April 11th 1996 is a date that has become a point of reference for Panathinaikos and its fans. It is the date that the “clover” climbed at the top of European basketball for the first time. Defeating Barcelona in the Palais de Bercy in Paris led to Panathinaikos’ becoming European Champion, thus laying the foundations for the European empire it build from that point on.
The first step to winning the title was taken in Lithuania. Facing Zalgiris Kaunas, in peculiar conditions and a full arena, Panathinaikos got the coveted victory (56-59), had a positive outcome in the second game in Athens (86-66) and the “Greens” took a charter flight home. They continued in Group B, where they faced Barcelona (57-63, 74-95), Real Madrid (54-52, 73-80), Benfica (67-51, 87-96), Buckler Bologna (72-69, 72-69), Cibona Zagreb (79-61, 83-82), Maccabi Tel Aviv (67-62, 86-79) and Pau Orthez (87-79, 67-69). PAO ended up third in the Group, a fact that lead the team to Italy to face Benetton Treviso. There, it needed for the first time all the way to winning the title the intervention of “God’s” hand. In the third game, Panathinaikos’ clinched the victory thanks to a block by Stojan Vrankovic in the very last second (70-67, 69-83, 65-64), to seal its ticket to the Final Four in Paris.
The “Greens” had no problem at all in the semifinal game against CSKA Moscow, with the support of its fans in the arena. Panathinaikos won by 81-71 and reached the final, where it would face Barcelona that had eliminated Real Madrid in the other seminal game. Close to some 10,000 fans of the “clover” inundated the Palais de Bercy, watching Panathinaikos be in control of the game. In the last minutes, the Catalans put some pressure on, closing the score gap with some successful shots beyond the arc and coming to a point-distance. A mid-court steal helped Montero ran for a fast break; but there is not a single Panathinaikos’ fan that will forget what followed. A 2.20m-tall guy named Stojan Vrankovic made an incredible sprint, jumping over Panaghiotis Giannakis, who was lying down on the court, to cutoff the Spaniard before finishing his scoring effort. The Croatian giant, justifiably adored by the green fans, fell down on the court, only to see everyone frantically celebrating the conquest of the first European Championship for the “clover”, not to mention the first ever European Championship title of Greek Basketball at club level. Dominique Wilkins was voted Final Four MVP, having scored 51 points in the two games.
Barcelona -Real Madrid 76-66 (34-38)
Barcelona (Reneses): Karnisovas 24, Gottfried 22, Martínez 10, Jimenez 8, Fernandez 6, Montero 2, Diez 2, Bosch 2, Galilea, Dueñas
Real Madrid (Obradovic): Arlaukas 22, Savic 15, Antúnez 11, Smith 8, Santos 6, Laso 2, Morales 2, Ferrer, Morales, García
Panathinaikos-CSKA Moscow 81-71 (36-33)
Panathinaikos (Malkovic): Wilkins 35, Alvertis 13, Vrankovic 8, Oikonomou 8, Korfas 8, Stavrakopoulos 7, Vourtzoumis 2, Giannakis, Pecarski, Myriounis
CSKA Moscow (Eremine): Karasev 23, Nwosu 12, Vetra 8, Panov 7, Kudelin 7, Kisurin 7, Kornev 4, Morgunov 3, Vadeev, Kourachev
3rd Place Game
CSKA Moscow-Real Madrid 74-73 (34-35)
CSKA Moscow (Eremine): Vetra 22, Karasev 14, Panov 13, Nwosu 8, Kisurin 6, Kornev 6, Kudelin 5, Morgunov
Real Madrid (Obradovic): Savic 22, Santos 16, Smith 14, Arlauckas 8, Abad 4, Morales 4, Antúnez 3, Laso 2
Panathinaikos-Barcelona 67-66 (35-25)
Panathinaikos (Malkovic): Alvertis 8, Giannakis 9, Oikonomou 10, Wilkins 16, Vrankovic, Korfas 4, Stavrakopoulos 9, Vourtzoumis 2
Barcelona (Reneses): Galilea 10, Fernandez 15, Karnisovas 23, Jimenez 9, Gottfried 9, Montero, Diez, Bosch, Martínez