Laughs, cheers of joy and smiles, combined with some good-natured competition from children and basketball greats officially opened the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Fanzone at Berlin's Alexanderplatz on Friday. The One Team Legends Session and Exhibition Game brought together some of the Euroleague’s legendary players, who are serving as Final Four Ambassadors, together on the basketball court with the young participants from ALBA Berlin’s One Team programme. The event stood as a perfect example of how the power of basketball can be used as a tool to make social change. The Final Four Ambassadors, who combine for 12 Euroleague titles between them, shared the spotlight with 20 boys and girls from the Gesundbrunnen-Grundschule elementary school in Berlin.
In a session overseen by One Team coaches, Theo Papaloukas, Ramunas Siskauskas, Nikola Vujcic, Matjaz Smodis, Ibrahim Kutluay and Joe Arlauckas led kids in basketball drills that require teamwork, trust and decision-making, before becoming teammates on a basketball court for a five-on-five game in front of hundreds of fans around the Turkish Airlines Euroleague Fanzone Main Court. Among them, cheering on the kids and former Euroleague champs, were dignitaries from Euroleague Basketball, the Berlin municipality and representatives from ALBA Berlin.
The kids were especially excited when the name of hometown hero Patrick Femerling was announced as he took the court. “I thought they might run me over. It is so great. You come in, they are so excited. What can you do but be as excited like them, said “the 2003 Euroleague champion, who during the season also took part in ALBA’s One Team programme, and now had a chance to do it in his elected hometown with the Euroleague. “It is very special for me to be able to something like this in my hometown, and events like this are a lot of fun.”
Now five years old, One Team was created by Euroleague Basketball to use the power of basketball as a tool to integrate at-risk communities in 14 countries through grass-roots activities that have reached more than 10,000 participants to date thanks to the help of One Team Founding Patron Turkish Airlines.
“You give children an opportunity to enjoy one day that they will maybe remember for the rest of their lives. I got this opportunity before, and I know how great it is for the children, and whenever possible, I am here to do it,” said two-time Euroleague champ Theo Papaloukas, for whom it was only natural to enter the exhibition game off the bench. “That is my role. That’s how I learned to play during my career.”
For Matjaz Smodis, three-time Euroleague champion with Kinder Bologna and CSKA Moscow, this was his first One Team event, and he loved it: “I am a rookie, but it is super. I have always had opinion that us who made it in sports, not only basketball, should give back to the sport through basketball schools, camps and clinics. I think all of us participate in these kinds of events with great joy, and it is something that needs to be done, just like Euroleague does it across the continent. From what I understood, these particular kids come from an area in Berlin that has a little more social problems, where they struggle with basic life needs, so I believe for them this was a fantastic experience and they will have fond memories of it for a long time.”
The young participants came from Gesundbrunnen-Grundschule, an elementary school situated in one of Berlin’s lower-income districts, Berlin-Wedding. ALBA Berlin’s One Team programme was implemented in that school where most of the pupils come from deprived families and the rate of immigrants is one of the highest in the city. The One Team programme is run during regular physical education lessons. This ensures the attendance of the children and gives them the opportunity to participate in an all-year-round programme based on teaching life skills through basketball.
Two-time Euroleague champion Ramunas Siskausas was also excited to once again be a part of the event that teamed him up with the youngest fans.“That is a great idea for everybody. To involve the kids, for them it is a very important and unforgettable moment. And it is nice when you can make basketball more popular, involve people, kids, everybody, just like we did here.”