Euroleague czar shoots from the hip

Jordi Bertomeu shares his thoughts on future of continental hoops, player movement and David Blatt

MACCABI TEL AVIV Chairman Shimon Mizrahi (left) has a good working relationship with Euroleague President Jordi Bertomeu (right), and the latter was recently in Israel to celebrate Mizrahi’s 80th birthday. (photo credit: DOV HALICKMAN PHOTOGRAPHY)
MACCABI TEL AVIV Chairman Shimon Mizrahi (left) has a good working relationship with Euroleague President Jordi Bertomeu (right), and the latter was recently in Israel to celebrate Mizrahi’s 80th birthday.
It’s not every day that one is graced by the presence of arguably the most powerful person in European basketball, President, Chairman and CEO of the Euroleague Basketball Company Jordi Bertomeu, who oversees the first-tier EuroLeague and second-tier EuroCup professional club continent-wide basketball leagues.
However, The Jerusalem Post was part of a select group to speak with Bertomeu on a recent visit to Israel for Maccabi Tel Aviv Chairman Shimon Mizrahi’s 80th birthday, as well as in Milan where he took part in the jersey retirement ceremony for Italian legend Dino Meneghin.
Bertomeu spoke on a myriad of topics, including the state of European basketball, its standing in the world and players who have returned from the NBA, while also offering his thoughts about David Blatt’s current medical situation.
“We are celebrating the 20th year of the Euroleague and we have been able to create a league that is owned by the clubs and run by the owners,” began Bertomeu. “It’s a competition that will focus on having 16 teams with long-term contracts plus two clubs from the EuroCup. That is our plan going forward with a total of 18 teams to go along with our roster of EuroCup teams.”
There are currently 11 teams with permanent licenses that play in the Euroleague, including Maccabi Tel Aviv, while there are other places in the competition reserved for various European domestic league champions. But with regards to a promotion and relegation, the two top EuroCup teams will move into the Euroleague the following season, but the format still needs to be worked out as to what happens with these clubs after the campaign.
“Promotion and relegation is here in reference with the EuroCup teams that are in the Euroleague. But if they perform well, they could remain for the next season. We are still working on this process.”
Overall play in the Euroleague has been extremely competitive, with many teams around the .500 mark after 10 games, which bodes well for the league.
Bertomeu was cautiously enthusiastic as to how the full campaign will play out.
“It’s still too early to know how the competition will be this year, but of course we have had so many signs that we will have an excellent competition. However, it’s still early and we have teams that still don’t have their full rosters due to injuries.”
There has been plenty of player movement this past summer as a number of veteran NBA players arrived from North America, including Nikola Mirotic, Greg Monroe and of course Israeli Omri Casspi. On the flip side, plenty of players also made the reverse trip overseas.
“I always try to say we can’t be dramatic when players leave. Basketball is becoming more and more global with players coming and going. We cannot cry if a player leaves the Euroleague, but rather what we have to do is create conditions where players are comfortable playing in our league. As a result of this effort, the teams are doing a great job and the players are coming back from the NBA. I am not surprised because this is what my expectation was a few years ago. As the market is becoming more global, movement in both directions is becoming normal.”
There has been talk swirling around Europe that the ultimate goal of the Euroleague is to take away the top teams from their domestic leagues and have them play exclusively in a European Super League. Currently, 18 teams is bordering on that possibility and with the addition of 2-6 more clubs, playing solely in a Super League would be the only solution as otherwise the teams’ schedules would be way too congested.
This season, Olympiacos is playing in the Greek second division due to a domestic issue and is only fielding their stars in the Euroleague, which is being looked at as a trial run. Bertomeu shot down this idea very quickly but kept the door open a bit.
“Olympiacos is playing under the terms of the Greek clubs and I have said many months ago, we cannot be contaminated by what happens in the domestic leagues. This is a consequence of something that happened in the Greek championship and we don’t want to be involved. We don’t see this as an example or a trend for our clubs.
“The fact that we stayed with 18 teams and didn’t expand further is because it’s a good balance between our distribution in the European territory in terms of the quality of the teams and the compatibility with the domestic leagues. If we want to go further we will probably be in a situation where the clubs won’t be able to play in the domestic leagues. If this will happen, nobody knows.”
Blatt has been an integral part of the Euroleague throughout its history as a head coach for numerous teams that have competed in the competition and Bertomeu was glowing in his assessment of the 60-year-old Israeli, who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in the past year and stepped down as the coach of Olympiacos in October.
“David is one of the most amazing people I have met in my short history in European basketball. In these 20 years, David influenced me many times. Of course as a coach, but the last time we talked we were only talking about how much I admired him as a person.
“David is someone who is teaching all of us how to face not only difficulties, but how to understand basketball that goes beyond the sport. It’s the way he communicates this balance that is extremely unique. Of course we aren’t happy that he isn’t coaching a team, but as a league we want to make sure that his condition goes in the right direction. Of course, if he doesn’t come back to coach we will miss him very much.”
Joshua Halickman, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel sports adventures for tourists and residents ( Follow the Sports Rabbi on Twitter @thesportsrabbi or feel free to contact the Sports Rabbi at [email protected]