The Club Scene: EA7 Emporio Armani Milan

Mar 18, 2016 by Javier Gancedo, Print
The Club Scene: EA7 Emporio Armani Milan
Club Scene: EA7 Emporio Armani Milan As one of the oldest clubs in Europe, founded in 1936, EA7 Emporio Armani Milan is not only a reference for Italian basketball, past and present, but among the most respected and successful clubs in continental history as it aims now for a new trophy, the Eurocup, in its 80-year anniversary season. Club Scene: EA7 Emporio Armani Milan

As one of the oldest clubs in Europe, founded 80 years ago in 1936, EA7 Emporio Armani Milan is not only a reference for Italian basketball, past and present, but among the most respected and successful clubs in continental history. Milan is a three-time Euroleague champion, but has also won three Cup Winners' Cup and two Korac Cup titles. Only Real Madrid (15) and Pallacanestro Cantu (10) have lifted more European trophies than Milan. It has also dominated the Italian League with 26 national titles, 11 more than second-place Virtus Bologna, lifting at least one such trophy in seven different decades. Milan has bounced back from some slow years since Giorgio Armani took control of the team and brought back its glory days. The best part about its 80-year celebration is that the club is once again fighting for titles in Italy and beyond, and this year will try to add a new trophy, the 2015-16 Eurocup. Or, as they say in Milan: "Red Shoes are back!"

Officially established in 1936, the club started a little bit earlier, in 1930, when Count Borletti had the initiative of putting together a basketball team, called Dopolavoro Borletti, as an after-work hobby. It was in 1936 when Milan businessman Adolfo Bogoncelli decided that the correct foundation date was January 9, 1936. Coincidence or not, that is also the birth date of longtime Olimpia coach Dan Peterson! The team was soon established as the best in the country by winning four consecutive Italian League titles from 1936 to 1939. Enrico Castelli was the the team's captain, Sergio Paganella its star big man and Giannino Valli its first coach. Borletti would also rank second in the Italian League in 1941. It was in 1947, when it merged with Bogoncelli's Triestina Milano, that it became Pallacanestro Olimpia Milano.

Bogoncelli was a key figure for Olimpia in its early years, making critical decisions. Not only did he merged his team to become more powerful, but he found key sponsors like Simmenthal, created a market for players and even brought the Harlem Globetrotters to Italy to raise attention for the sport. He also took the decision to make Cesare Rubini the team's head coach in 1957. Rubini, an Olympic waterpolo gold medalist with the Italian national team, had been playing for the club since 1948. He had helped Olimpia win five consecutive Italian League titles from 1950 to 1954. One of his players, Sandro Gamba, would also join the club as Rubini's assistant coach in 1965. They would work together until 1973, with Rubini lending his character and winning mentality while Gamba excelled as a basketball scientist, trying to make his team better.

With Simmenthal as a strong sponsor and Rubini as head coach, Olimpia would become really powerful. It all clicked right away, as player-coach Rubini led Olimpia to its 10th Italian League title in 1957. When European club competitions started in the 1957-58 season, Simmenthal Olimpia Milano was present in the first-ever edition of the European Cup - what is today the Euroleague - reaching the quarterfinals and losing against Budapesti Honved in the two-way series on point difference. Olimpia continued as the team to beat in Italy, adding more Italian League titles in 1958, 1959, 1960, 1962 and 1963, with Gianfranco Pieri and Sandro Riminucci as its main stars. Even when domestic success came often, Olimpia was not able to compete at the highest level of European basketball until 1964, when it reached the European Cup semifinals. Olimpia beat Real Madrid 82-77 in Game 1 behind 19 points from Paolo Vittori. Madrid, however, took the two-way series with a 101-78 home win in Game 2 with 31 points from Emiliano Rodriguez and 26 from Clifford Luyk.

Olimpia won its 16th Italian League title in 1965, always with Italian players. Bogoncelli thought about the possibility of bringing in a top-class American player to give the team the boost it needed. Olimpia signed Skip Thoren to play the Italian League, but hit the jackpot by bringing Bill Bradley to play in the European Cup only. Bradley was studying at the University of Oxford and reached an agreement with Milan to play every European Cup game. If he was lucky, he would be able to practice a bit with the team that day, but sometimes he would just arrive to a city, play the game and fly back to England. Bradley had been an Olympic champion with the United States in 1964, a three-time All-American university selection and the NCAA Player of the Year in 1965. Bradley took the team to the next level, allowing Simmenthal Milan to win its first European Cup title in 1966. He scored 20 points in the semifinals against CSKA, which Milan won 57-68, and 14 in the title game against Slavia Prague. It was the first European Cup title for Italy, a country that would dominate the competition throughout the 1970s and the early 1980s. Bradley left, but Olimpia returned to the European Cup final in 1967, losing against Madrid 91-83 in the Spanish capital despite 34 points from Steve Chubin.

The rise of teams like Cantu and Varese prevented Milan from being so dominant in the Italian League in the late 1960s. Still, Olimpia kept finding success both in Italy and Europe. In 1971, Simmenthal played the Cup Winners' Cup and went all the way, sweeping AP Fides Partenope in the semifinals to reach the final against mighty Spartak Leningrad, led by Alexander Belov. Spartak got a 66-56 win in Game 1 of their two-way series but Milan bounced back with a 71-52 win in Game 2 behind 19 points from Art Kenney, one of the best players in Olimpia's history. Kenney also helped Milan win a triple crown in the 1971-72 season: Italian League, Italian Cup and Cup Winners' Cup. Kenney had 23 points in a 74-70 win against Crvena Zvezda in the 1972 Cup Winners' Cup final, breaking a 69-69 tie with a couple of key baskets. In 1973, Simmenthal left as sponsor, Rubini left the bench and Gamba joined Varese as head coach. New head coach Pippo Faina guided the team, now called Cinzano Milan, to second place in Italy in the 1973-74 season and to the club's third Cup Winners' Cup title in 1976, downing French side ASPO Tours 88-83 in the final with 29 points from Pino Brumatti and 23 from forward Mike Sylvester. That season, however, Olimpia went down to the Italian second division, only to return to the elite a year later.

In 1977, Olimpia signed point guard Mike D'Antoni, a year before landing Peterson as head coach. Both helped Olimpia become fully competitive again. The club, then called Billy Milano, reached the Italian League finals in 1979 and was first in the 1980 Italian League regular season, but was stopped by Gabetti Cantu in the semifinals. Milan fans had to wait until 1982 to see their team conquer its 20th Italian League title. The club was owned by the Gabetti family, which made the effort to land the missing piece to the puzzle: center Dino Meneghin. An Italian basketball legend, Meneghin had led Varese to 10 consecutive European Cup finals from 1970 to 1979, winning five of them, and was one of the top big men in continental basketball history. With good players like D'Antoni, Vittorio Gallinari, John Gianelli, Franco Boselli and Roberto Premier around him, Meneghin led Olimpia to the Italian League title in 1982, downing Scavolini Pesaro in the finals. Peterson led Billy Milan back to the European Cup final in 1983, but lost against Cantu, 69-68. It all came down to the final second as Boselli missed a mid-range shot and Gallinari's final attempt was blocked by Jim Brewer at the buzzer.

The team kept finding success in European competitions. In 1984, as Simac Milan, it went all the way to the Cup Winners' Cup final against Real Madrid. Once again, the game went down to the wire. Premier had 27 points and Marco Lamperti added 23. D'Antoni gave his team an 80-81 lead with 11 seconds left but free throws by Brian Jackson allowed Madrid to win the title, 82-81. In 1985, Peterson signed Joe Barry Carroll and Russ Schoene, a stellar American duo that led Simac to the Korac Cup title, downing Ciaocrem Varese 91-78 behind 33 points from Schoene. Milan would also win the Italian League in 1985 and 1986, with Schoene playing a big role. In 1986, Milan lifted its second Italian Cup trophy, downing Scavolini Pesaro 102-92. It was time for Olimpia to shine again in the European Cup and the arrival of super scorer Bob McAdoo would allow the club to do so.

McAdoo arrived to Tracer Milan at age 36 - Meneghin turned 37 that season and D'Antoni was 36, too - after scoring more than 18,000 points in the NBA and earning NBA MVP honors in 1975. Milan also signed Ken Barlow to play with McAdoo and Meneghin around the baskets. Some people thought Milan's roster was too old to go all the way in two competitions, but those critics were proven wrong. Its European Cup season was close to ending early, however, as Aris BC of Greece, led by Nikos Galis, was Milan's opponent in the two-way qualifying round. Aris won Game 1 98-67 behind 44 points from Galis, but Tracer qualified by downing the Greek powerhouse 83-49 in Game 2. Tracer finished the European Cup group stage with a 7-3 record and made it to the final against Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv in Lausanne, Switzerland. Premier had 23 points and McAdoo added 21 to lead Milan to a 71-69 win that allowed the club to lift its second European Cup trophy. Milan rounded out a perfect season with the Italian League and Italian Cup titles, as well as Intercontinental Cup, beating Barcelona 100-84 in the final.

Barlow left, Coach Peterson retired, replaced by Franco Casalini, and all of Milan's stars were a year older, but that didn't stop it from defending the European Cup crown. In that 1987-88 season, a Final Four format was adopted in the European Cup for the first time since 1966 and 1967, when Milan had been the winner and a finalists, respectively. Now, at the event in Gent, Belgium, Milan downed Aris 87-82 in the semifinals with 39 points from Bob McAdoo. Milan once again met Maccabi in the final and McAdoo remained unstoppable, scoring 25 points and leading his team to a 90-84 win. McAdoo, Meneghin and D'Antoni would stay together to win the 1989 Italian League title, but an era came to an end after that. Nonetheless, Milan was very competitive, reaching the 1992 Euroleague Final Four with Johnny Rogers and Darryl Dawkins as its main references. D'Antoni had already become the team's head coach and led the team to the 1992-93 Korac Cup title with players like Sasha Djordjevic, Antonello Riva and Antonio Davis, sweeping Virtus Roma in the two-way finals. Djordjevic had 29 points in Game 1 and 38 in Game 2.

Bogdan Tanjevic became the team's head coach soon after that and players like Gregor Fucka, Ferdinando Gentile, Dejan Bodiroga, Flavio Portaluppi and Rolando Blackman led Milan to another Italian League title in 1996, as the team celebrated its 60th anniversary. Tanjevic would take Stefanel Milan to back-to-back Korac Cup finals, losing against ALBA Berlin in 1995 and Efes Pilsen in 1996. The team was one win away from reaching the Euroleague Final Four in 1997, losing in the playoffs against Smelt Olimpija, and reached the 1998 Saporta Cup title game, losing against Zalgiris, 82-67. No more titles came from a while, as Milan did not return to the Euroleague until the 2004-05 season. Danilo Gallinari earned Euroleague Rising Star honors in the 2007-08 season. Giorgio Armani took control of the club the following season and good things started to happen again. Milan had made it to the Italian League finals in 2005, losing against Fortitudo Bologna but topped that in 2009 by also making it to the Euroleague Top 16. Milan would go back to the Italian League title series in 2009 and 2010, losing against perennial champion Montepaschi Siena.

With a reborn fan base and after taking many steps in the right direction, EA7 Emporio Armani Milan found answers in the 2013-14 season. Milan inked scoring machine Keith Langford, already had up-and-coming talent Alessandro Gentile and also brought in reliable players like Samardo Samuels, David Moss and Curtis Jerrells, all coached by Luca Banchi. The team was highly competitive in the Turkish Airlines Euroleague, ranking second in its Top 16 group with a 10-4 record. Its home court, Mediolanum Forum, was set to host the 2014 Final Four and Milan had the home-court advantage against Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv in the playoffs. In a pivotal Game 1 of the best-of-five series, however, Maccabi rallied from a 12-point deficit in the final 2 minutes of regulation to force overtime and win that game. Maccabi eventually won the series and lifted the Euroleague trophy in Milan. Back home, an outstanding Gentile allowed Milan to stop Siena in the Italian League finals, getting a 74-67 home win in do-or-die Game 7 for its 26th league title.

Milan has made sure that its 80th anniversary is not forgotten by winning this season's Italian Cup, downing Scandone Avellino 76-82 in the final, with 17 points from Rakim Sanders. An on-court celebration of the anniversary also took place in an Italian League game against Torino, with legends of yesteryear receiving well-deserved standing ovations. Head coach Jasmin Repesa and his team want more, and Milan will keep fighting to add more titles in this historical season by fighting for the Italian League and the Eurocup trophies.