By John Rammas / email@example.com
Flash forward to December 23, 2021, countless Greek rival derbies later, Panathinaikos and Olympiacos will meet for the 16th time (7-8) in modern EuroLeague history.
The tipoff of this derby finds Olympiacos in third place of the standings with an 11-5 record and Panathinaikos in 17th place with a 4-12 record. However, in games like this, history, record, and form are minor matters.
The battle between the two Greek powerhouses is one of the biggest derbies in Europe, if not the ultimate of its kind. Fans save the dates of these games and count the days right from the moment the schedule goes live.
So did KC Rivers and Nigel Williams-Goss during their stints in Panathinaikos and Olympiacos, respectively. And not just for the Greek Derby. These two are among select players in Europe who have experienced the top three archrival derbies in Europe:
“In terms of excitement and theatrics, there’s none better [than Panathinaikos-Olympiacos]. This is probably one of the toughest derbies to play in. Because you have the fans, the atmosphere, and everybody plays their hardest and their best at that point,” Rivers tells Eurohoops.
Nigel Williams-Goss seems to agree – up to a point.
“It’s difficult to say which of the three is the biggest derby. I’ve been lucky to have played in all three. It’s tough to put them in order, but they are definitely in the top three.”
How much of a difference is there between these games and the rest of the regular season ones? What kind of preparation do they take?
“There’s no preparation,” Rivers explains. “You just know that in a derby game when you play against your rival, the main thing is to win. Mentally, preparing to fight to the end. If you fight, it gets respected. If you come out and lay down, you’re going to have a lot of people to deal with. You have to be ready to go out and fight from the beginning and give everything for the win.”
“I wouldn’t say you prepare any differently,” added Williams-Goss. “You try to prepare just as for any other game, though it’s natural to experience more emotion in such a game and you know you have to give your maximum effort.”
Passion, intensity, and the obligatory need to win are not the only elements that make these games so distinct. Fans are the most important variant. Which player wouldn’t want to experience playing in front of both sides’ fans?
“The fans give you extra energy and motivation. [Playing in front of both sets of fans simultaneously] would’ve been very tough. A lot of security would be needed. I think if you could manage the fans, things would be smooth and you could have a good game,” Rivers says.
“I can imagine how the Panathinaikos-Olympiacos derby would be with fans of both in the arena. I have only experienced that in the Serbian Cup, with fans of both Crvena Zvezda and Partizan in the same gym. It was incredible, so I can imagine what it would be like in Greece,” Williams-Goss concludes.