether Politis would be allowed to represent the Greens, initially only granted permission to participate in European matches. In the end, he made his debut in 1961, competing in a continental encounter against Maccabi Tel Aviv.
MAIDEN CHAMPIONSHIP TITLE, NATIONAL TEAM CALL-UPS
Politis only earned the one Greek championship in his playing days, claiming the title with Panathinaikos in 1967. Nevertheless, Politis had already been a regular for the Ethniki Omada, playing at the 1961, 1965 and 1967 EuroBasket tournaments with the national side. His best performances in the Greece jersey came at the 1967 Mediterranean Games in Tunisia, where he registered 16 points in games against Turkey and Libya. Overall, Politis made 41 appearances for his country, earning a points-per-game average of 3.2.
Unfortunately for Politis, after becoming a Greek champion and putting in decent showings with Greece in 1967, he was slowly pressured into stepping away from basketball due to his political stance and opposition to the government in place.
COACHING DEBUT WITH PANATHINAIKOS
Unpopular with the state, a 25-year old Politis found himself in limbo, unable to keep working in the sport in fear of punishment from the powers that be. Eventually, he would return in the late 1970’s, drafted in to replace Michalis Kyritsis as manager of Panathinaikos in the 1978/1979 campaign. It was at the Trifylli where Politis would really make the headlines, leading the club to three successive championship titles between 1980 and 1982, also winning the 1982 Greek Cup. Following a disagreement with Panathinaikos’ board in the summer of 1982, Politis handed in his notice in August, immediately receiving the role of Greek national team boss.
ETERNAL ACHIEVEMENTS WITH THE ETHNIKI OMADA
Five years later, the best moment in Politis’ glittering career would arrive - victory at the 1987 EuroBasket tournament hosted by Greece. Panagiotis Fasoulas, a player on the Greek roster for the competition, shared his view on why Politis managed to get the best out of the Ethniki: “He was the right man in the job at the perfect time. Politis possessed a modern perception of coaching, fully understanding what the national team meant. He always made sure that he took care of the players’ wellbeing and he was a basketball expert.”
Drawn into Group A with the Soviet Union, Yugoslavia, Spain, France and Romania, the Greeks picked up three wins from five matches, squeezing into the knockout phase in fourth spot. Greece kicked into action in the playoff matches, edging out Italy and Yugoslavia to make the showpiece final. Politis’ troops were pushed all the way by the Soviet Union in the decisive match, pulling out a thrilling 103:101 victory in overtime to create history.
In total, the Greek national team played 146 matches with Politis managing the players, taking 75 victories and 71 defeats along the way. Upon his departure from the Ethniki Omada in July 1988, Politis reflected on the EuroBasket triumph, noting when the feeling of victory finally hit him: “When people of all kinds wanted to come and shake my hand, I realised what we had achieved! At first, it didn’t sink in because I was fully focused on my job, but I visited my father in Kaisariani and I started to understand what the victory meant. It was an historic moment for all Greeks.
CUP FINALS WITH PAOK AND AEK, SECOND PANATHINAIKOS STINT
Having conquering Europe, he decided to coach in club basketball, steering PAOK to two Greek Cup finals in 1989 and 1990, albeit losing both. Politis was gifted the job of Panathinaikos head coach again in 1993, but although he failed to win a Greek championship for the Prasini, he did take them to the Final Four of the EuroLeague for the first time.
Later on, when occupying the post of AEK Athens boss, he helped the Kitrinomavri make the Greek Cup final, but once again his team didn’t get the required result. After that, Politis went back home to his native Kaisariani, ending his professional coaching career with Near East, in turn completing a full circle right back to where it all started.
In taking Greek basketball to the next level, Kostas Politis’ legacy will live on, as future generations will have the opportunity to look back on what he achieved in the game and take inspiration from his eternal legacy.