In 2002, Theo Papaloukas was a 25-year-old guard who had yet to make a significant impact on the top level of European basketball. That summer he joined CSKA Moscow and a beautiful connection was born. Over the next six seasons, Papaloukas was a guiding light of CSKA's return to prominence with six consecutive Final Four appearances, including EuroLeague titles in 2006 and 2008.
Papaloukas redefined the playmaking position as a game-changing sixth man. From his seat on the bench alongside his head coaches, first Dusan Ivkovic and later Ettore Messina, Papaloukas would craft a game plan and then put it into action the moment his name was called. He served as floor general and coach on the court, ensuring that every team he played for performed better than the sum of its parts. During his first stint with CSKA, the team was uniquely dominant, with 116 victories from 2002 through 2008, which were 20 more than the next-closest club.
Papaloukas, who also played four seasons in two different stints for Olympiacos Piraeus and another for Maccabi Tel Aviv, appeared in a total of nine EuroLeague Final Fours, a record-tying eight of those in succession, and played for the title four times. He was the hero of CSKA's return-to-glory victory over Maccabi in the 2006 EuroLeague Championship Game in Prague, with 18 points and 7 assists, for which he was named Final Four MVP.
He was voted EuroLeague MVP in 2007, chosen to the All-EuroLeague team three times and named to the Euroleague All-Decade team in 2010. Papaloukas also tasted sweet success with the Greek national team, which he led to the EuroBasket 2005 crown and the silver medal at the 2006 World Championships after a memorable semifinal win over Team USA in which Papaloukas dished 12 assists.
After one last season and Final Four appearance with CSKA in 2013, Papaloukas retired as the EuroLeague's all-time leader in assists with 977. Though that number has since been surpassed, Papaloukas still ranks fourth all-time in assists and second with 335 steals.