A new Turkish Airlines EuroLeague season is upon us, but ordinary it is not.
Already, as opening day arrives, one shining reward is at hand:
The return of the world's best fans to their rightful place as sixth men and women in the stands of pulsating arenas in Europe's most vibrant cities.
Their renewed presence, at long last, reminds us that the EuroLeague is all about overcoming adversity, all about getting up after falling down, all about believing against all odds.
Just ask the reigning champions from Anadolu Efes Istanbul.
This competition is as full of adversity as any in sports. In the EuroLeague, like nowhere else in basketball, every game truly matters.
Just ask the 15 teams who fought into April last spring, six months after opening day, for playoffs spots or home-court advantage.
Now, again, the road that awaits them is full of challenges, demands and hurdles that must be overcome by effort, determination and tenacity.
Just ask Cory Higgins of FC Barcelona, Nicolo Melli of AX Armani Exchange Milan, Tornike Shengelia of CSKA Moscow and MVP Vasilije Micic of Efes.
Their teams were in the Final Four teams in Cologne, Germany last May, but they rep their hundreds of peers on EuroLeague courts whose daily persistence and striving make this brand of basketball uniquely authentic.
And now, all are at the bottom of the same long, uphill road, with 320 games to be played, thousands of rebounds and loose balls to be lunged for, countless steps to be climbed.
This is the quest that they live for, the crucible they thrive in, the legacy they seek.
It's not just about winning it all. It's about getting up and making that journey again, starting over with one thing in mind: to push even higher.
Just ask their fans.
They are stretched out across nearly 5,000 kilometers from Russia in the east to Spain in the west, from Israel in the south to Lithuania in the north. All are ready to make their arenas – indeed, their whole cities – bounce again to the rhythm of this game.
They, too, are poised to push even higher. Than ever.
Welcome to the 2021-22 Turkish Airlines EuroLeague.