| As a career sixth man who won two titles, was voted MVP of the competition and made the All-Decade Team, point guard extraordinaire Theo Papaloukas is one of the singular superstars of the Turkish Airlines Euroleague this century. On Thursday, as he starts his 11th season, Papaloukas will wear his third jersey, this one the famous canary yellow of last season's runner-up, Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv. Until now, Papaloukas has been accustomed to battling Maccabi as an oppenent for the highest honors in the Euroleague. They faced off in two title games, a semifinal and three playoff games over the years, and in waging those battles, both earned the respect that has led to Papaloukas to seek another Euroleague trophy in Tel Aviv for an audience that he has come to admire as an opponent. "I always enjoyed playing at Nokia Arena, even when their team was against mine, because it is a place where the fans respect basketball," Papaloukas told Euroleague.net. "If you come here on another team and play a good game, they are going to admit it and give you credit. So for me, knowing this, I thought it was a great opportunity to have Maccabi give me a chance to play here, and I took advantage of it."
Theo, welcome to your 11th Euroleague season. First of all, how strange does it feel wearing a yellow jersey after doing nothing but battling against Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv for the last 10 years?
"It has always been great to play in Nokia Arena, even while playing against Maccabi, so imagine how much better it can be playing with Maccabi. It's a great organization with a great team history, as everybody knows, and a great coach. And for me, what was most important, is that it's one of the teams that can win the Euroleague. In the end, this is the main reason that I came to Tel Aviv."
How did you and Maccabi find each other this summer?
"We spoke, David Blatt and I, two or three times in the summer. I told him that I only wanted to play at a really high level in order to be able to win the Euroleague. He told me what he had on his mind, and after that, we were ready to agree. The rest was easy, because I just want to keep playing basketball at the highest level."
What were your main considerations when you decided to sign for Maccabi?
"I was only interested in two or three teams that I had on my mind, teams at a high level. Otherwise, I was not interested. When Maccabi showed up, that made it easy to decide. I repeat that the biggest factor was having a chance to win the Euroleague. Otherwise, it had no meaning for me. Playing basketball at this level was the only factor, really."
Did you ever think over the years, before this summer, that you might play for Maccabi someday?
"You never know what things life brings up. To be honest, I never thought of playinig for Maccabi. But I always enjoyed playing at Nokia Arena, even when their team was against mine, because it is a place where the fans respect basketball. If you come here on another team and play a good game, they are going to admit it and give you credit. So for me, knowing this, I thought it was a great opportunity to have Maccabi give me a chance to play here, and I took advantage of it."
Did you consider before signing that maybe Maccabi could be the last club of your career?
"You never know how things will go. For the moment, I only think of playing here and helping my team."
Did you know David Blatt well before deciding such a big move? What is he telling you he needs from you?
"We never worked together before this, but we of course had seen each other on and off the court sometimes, and you understand from that how he's a great coach and nice person. I have respect for him because I like some of the things he says about basketball. Hopefully, I will be able to do on the court all the things he and I spoke about, but what we said will stay between us."
Every passer likes to have a dominant big man to pass to. How much of a factor was Sofoklis Schortsanitis being at Maccabi for you?
"Sofo is a great palyer and he was lucky to come here to Maccabi last year. The people here love him, the team loves him. For sure it was a factor for me to play with him again. He's not just someone I already know, but he's Greek. If I have some problem outside the court, then he will help me solve it. I always had a great relationship with Sofo and that keeps going. But I am lucky that the whole team is cool and all the players and the club help me very much. If I need something, there are people ready to solve the problems. Everything is perfect here. Everybody knows that Maccabi is a great organization, they take care of people, and that's very important for a new player. I am having a great time so far."
You mentioned respecting Maccabi's fans: how did they treat you as a visiting player over the years?
"The main thing I remember is the Final Four in Prague, because we met with a big crowd of Maccabi fans as we were going back to Moscow after winning. I thought it would be strange, but everyone congratulated us about winning the title, said that we played a great game and wanted photos with us. Even though your team beat theirs, they understood and respected that. It was great. It made me respect them. In Greek, we have a word that doesn't exist in English: it's when somebody does something from their heart and you feel obligated toward them. That's what I felt for Maccabi fans after that."
You are 34 years old coming into the season. You stopped playing in summers for Greece a couple years ago. Do you need to make any other adjustements for your age yet?
"I am working very hard to keep my body in shape. When you are older, you need more time to recover from the work. You have to be more careful. I have been one of the lucky ones, with no big injuries, so as long as my legs are strong, I can keep playing. I will just have to work hard. But I have time now in the summer to rest more and to work more, so it's good."
Any thoughts of becoming a starter at this stage of your career?
"I think my role will be to come from the bench. But it's not up to me: it's up to the coach. And he has many great players. Jordan Farmar is playing great so far and is a great guy for this team. I hope he can stay the whole season, because for us it would be great. We have a young Israeli guy, Ogev Ohayon, who is working hard, too. My role will be whatever the coach wants, but I expect that I'll come from the bench."
What were you thinking when you saw your former teammates J.R. Holden, Trajan Langdon and Marcus Brown - not to mention one of your new coaches, Derrick Sharp - retire this summer?
"I spoke with J.R. about it, and for sure, it's a hard decision to make. If you don't feel it, if you are mentally tired, it's hard to play. Basketball for us is enjoyment. As long as you enjoy playing, you keep going. If not, you stop. These players you mention are all great players but also great people. These guys meant a lot to the sport and to me. I had the luck to play with Marcus, J.R. and Trajan and now I get to work with Derrick. They were all great players and professionals. You can only respect their decisions."