Turkish Airlines Euroleague
December 09, 2013
The Club Scene: Alba Berlin
by: Frankie Sachs, Eurocupbasketball.com
February 9, 2011
Almost no time after its founding in 1989, Alba Berlin rose to the top ranks of German basketball and has been the dominant team in that country ever since. For starters, Alba became the first German team to lift a continental title, the Korac Cup in 1995, also the club’s first trophy. Since then, Alba’s eight German League crowns and six German Cup titles over the past two decades are second to none in the country. The lists of players and coaches to come through the team is among the finest in European basketball and the club continues to grow by leaps and bounds from year to year. The last two seasons have been of particular note for Alba and basketball in Berlin. The German capital hosted the 2009 Euroleague Basketball Final Four at the o2 World. Later that summer, team chief executive officer Marco Baldi was honored as the Euroleague's Club Executive of the Year for the 2008-09 season. And last season, Berlin reached the Eurocup title game, accompanied by inspirational fans who trekked from Berlin to Vitoria, Spain, under the Eyjafjallajokull volcano ash cloud that cancelled air travel across Europe. So far this season, Berlin has reeled off a perfect Eurocup regular season and is battling in a tough Last 16 group to try to get back on the road to another Eurocup Finals!
BG Charlottenburg Berlin was founded in 1989 and began making noise from the start. It joined forces with DTV Charlottenburg in 1990, which catapulted the team into Germany’s top division and granted it a ticket to the Korac Cup. Head coach Faruk Kulenovic did not have trouble leading the new team forward. In Europe, it downed well-known teams Cibona Zagreb and Hapoel Tel Aviv to prove it belonged, and in Germany reached the domestic playoffs. A promising start to the finals against a favored Leverkusen side fell apart when star guard Zoran Radovic was injured, but there was no doubt that a new rising force in German basketball was on the scene. The club’s brilliant debut helped Baldi secure an agreement with Berlin-based recycling firm Alba to become the team’s sponsor and the name Alba Berlin was born.
The 1991-92 campaign saw Berlin continue to build with the signings of big names Uwe Blab and Emir Mutapcic. Alba debuted in the Saporta Cup that season and returned to the German League finals, where it lost again to Leverkusen. The team took a small step back the next season, but two things happened that would have a great impact on the team’s future. Off the court, Baldi came to an agreement with TuS Lichterfelde to send Alba players there on loan, setting up the first farm team in German basketball, a project that would continue to grow throughout the country, helping to improve the development of younger players. On the floor, Germany hosted EuroBasket 1993, at which head coach Svetislav Pesic guided team Germany to a gold medal with Alba player Stephan Baeck among his charges. Pesic became the toast of German basketball and Alba moved quickly to make him the team’s coach. Two more gold-medal winning players, Henrik Rodl and Hansi Gnad, also came to Berlin as well as Teoman Alibegovic. Their first year together did not generate the anticipated results, in part due to injuries, and Alba did not get past the group stage in the Korac Cup and lost to Leverkusen in the German league semifinals. However that season simply proved to be the table setting for 1994-95. Now healthy and playing together, Alba took the Korac Cup by storm, ousting Fortitudo Bologna and Caceres to reach the two-game final against Olimpia Milano, becoming the first German club to compete for a continental title. With fans packing the team’s home arena to watch the first leg on a big screen, Sasa Obradovic scored 34 points to secure an 87-87 tie in the opening leg, bringing the deciding contest back to Berlin. With basketball fever rocking the German capital, Alibegovic netted 34 to lead Alba to an 85-79 victory, setting off celebrations throughout the city and country. Despite its historic success, Berlin still came up short against Bayer Leverkusen in the German finals.
The Korac Cup victory sowed the seeds for a dynasty that would control German basketball for years to come. But the control would wait one year before beginning, as Leverkusen stood in the way in both the German Cup and playoffs and Asvel Basket of France KO’d the champs in the Korac quarterfinals. The 1996-97 season marked a turning point for the Albatross, starting with the move to the famed Max-Schmeling-Halle as its new home floor and its Euroleague debut. Alba proved to be a team to be taken seriously when it downed eventual champ Olympiacos in Athens in its very first game. Wendell Alexis and Sascha Hupmann joined Obradovic and Rodl as the stars, combining to lead the team through to the eighthfinals – becoming the first German team to reach the playoffs in the Euroleague - where it was stopped by eventual finalist FC Barcelona. For Pesic and co., that was not enough. The team went back home and took care of business, lifting the German Cup and winning the German League playoffs, finally asserting itself as the best in the land.
In the final years of the millennium, Alba was the team to beat in Germany and a regular force in the Euroleague. It reached the Euroleague quarterfinals in 1998, losing to eventual finalist AEK Athens. At home it continued to rack up titles, winning the league again in ’98 and the double in 1999. In those years, the team reinvented itself, giving bigger roles to Geert Hamink, Marco Pesic and Patrick Femerling, among others. Emir Mutapcic took over from Pesic as head coach in 2000, but the great run of success continued, both with German titles and strong runs in the Euroleague. In 2001 the team reached the Euroleague quarterfinals for a second time and was again denied a Final Four berth by the eventual runner-up, this time Panathinaikos. In 2002 and 2003, the team recorded back-to-back German Cup and League doubles, capping an amazing run of seven consecutive seasons as the German champion. In those years, the club became Germany’s most popular basketball tea, regularly establishing records for attendance and even TV ratings.
The record run of German championships came to an end in the 2003-04, with the Albatross falling to Bamberg in the German playoff semifinals. Rodl retired at the end of that season to join the coaching staff as the club began rebuilding anew. A new group of players came in and the club’s start to the 2004-05 ULEB Cup was a promising one with four wins in as many games, but the momentum left and Rodl was promoted to head coach during the season. Nothing helped though and Alba failed to advance in the ULEB Cup or to win a title at home, losing to Frankfurt Skyliners in the semifinals.
The following seasons were an emotional roller coaster for Alba Berlin as a club and its fans, with highs and lows coming often and fast. A promising start to the 2005-06 season loses all meaning when team captain Matej Mamic suffers a spinal injury from a fall in a German League game and is temporarily paralyzed. Though Mamic would eventually recover and join the Alba coaching staff, he never played professional basketball again. After an underwhelming ULEB Cup campaign, Alba found a reason to celebrate by beating GHP Bamberg in the German Cup final. The next season was also derailed early when guard Demond Greene suffered a gruesome ankle injury in a ULEB Cup game. The team managed to reach the Eighthfinals, but was swept there by Real Madrid. That season, 2006-07, was also the first for Julius Jenkins, who became a mainstay for years to follow.
A new era with Luka Pavicevic as head coach began in the summer of 2007. In December of that season, Alba took part in one of the ULEB Cup's most exciting games ever, a five-overtime 141-127 home win over KK Bosna in that its many fans will never forget. Guard Bobby Brown’s 44 points and forward Goran Nikolc’s performance rating index of 45 remain as team Eurocup records and are still among the best ever recorded in the competition. Alas Alba missed out on the ULEB Cup elimination rounds on a tiebreaker, but the dynamic backcourt of Jenkins and Brown came together to help the Berliners reclaim the German League title and secure a return ticket to the Euroleague. Alba began the 2008-09 Euroleague season with three straight home wins and added a key road victory late in the regular season that sent it to the Top 16 for the first time. And even though Alba's run ended there, it was still able to witness the Final Four on its new home court, o2 World, where its fans had set club attendance records earlier in the season. Alba proceeded to claim the 2009 German Cup, although its victim in the final, Telekom Bonn, exacted revenge by eliminating Berlin from the playoffs semifinals.
The 2009-10 season began with Pavicevic and co. narrowly missing out on the Euroleague via the new Qualifying Rounds, but that did not stop the team from developing into a threat in the Eurocup. Berlin stormed through the competition, setting a Eurocup attendance record with 14,500 fans on hand for a quarterfinal victory over Hapoel Jerusalem, as it reached the Eurocup Final in Vitoria, Spain. Led by an unstoppable Adam Chubb, Alba KO’d Bizkaia Bilbao in the semifinals, but Power Electronics Valencia denied Alba a second European title. Even in its hour of disappointment, Alba had a chance to connect with its passionate fans. After some made headlines for travelling over 24 hours by bus to cheer on their teams after volcanic ash cancelled flights, the players returned home the same way and were greeted by some of those same fans outside o2 World.
By this season, it would seem that Alba Berlin has seen and done it all. But the team continues to make headlines. Even during a Eurocup 6-0 regular season, Berlin struggled through another long trip home, this time from Caserta, Italy, when snow, planes, trains and buses conspired to make a return trip take 24 hours longer than expected. On the court, the team welcomed Muli Katzurin as new head coach in January and retains a veteran core of players, including Femerling, Sven Schultze and Heiko Schaffarttzik – a trio whose roots to Alba basketball go back many years –as well as returnees Jenkins, Immanuel McElroy and Derrick Allen and newcomer Tadija Dragicevic. Midway through the season, it’s clear that Alba Berlin is poised for another run at all German titles and with an unbeaten record at home in the Eurocup, the team has its eyes set on glory there as well. Sixteen years after Pesic led Berlin to its first taste of champagne, will 2011 be the year Alba conquers Europe again? Only time will tell.