By Eurohoops team / firstname.lastname@example.org
Hall of Fame coach Rick Pitino described some incidents from his EuroLeague experience with Panathinaikos and particularly the Greens’ rivalry with Olympiacos Piraeus, in Fran Fraschilla’s “World of Basketball” podcast.
Here’s what Pitino said on Panathinaikos owner Dimitris Giannakopoulos:
“My wife, she says to me you have to go basketball is in your blood. She wakes up on Christmas Eve and says you can’t go. I said ‘why?’ She says, ‘I just googled the owner [Giannakopoulos]’. ‘So what does it say?’ ‘It said he was fined $300,000. After a victory, he went into the official’s locker rooms and threatened the mothers, the daughters, the sisters of all the referees. And told the referees they wouldn’t get out of Greece alive’.
But in reality, he’s a really good guy. He’s actually very shy and very quiet away from the game. But during the game, he and his uncle (the late Thanassis Giannakopoulos), they’d go berserk. He smokes five packs of cigarettes per day. He’s in his mid-40ies. But a good guy. He loves the team and he’s losing a lot of money. I had a good relationship with him and still to this day I have a good relationship with him.”
Pitino then talked about March’s EuroLeague derby between Olympiacos and Panathinaikos. Giannakopoulos went to the match but departed from “Peace and Friendship arena” at halftime after being advised by the police that they couldn’t guarantee his safety. According to Pitino, the Greens’ boss left because someone was threatening him with a hand grenade.
“All those rivalries you mention, including Duke – Carolina would be a church league game compared to Olympiacos – Panathinaikos. First and foremost. your bench is shielded with bulletproof glass. Like a hockey thing. And then you have a net around the court so the hooligans can’t throw things. You have certain sections at Olympiacos as well as Panathinaikos. And this year, my owner [Giannakopoulos] had to leave [Olympiacos‘ arena] at halftime because he was threatened with a guy holding a hand grenade. The guy had a hand grenade if he didn’t leave. So he had to leave at halftime. You are walked in with a 100 policemen with shields, as you are walked in the arena.
Fortunately, the Olympiacos people somewhat like me. There are people who are Green that wouldn’t even say hello to. And I think it was because I was the national team coach as well.”
Pitino overall described coaching in Greece as a “great experience” and that the country was a “utopia” for him. “It’s so much fun when you can have a learning experience. Not only from the places you visit, but also from guys like Obradovic, and guys like the Real Madrid coach. I knew Messina beforehand.”