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The 🐐 EuroBasket?
We are about to enjoy a September hoopfest while also finding out if the immense hype building for the first European championships in five years proves justified
The most anticipated EuroBasket EVER!
That's how the 41st edition of the European championships is routinely billed by the punditry that will be covering the 24-team competition, which opens Thursday and runs through Sept. 18.
Anticipation, of course, does not guarantee exhilaration. Only the games themselves can determine how memorable EuroBasket 2022 will actually be. I’m hesitant to make too many promises when the field is three times larger than the first EuroBasket which I enjoyed as a fan in 1989, as explained in last week's Tuesday Newsletter Extravaganza, and thus likely to serve up a mismatch or three.
Yet there's no question that the talent assemblage for the first EuroBasket in a whopping five years, dating to Slovenia's Cinderella run to the title in 2017, is utterly historic.
Jokić. Giannis. Luka.
They might be the three best players in the world. They are, at worst, three of the top six or seven. No previous EuroBasket has come close to that sort of star power on the marquee and that’s before we even get to the Rudy Gobert-led French team that beat the United States at the last Olympics in Japan and ultimately finished as Tokyo’s silver medalist runners-up to the Yanks.
Twenty-four teams in the Euro bracket strike me as too many, just as FIBA's World Cup has needlessly swelled to 32 teams, but why complain too much? For NBA fans who descend into agony every July when summer league ends, knowing it'll be a good two months until their favorite sport returns in earnest, 18 days of bonus basketball are about to spice up all of our lives — all accessible via ESPN+ and featuring countless recognizable names.
My Substacking colleague Tom Ziller published a thought-provoking piece Monday lamenting how his previous efforts to shine a spotlight on various FIBA competitions have largely been ignored, inevitably hampered by how confusing it can be for States-based fans to make sense of a basketball calendar that wedges in a rash of World Cup qualifiers worldwide days before an event as big as EuroBasket. Such dismay naturally pains me as a fan and advocate for the joys of international basketball for more than three decades — as explained in detail, again, in last Tuesday's dispatch — but I have a hopeful premonition that this EuroBasket will be different.
There has been a palpable buzz on NBA Twitter lately whenever word spread that EuroBasket warm-up games or World Cup qualifiers were taking place: Someone PLEASE post a link to the stream!!! And now, with four pools of six teams in the EuroBasket group stages, we'll be getting at least six games a day from Sept. 1 to 8, with 16 teams advancing to the knockout round starting Sept. 10. (There are a whopping 12 EuroBasket games each on Sept. 3 and Sept. 6.)
So you can safely plan on a solid run of high-level bonus hoop that, by the time Europe's next basketball champion is crowned, will require you to grit through only a week and change until NBA training camps open.
EuroBasket used to be held every four years until FIBA, amid much consternation, returned to soccer-style qualifying after the 2016 Olympics in Rio. I've railed as loudly as anyone against the new format, since NBA stars are able to participate so infrequently and events like EuroBasket now hold zero impact in terms of World Cup qualification, but this tournament clearly still means tons to the participants when you take note of who is playing.
Also: Consider some of the pained reactions from those who have been knocked out by injury in recent days like Boston's Danilo Gallinari and former NBAer Toko Shengelia of Georgia.
I will be in Cologne, Germany, for the rest of the week watching a stacked Group B, which houses France, Slovenia and Lithuania in addition to Hungary, Bosnia and Herzegovina and the hosts Germany. Read on for some of EuroBasket’s key storylines to track:
Tournament gold is more up-for-grabs than usual.
Spain was regarded as Europe’s most feared powerhouse for more than a decade, starting with its gold medal run at the 2006 Worlds in Japan (Team USA finished third in its first tournament under Mike Krzyzewski) and extending all the way to the 2019 Worlds in China, when the Spaniards unexpectedly prevailed as Team USA slumped to an embarrassing seventh under Gregg Popovich.
No longer, though, do they command that sort of fear factor. The current roster features only one true mainstay from Spain’s golden generation — Rudy Fernández — with nary a Gasol in sight. Also absent is Ricky Rubio, who continues to recover from last season’s knee tear, leaving Fernández and Bo Cruz, er, Juancho Hernangómez as the most recognizable faces for veteran coach Sergio Scariolo.
A significant opportunity for glory thus looms for France, which can claim victories over the United States at the last two major tournaments (China in 2019 and Tokyo last summer), as well as the trio of countries that orbit around an otherworldly NBAer: Giannis Antetokounmpo’s Greece, Nikola Jokić’s Serbia and Luka Dončić’s Slovenia.
Slovenia actually appears to have a stronger roster, largely thanks to Dončić’s development over the past half-decade, than its title team did in 2017 when it went 9-0 and seized a championship no one in the basketball world expected from a nation that boasts a modest population of roughly 2.1 million. Slovenia is a gaudy 20-3 in competitive games when Dončić is in uniform, but the overall competition figures to be tougher this time.
There is a slew of NBA players to watch.
Among the standouts beyond the aforementioned trio of franchise player headliners: Gobert and Evan Fournier lead France; Domantas Sabonis (in his first EuroBasket since 2015) co-stars for Lithuania alongside Jonas Valančiūnas; Goran Dragić and Vlatko Čančar join Dončić with Slovenia; Cedi Osman, Furkan Korkmaz and Alperen Şengün are teaming up for Turkey; Croatia features Bojan Bogdanović, Ivica Zubac and Dario Šarić after Šarić missed all of last season with the Suns recovering from a knee injury; host Germany will be leaning heavily on Dennis Schröder and Franz Wagner; top soloists include Finland’s Lauri Markkanen, Bosnia and Herzegovina’s Jusuf Nurkić and Israel’s Deni Avdija.
A full list of players competing in the tournament, as compiled by FIBA, will appear here this week.
There will, as always, unavoidably be some notable names missing.
In addition to those ailing that we’ve already mentioned, like Gallinari and Rubio, various injuries have knocked out the likes of Spain’s Sergio Llull, Germany’s Moe Wagner, Serbia’s Bogdan Bogdanović, France’s Frank Ntilikina and Tomáš Satoranský of the Czech Republic.
Serbia veterans Miloš Teodosić and Boban Marjanović were not selected as apparent casualties of coach Svetislav Pešić’s desire to reshape the roster around Jokić. (I mistakenly thought Pešić also declined to select youngsters Aleksej Pokuševski and Nikola Jović but was swiftly corrected; their respective NBA teams, Oklahoma City and Miami, didn’t want them to play.)
Several other NBA vets are prioritizing rest and time away from the rigors of the NBA this summer, including Montenegro’s Nikola Vučević, Italy’s Marco Belinelli, France’s Nicolas Batum and Nando de Colo, Turkey’s Ömer Yurtseven and Germany’s Maxi Kleber and Isaiah Hartenstein.
Then there are the recent (and future) high-wattage draftees who are being held out of EuroBasket largely as a measure to protect their health early in their careers: Italy’s Paolo Banchero, Poland’s Jeremy Sochan and France’s Victor Wembanyama, who is expected to be selected with the No. 1 overall pick in 2023.
A more thorough list of established players we won’t see at this EuroBasket, as compiled by BasketNews, can be found here.
The naturalized Americans who hold prominent roles for their adopted countries always make for an interesting sidebar.
Only one of the other three Antetokounmpo brothers (Thanasis) is expected to land on Greece’s final 12-man roster, but Giannis’ bid to finally taste some meaningful international success to complement his NBA conquests will be aided by two players born in the States: Nick Calathes and recent Dallas two-way signee Tyler Dorsey.
Other key Americans to watch who hold European passports include Turkey’s Shane Larkin, Slovenia’s Mike Tobey and Spain’s Lorenzo Brown, who will be counted on to mitigate the absence of both Rubio and Llull.
I really see only one major letdown to rival the No Banchero/No Wembanyama Factor.
Latvia didn’t qualify, so the Kristaps Porziņģis who has been stacking up big numbers in World Cup qualifying games ever since unveiling a new beard will not be on show in any of the first cities hosting group-stage games (Cologne, Milan, Prague and Tbilisi).
Check out these Porziņģis highlights from Sunday’s home win over Great Britain after an earlier win in qualifying over Turkey:
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It’s admittedly laughable that I could even pretend to need any sort of pick-me-up purchase given the ridiculous run I’ve been on lately: Manchester City trip to Houston, Manchester City trip to London, US Open qualies, EuroBasket … and with Springfield, Mass., and 2022 Hall of Fame inductions looming.
Imagine my surprise (and glee) when this tweet crossed my desk Monday notifying me that some pretty tasty Buffalo Braves items were in stock via the NBA Store.
I have a number of Braves hats in my collection already, but those two are top-shelf options that I badly wanted to purchase. Sadly they’re available only in a 6⅞.
The consolation: I had never seen that backpack before and duly snagged two at the sale price of $71.99 each. As my oldest son Alexander taught me years ago when he was still in grade school: One to rock, Dad, and one to stock.
Dirk Nowitzki's No. 14 jersey, which he donned in 153 games for the German senior national team, will be retired Thursday in Cologne, Germany, before the hosts’ EuroBasket opener against France. The Mavericks retired Nowitzki's No. 41 in January.
My TV essay on Nowitzki's jersey retirement ceremony in Dallas leads off with the story behind Dirk adopting No. 41 in the NBA. He wanted to wear No. 14 like he had internationally — which he chose in honor of Dream Team star Charles Barkley — but those digits already belonged to a more senior Maverick.
International jersey retirements are a relatively new phenomenon. Only in October 2014 did FIBA relax its long-held regulations that all players must wear a jersey number between 4 and 15. EuroBasket and the AmeriCup in 2015 were the first major competitions in which jersey numbers were permitted to fall outside of the 4-to-15 sphere.
Only a handful of players have had their international jerseys retired since the rules changed. I couldn’t even track down a complete listing but I do know this exclusive club features Puerto Rico stalwarts Piculín Ortiz (No. 4) and Carlos Arroyo (7) and the Argentinean duo of Manu Ginóbili (No. 5) and Andrés Nocioni (No. 13).
Among the national basketball federations that have resisted straying from the 4-to-15 formula, interestingly, is USA Basketball, believing that the tradition passed from generation to generation is important given the luminaries that have worn, say, No. 6 (LeBron James) ... or No. 9 (Michael Jordan) ... or No. 10 (Kobe Bryant). Enclosed here is a breakdown of every jersey number worn in top-level tournaments by Team USAers.
There will be 70 preseason games this season before the 1,230-game NBA regular season begins on Oct. 18:
Three NBA teams are starting the season in essentially three weeks. Atlanta, Milwaukee and Washington are scheduled to hold their respective Media Day festivities on Oct. 23, with Golden State staging its Media Day on Sept. 25. Those are the four teams playing overseas exhibition games: Abu Dhabi for the Bucks and Hawks on Oct. 6 and Oct. 8; Japan for the Warriors and Wizards on Sept. 30 and Oct. 2. The other 26 teams are scheduled to host Media Day on Sept. 26, followed by their opening practices on Sept. 27.
In connection with my Sunday soliloquy about the history of NBA notes in Sunday newspapers, I checked in with Bob Ryan. The Hall of Fame scribe shared that he published his first NBA notes column on a Sunday in The Boston Globe way back in the summer of 1970, inspired by the performance of Celtics draftee Dave Cowens in an offseason benefit game for Maurice Stokes. #sportsmediatrivia