A lot of people could not believe their eyes when Ioannis Papapetrou left Olympiacos Piraeus after five seasons to join archrivals Panathinaikos OPAP Athens. Those who knew his story were not that surprised, however. His father, Argiris Papapetrou, played for Panathinaikos from 1985 to 1994, became its team captain. From that point of view, it looks like Papapetrou was following his father's footsteps, but there is more to that.
"Yes, it kind of looks like this from the outside because my father played for Panathinaikos, but obviously, it didn't happen on purpose," Papapetrou said. "I thought, first of all, of what is best for me – but it is a nice coincidence for the fans and for the people. As for me, I just want to be happy and continue what my dad has done here, to have the success he had with Panathinaikos, and to try to be even more successful."
"I just want to be happy and continue what my dad has done."
Argyris Papapetrou helped the Greens win two Greek Cup titles, in 1986 and 1993. He also played for the Greek national team, helping it to reach the 1994 FIBA World Cup. He spent most of his career with Panathinaikos and felt really comfortable in the team.
"He played here and talks a lot about the moment he lived here," the son recounts. "He is thankful for what the Panathinaikos presidents, Mr. Pavlos Giannakppoulos and Mr. Thanasis Giannakopoulos, did for him. He grew up here and was here for 10 years. It is a big thing for him."
While raising his kids, Papapetrou Sr. didn't force them into basketball, but the game came as a natural option for Ioannis and his brother, Giorgos.
"Panathinaikos has made me feel like family since day one."
"My dad actually encouraged us to play any sport that involved a ball: soccer, volleyball, tennis, everything; you name it. We loved basketball more than anything. I and my brother felt that we were better at basketball, too," Papapetrou recalls. "This is why we started to play basketball. My dad didn't force us or didn't want us to do something that we wouldn't like. He wanted us to make our own decisions. He just wanted us to play sports, stay fit and be in great shape. After that, if we wanted to be professionals, he would support us, and if we didn't, he would still be our dad, and I am happy about that."
Of course, Ioannis would go to Panathinaikos's old arena, Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium – renamed to Pavlos Giannakopoulos Arena in 2015 – to see his father compete against the best teams in Greece. So coming back to the club is triggering a lot of memories:
"My dad was playing for Panathinaikos, my mom and my brother were going to the gym. This is the picture that we had; this is the way we grew up. Obviously, the team is very familiar to me, and it brings back a lot of memories from when I was young. This is great not just from the business side, but from the emotional side of it."
Still, growing up, Ioannis Papapetrou did not join Panathinaikos or the other two big clubs in Athens, Olympiacos and AEK, but rather started at a smaller team, Ilysiakos, famous for developing young talent. Papapetrou's choice was based on where he could compete for titles.
"When you are young, you just want to play for the best teams, and this is what Ilysiakos had back then – the best young teams, the best talents and the best prospects at that time," Papapetrou says. "We all got together to play and win championships and be successful. That is the reason why I wanted to play there, to have a shot at winning championships at any level. I played with some guys that made it as professionals, like Giannis Antetokounmpo, who is now in the NBA, as well as some other players who are in the Greek League, but not in the EuroLeague. We grew up together and also played together on our national team."
Needless to say, all veteran employees at Panathinaikos knew Papapetrou and welcomed him with open arms.
"Panathinaikos has made me feel like family since day one – the way that they approached me, respected me and showed me how much they wanted me. They made it easy for me to say 'yes' and come here. I like the way they treat players, with a lot of respect," he said. "I think that they know what it takes to be successful and I just love to be in the club that knows how to treat you and respect you. That makes me go in and give everything, my heart and soul, for the team."
"It is a big honor to wear both Panathinaikos and Olympiacos jerseys."
After five years with Olympiacos, it was not an easy decision to make because Papapetrou knew that a lot of people would complain. Still, he thinks he believes that he took the right choice when he joined Olympiacos, and did the same last summer. "It is a big honor to wear both Panathinaikos and Olympiacos jerseys," he says. "All the other guys who made that decision did so because they thought it was best for them. When you cancel out the emotions, what will happen, what people will say, how are they going to react and those other things, you have to think on what makes you happy and what is the right thing to do. And this is exactly what I did, like others did before me."
Papapetrou has played two EuroLeague championship games with Olympiacos, in 2015 and 2017, but is still fighting to win his first EuroLeague title. Now, he will try to do so with the club that was a big part of his childhood.
"I wanted to be in a team that competes to win the EuroLeague. I think that Panathinaikos is that kind of team," he said. "Winning the EuroLeague with Panathinaikos would be a dream come true. It is going to be everything that I dream of and wish for. It is going to be a tough road, with a lot of ups and down, but I think we need to stick together and give our best, all of us. The fans and the management deserve to be in the Final Four."