When Kattash beat Maccabi to win the EuroLeague with Panathinaikos

2024-05-06T13:45:56+00:00 2024-05-06T14:42:56+00:00.

Aris Barkas

06/May/24 13:45


Back in 2000, current Maccabi coach Oded Kattash was the hero of the EuroLeague final in which Panathinaikos prevailed over the Israelis

By Aris Barkas/ barkas@eurohoops.net

Panathinaikos Athens will host Maccabi Playtika Tel Aviv on Tuesday in Game 5 of what has been an extraordinary series and Oded Kattash is right in the middle of it all.

Not only is the current coach of Maccabi also a former head coach of Panathinaikos, but 24 years ago, he was the hero for the Greens in the EuroLeague final against Maccabi.

It’s time for a small history lesson and a story that bonds two of the biggest European clubs.

A young star

At 26 years of age, Oded Kattash left Maccabi, where he was the undisputed leader of the team and by far the most talented local player, to join in an effort that became the start of a dynasty.

Already European champions in 1996, Panathinaikos wanted to build on that success, hiring coach Zeljko Obradovic in the summer of 1999 with the automatic goal of winning the title again.

Meanwhile, Kattash had won four Israeli championships and two Israeli Cups. He was the 1998 Israeli League MVP and led EuroBasket 1997 in scoring, even landing a deal to play in the NBA with the New York Knicks, which never came to fruition due to the 1998 lockout.

He ultimately left Maccabi in 1999 for Panathinaikos as one the marquee signings of a team that included among others legends like current EuroLeague President Dejan Bodiroga and iconic Panathinaikos captain Fragkiskos Alvertis.

The Final Four was held at the newly built arena at Pylaia, in Thessaloniki, Greece, and Panathinaikos set its sights on the trophy from day one. It was the last EuroLeague competition held under FIBA, before the start of the modern EuroLeague era.

Panathinaikos made it to the Final Four, as did Anadolu Efes, Barcelona, and – you guessed it – Maccabi.

A Final to remember

Kattash during the season hadn’t produced as well as one might have expected and his performance in the Final Four, considering the pressure of a possible match-up against Maccabi, wasn’t considered a given.

In the semifinal, Panathinaikos beat Efes 81-71 with Bodiroga scoring 22 points and Serbian big man Zeljko Rebraca adding 15. Maccabi with the late, great Nate Huffman scoring 24 points, claimed a 65-51 victory over Barcelona and in the final Kattash was set to face his boyhood team.

With thousands of Maccabi fans making the trip to Thessaloniki, the pressure for Kattash was immense. An Israeli star facing an Israeli powerhouse with the trophy on the line was – and remains – a rare occasion.

The halftime score was tied at 36 and a hero was needed. It wasn’t Bodiroga, who finished the night with 9 points. Rebraca scored 20, but needed a backcourt star to finish the job.

Enter Kattash…

In the game that cemented his reputation in European basketball, Kattash was the man of the moment, scoring 17 points and dishing 2 assists, leading Panathinaikos to a 73-67 win against Maccabi. He made a crucial three, pushing Panathinaikos to a 63-57 in what ended up being the biggest momentum swing in the game, and helped finish things off with late free throws.

It was the last title before the new era of the EuroLeague and the first of the five that coach Obradovic won on the bench of Panathinaikos.

A hero of the people

And what happened after the final buzzer was surreal. Exhausted from the game, he was embraced by his former Maccabi teammates, notably close friend Doron Sheffer and captain Nadav Henefeld. When the celebrations ended, he left with his team for the airport to return to Athens with the trophy.

Almost 1,000 Maccabi fans were there, waiting for their flights back to Tel Aviv. For security concerns, the Panathinaikos delegation was told to remain on the bus.

Still, Kattash had another thing in mind, as he narrated in 2020, in a joint interview with his former teammates Alvertis and Giorgos Kalaitzis to Israeli reporter Arale Weisberg on the 20th anniversary of the game.

In Kattash’s words: “Those of us who were on that bus will remember it forever. We went there, it wasn’t just hundreds, it was a thousand people, many of them, a yellow carpet of Maccabi fans, and then the bus stopped. I took my bag and Manos (ed. note: Papadopoulos, team manager of Panathinaikos) ran towards me and said ‘Wait, don’t go there, so we can call the police. Seriously, don’t go.’ I went first and then Fragi, Bodiroga… and everyone told me I was crazy to go there like that when it’s full of Maccabi fans.”

However, when the fans of Maccabi saw Kattash, they cheered for him, hugged him, and celebrated his triumph even against their team, shouting “forever yellow” and “one of us.”

As Kattash admitted: “It was special for them. For me, it was the biggest compliment. On one hand, it’s basketball, but Maccabi’s fans reacted that way to me as a person, not as a player, but as a human being. And it was the biggest compliment I could imagine.”