A new annual event to remember a late giant of European basketball debuts on Thursday when Panathinaikos OPAP Athens welcomes three other Turkish Airlines EuroLeague teams to the Greek capital for the historic, first Pavlos Giannakopoulos Tournament.
Mr. Giannakopoulos, who passed away in early June, was the patriarch of Panathinaikos as it became the most successful European basketball club of the modern era by winning six EuroLeague trophies between 1996 and 2011.
Panathinaikos has put together a stellar field for the first tournament in his memory. Fenerbahce Istanbul, whose delegation is headed by head coach Zeljko Obradovic, the long-time coach of Panathinaikos, is playing Maccabi FOX Tel Aviv, a great rival of both, in the first game on Thursday. Panathinaikos takes on Khimki Moscow Region in the second game. The winners will play Friday night to become the first Pavlos Giannakopoulos Tournament champion.
The festivities surrounding the new tournament began over the weekend with a youth tournament and featured a gala dinner on the eve of the games. All four teams attended the gala dinner, as did Jordi Bertomeu, Euroleague Basketball President and CEO, plus a host of greats from the Panathinaikos family past and present.
The outsized legacy of Mr. Giannakopoulos was remembered, too, during a pre-tournament press conference.
"I would like to thank these three unbelievable teams for coming here to play in this tournament to represent an unbelievable man who changed the game of basketball around the world," Panathinaikos captain Nick Calathes said.
"I would like to thank the three teams who are here and make the tournament even more important with their presence," Panathinaikos head coach Xavi Pascual said. "It is an opportunity to commemorate an important personality, not only for Panathinaikos but for European basketball as a whole."
Obradovic spoke from the heart about what Mr. Giannakopoulos meant to him.
"For me personally, it's really something special because I spent 13 years here working together with Mr. Pavlos Giannakopoulos and all of his family, and the contribution of Mr. Pavlos to European basketball and to Panathinaikos especially was something that everyone recognized," Obradovic said. "I would like to say something that I feel deep inside of myself. In this relationship with Mr. Pavlos, he taught me a lot of things. Some moments I will never forget, talking about life, talking about the experience of life and the value of life, and these are things that I used after that, talking to my players and the people close to me."
The moment was summed up by the late Mr. Giannakopoulos's son, Dimitris.
"This tournament is the least we can do to honor the memory of a great man," he said. "I would like to thank Euroleague, which embraced this tournament and has introduced this tournament in the calendar, and I would like to thank the other three teams for accepting our invitation. It's very important that this tournament is going to be held among friends."