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A game from times past: 20/1/1963, Panathinaikos – Real Madrid

Panathinaikos’ history is full of successes and titles. There are, however, some moments in time that have become points of reference despite having no titles, not even victories, attached to them; still, they are moments that stand out. One of them takes us many years back in time, all the way back to 1963 and one of the “clover’s” first European games at the ‘Apostolos Nikolaidis’ indoors arena at Alexandra Avenue (also known to Greeks as ‘Leoforos’, meaning avenue in Greek), a.k.a. ‘Hindu’s Tomb’ if you prefer (affectionately called that due to the low-ceiling construction):  it is Sunday, January 20, 1963; the game is between Panathinaikos and Real Madrid for the European Champions’ Cup; present amongst the spectators are the – at the time – Prince and Princess of Spain, Juan Carlos and Sofia.

Preparations for the game had begun days before, and culminated in the two days that preceded the game with Panathinaikos’ staff having a lot of work in their hands for two reasons, apart from the competition preparations, of course. One of those two reasons had to do with …weather phenomena. The intense rain that had fallen during the previous couple of days had created several problems and a “lake” amidst the court area. Several people, including kids who were then playing for the Panathinaikos’ academies, rushed to help and use cloth and every other means possible to dry out the court. Tassos Stefanou, the BSA general manager today, was one of those people: “We were at the arena for two days…we were all doing everything we could in order for the court to be in a proper state. Cloths, buckets…everything and everyone had been pulled together to make it….but we were doing this not as a chore, but to help as much as we could in our own way.” Amidst all this the position of the benches had to change too. For the first time, instead of being opposite the stands, they had to be toward the side of the stands. Why? Well, here comes the second reason that made this a special game.  

Juan Carlos and Sofia had informed organizers that they would attend the game. Thus, armchairs were placed on the opposite side of the stands in order for them to sit, and some other dignitary with them too. This visit brought special publicity to the game. Journalists and photographers of the time rushed to the “Hindu’s Tomb”. A basketball game managed to become front-page news in every printed press publication of the time, and gained a spot in radio shows and films of those days. It was good publicity for the sport, although the result was not optimum.

The game started with Panathinaikos trying and up until half-time managing to have a good and competitive performance against a superpower of the times, such as Real Madrid was. Andreas Haikalis, playing for the clover back then, shares some of his own memories: “There are so many memories from that game that is hard to pick the top ones to one’s mind…there was the water that so many people were trying to clear away from the court both for the practice sessions and the game itself; there was Juan Carlos’ and Sofia’s attendance, which was a very big deal back in those days…these were different times. What could one say about the competition side to the game? They were a better team, and the conditions were completely different for both teams. They had two American players, something that was still forbidden for Greek teams to have. Therefore, there was a de facto difference in the capabilities of the two teams, which became apparent mainly in the second half. We stood no real chance, but it was still a very big game especially for those times, against a great opponent, that apart from anything else provided great publicity to basketball as a sport per se.”

At this point, it is time to talk about numbers too…The game ended by 73-97, whereas in the away game the Spaniards prevailed by 90-60. Let it be noted that the first victory registered by Panathinaikos against Real Madrid took place on January 17, 1984 with the final score reading 99-97; it was the first, but not the only one to this day…

*We would like to thank Kostas Simonidis at the Hellenic Basketball Federation for his efforts to find the game program. 

…Deshaun Thomas had a great 2018-19 season with Panathinaikos BC OPAP, he averaged 10.5 points and 3.8 rebounds in EuroLeague action, added 13.3 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 1.3 assists per Greek Basket League Regular Season contest?