By Aris Barkas/ email@example.com
There’s no denying that fans and their tribalism make European basketball special, specifically when the lore of the clubs goes back decades. And sometimes fate plays peculiar games, in this case bringing a unique symbolism to Aris Midea Thessaloniki’s return to the EuroCup.
Aris made headlines last week despite its defeat by defending EuroCup champion Dreamland Gran Canaria thanks to the devoted fans who make almost every European game at Alexandreio Melathron arena a unique experience. Last week stood out even more as pride and sorrow went hand in hand on a stroll down memory lane.
And what a memory and a memorial it was.
Aris BC was founded in 1922 and in the 1980s it became the first basketball dynasty in Greece at a time when the country was a European basketball power. During those days, the club was nicknamed “the Emperor”.
Aris won seven straight Greek championships between 1985 and 1991, five of which were paired up with the Greek Cup, and also participated in three straight EuroLeague Final Fours between 1988 and 1990. It captured the Saporta Cup in 1993 and the Korac Cup in 1997. Aris debuted in the EuroCup for the 2004-05 season and reached the finals the very next season. A year later it was back in the EuroLeague.
The return to the EuroCup was overdue, mainly due to the financial woes of the club, and on the same day it played against Gran Canaria in a full gym, news came that Coach Giannis Ioannidis had died.
During the 90s, Ioannidis laid the foundation for Olympiacos Piraeus to become a European powerhouse, but he was a basketball product of Aris and also he transformed Aris into the “Emperor”. A former Aris player, he became its head coach in the late 70s when he was just 33 years old and with the iconic guard duo of Nick Galis and Panagiotis Giannakis, he made the unthinkable happen.
While Greek basketball had moderate and relatively rare successes outside its borders until then, Ioannidis envisioned a team that was destined to leave a mark on the continental level. The bar was set high, but Ioannidis, Gallis, Giannakis, and Aris passed the test with flying colors, becoming the first Greek team to achieve this kind of European prestige.
Aris was even more than that. The team was not just successful on the court, but a cultural phenomenon. For the first time, the city of Thessaloniki felt better than the capital of Athens in anything, and the country was taken by storm. Thursday became an off day for theaters and cinemas because that was the day that Aris played in European competitions.
Even though Greece remains a basketball hotbed, nothing compares to those early days and to the mass hysteria that was created for the first time.
Nicknamed the “blond”, Ioannidis was a larger-than-life figure, who went on to become a politician and minister of sports, before facing health issues.
He was a love-him-or-hate-him person. He was also undeniably a pioneer for modern Greek basketball, creating the path that everyone else followed.
And suddenly, just because of him, before the typical eruption of the Aris crowd moments before the tipoff against Gran Canaria, a moment of silence tied the glorious past with the present, giving a special meaning to this season.
As Aris is trying to re-establish itself at the highest levels, the aura of the 1980s powerhouse will be its guide, honoring the memory of an icon who will not be forgotten.