Brothers in arms, opponents in Istanbul

2024-05-01T13:26:48+00:00 2024-05-01T13:44:29+00:00.

Aris Barkas

01/May/24 13:26

A pair of all-time Turkish Airlines EuroLeague statistical leaders and longtime friends, Nick Calathes and Mike James, this season’s prime MVP candidate, are making the playoffs series between Fenerbahce BEKO and AS Monaco their personal affair

By Aris Barkas/

Mike James became EuroLeague’s all-time scoring leader this season while Nick Calathes did the same in steals. Calathes had already been the all-time passing leader and this season became the first and only player to reached the milestone of 2,000 assists.

They have already made history and their duel in the first two games in the series between Monaco and Fenerbahce has stolen the spotlight.

But first and foremost, they consider each other family.

The Panathinaikos connection

Mike James played for Panathinaikos during the 2016-17 season and again in 2018 after a short stint in the NBA. Those one-and-a-half seasons were enough for him to win a Greek Cup and two Greek League titles on a team where Nick Calathes was the undisputed leader.

On the other hand, James’s charisma and ability to score couldn’t be denied, with the two players complementing each other on the court.

They also bonded off the court.


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Η δημοσίευση κοινοποιήθηκε από το χρήστη Nick Calathes (@ncalathes)

The photo is from their vacations in 2017. Earlier that summer, vacations were a matter of debate that even included Panathinaikos owner Dimitris Giannakopoulos after the Greens won the 2017 finals against Olympiacos.

The series was decided on the last game and after the locker-room celebrations at Peace and Friendship Stadium, one of the main topics of discussion was the effort of Calathes and Giannakopoulos to convince Mike James to stay and enjoy the next day’s festivities by postponing a trip he had already booked to Mykonos.

Ironically James, who is still beloved by Panathinaikos fans, did not stick around for the long run, since Panathinaikos decided not to offer him a similar contract to the one that Calathes had, and the not-so-odd couple was separated.

However, their reunion in this year’s playoffs, even as opponents, can’t be missed.

Two real stars

They are both part of the EuroLeague record books and their numbers so far in the best-of-five series between their latest teams — James with AS Monaco and Calathes with Fenerbahce Beko Istanbul — are intriguingly similar. Both teams have one win each as the series resumes with Game 3 in Istanbul on Wednesday.

Calathes and James are both averaging 12.0 points per game in the series. However, Calathes is shooting much more efficiently (55.6% 2FT and 60.0% 3FG) compared to James (23.1% 2FT and 33.3% 3FG) who attempts almost double the shots that his friend does.

James has more rebounds (4.2 to 4.0), assists (5.5 to 5.0), and steals (1.5 to 0.5) per game than Calathes, but is also making more turnovers (2.0 to 1.5).

The defense that Calathes has played on James was key to Fenerbahce winning Game 1 in overtime and flipping home-court advantage in the series. James came into the series averaging 18.7 points, with an outside chance of surpassing Markus Howard of Baskonia Vitoria-Gasteiz (19.2) as the top scorer for the season. But with Calathes as his shadow through two games, James’s season-long scoring average has dropped to 18.3, making his run at another Alphonso Ford Top Scorer Trophy a more remote possibility.

With two or three more games left in the series, it is clear that Calathes and James are not only comparable but compatible as players, as their time together in Panathinaikos proved.

The perfect match

When they met, Calathes was trying to fill up Dimitris Diamantidis’s shoes as the leader at Panathinaikos while James was just at the start of his rise in Europe.
Only one of the two will make it this year to the Final Four, and both are free agents in the summer. Since Calathes is 35 and James 34, it’s safe to assume that their next contracts might end up being the last ones of their career.

So, can they have one last hurray together, trying to make a run to the title? There are already rumors about Monaco’s flirtation with Calathes, who has, perhaps unexpectedly, emerged as a vintage star for Fenerbahce. Time will tell, but for now, this is just a footnote.

After all, if there’s already interest in Calathes from Monaco, beating them and keeping them out of the Final Four will skyrocket the Greek-American’s value and may even affect his close friend’s bid for the season MVP award, which at this point seems like a lock.

Ultimately, it makes the Monaco-Fenerbahce series a must-watch occasion for as long as it continues.

Photo credit: Fenerbahce BEKO