Panathinaikos will host a tournament to honor the memory of the legendary owner, Pavlos Giannakopoulos, who passed away in June. Fenerbahce, Maccabi Tel-Aviv, and Khimki will participate in the event, which will take place on Thursday and Friday (27-28 September). Many athletes and executives from Panathinaikos football and volleyball teams will be present in the event. At the same time, the club will share the tickets’ revenue to charity organizations.
The 2018/2019 season also marks the 100th anniversary since the Panathinaikos basketball club was originally founded in 1919 (the name in Greek is Παναθηναϊκός). The official name is Panathinaikos A.O. which stands for Athlitikos Omilos (Παναθηναϊκός Αθλητικός Όμιλος) and means “All-Athenian Athletic Club.” Sometimes people just refer to “PAO.”
Pavlos Giannakopoulos took over Panathinaikos 31 years ago, in 1987. For 25 years (1987-2012), he and his brother, Thanasis, managed Panathinaikos teams in basketball, volleyball, athletics and water polo. Basketball was their biggest success. Pavlos was the squad’s president from 1987 to 2000 and then from 2003 to 2012, alongside Thanasis.
Panathinaikos and the difficult years
When the Giannakopoulos brothers took over, the “Greens” had won 19 Greek Basket League titles and were a dominant force. However, things quickly changed in the following years. Aris Thessaloniki and PAOK were the best teams at this time and the “Greens” couldn’t beat them. From 1992 to 1995, Pavlos Giannakopoulos acquired great players, like Nikos Galis and Stojan Vrankovic. Panathinaikos again became title contenders in Greece, but lost to Olympiacos and failed to claim the title. The “Reds” also beat the “Greens” in the 1994 and 1995 EuroLeague Final Four.
In 1996, everything changed. NBA legend, Dominique Wilkins, joined the club and led the team to their first European title. The “Greens” beat Barcelona in the Final in Paris (67-66) and became European champions. Yet, they were still unsuccessful in the Greek Championship.
Pavlos Giannakopoulos continued to spend money and strengthen the roster. NBA legends Dino Radja and Byron Scott signed with the club and helped the squad win the title in 1998. A year later, Panathinaikos won the title for the second straight time. They defeated Olympiacos on the road in Game 5 of the Finals, in one of the club’s most pivotal moments.
The Zeljko Obradovic era and the dynasty
This 1999 victory led Pavlos Giannakopoulos to hire Zeljko Obradovic, who went on to become a legend for the club. Under coach Obradovic, Panathinaikos initially won two EuroLeague titles (2000, 2002) and two domestic titles. Although their winning streak in Greece came to an end in 2002, they returned to the top a year later. Thanks to Pavlos and Thanasis Giannakopoulos efforts’ and Obradovic’s great coaching ability, Panathinaikos created a dynasty. They won nine consecutive Greek Championships (2003-2011) as well as three EuroLeague titles (2007, 2009, 2011).
Pavlos Giannakopoulos brought in some of the biggest names in the history of European basketball. EuroLeague legends, like Dimitris Diamantidis, Vassilis Spanoulis, Sarunas Jasikevicius, and Ramunas Siskauskas transformed the Greens into a title-winning machine. It is worth mentioning that in 2009 Panathinaikos likely had the most dominant back-court line in EuroLeague history. Diamantidis, Spanoulis, Jasikevicius, and Drew Nicholas had created an unstoppable force, while Mike Batiste was tremendous inside the paint. The first three are among the best European basketball players of all time.
What made the difference during the Zeljko Obradovic era was the great relationship between the Giannakopoulos brothers and the Serbian coach. Mutual respect and trust were the key elements that enabled Panathinaikos to remain on top. Of course, Panathinaikos had one of the highest budgets among the EuroLeague teams during the era of Zeljko Obradovic. However, Pavlos Giannakopoulos always admired and supported the Serbian coach and vice versa. In 2011, after winning the sixth European title, Pavlos and Thanasis claimed the EuroLeague Club Executive of the Year Award.
The end of the Golden Era
The end of the “Golden Era” came in 2012, when Giannakopoulos brothers decided to step aside. This was disappointing news for everybody in the basketball world. Pavlos had a great relationship with the other clubs’ executives, while he was very kind and helpful with the journalists. The vast majority loved both him and Thanasis very much and was very sad when the duo decided to retire.
Pavlos’ son, Dimitris, took over, but he wasn’t on the same page with coach Obradovic. The Serbian coach and his assistant (and current CSKA Moscow head coach) Dimitris Itoudis left the club. Their collaboration came to an end in a controversial way, with both sides blaming each other for what happened. This situation didn’t affect the relationship between Pavlos Giannakopoulos and Zeljko Obradovic, which remained excellent until Pavlos’ death.
The transition to the new chapter and the conflict with the EuroLeague
When Pavlos Giannakopoulos stepped down as president, the transition was not easy. His son spent a lot of money, but since 2012 the squad didn’t manage to qualify for the Euroleague Final Four. In addition, Dimitris Giannakopoulos usually acts as a supporter of the club, rather than its owner. And this has already created many problems for the “Greens”, both on and off the court. Such things didn’t take place when Pavlos and Thanasis were in charge.
A few months ago, Dimitris Giannakopoulos confronted EuroLeague’s CEO, Jordi Bertomeu. This conflict, which quickly became personal, was harmful to Panathinaikos’ status and prestige. Consequently, it put the “Greens” presence in the EuroLeague in serious jeopardy, with Dimitris Giannakopoulos threatening to leave the competition. The club’s owner had expressed the desire to join FIBA’s Champions League, in case things didn’t change. Of course, Pavlos stood by his son and criticized the EuroLeague’s decision to punish Dimitris Giannakopoulos.
Both Pavlos and Thanasis mentioned that Panathinaikos was a powerhouse and the EuroLeague should respect the club’s history. Moreover, there was no doubt the EuroLeague needed Panathinaikos and vice versa. Eventually, the two sides decided to call it a truce and restored their relationship. Now, the “Greens” can focus only on playing very well and returning to the Final Four. Besides, it is likely they will host the Final Four in 2020 or 2021.
Pavlos Giannakopoulos died on June 10, 2018, 47 years after his first involvement with Panathinaikos. He was the best president in the history of the club. There is no doubt about it. In 2015, the indoor hall of Apostolos Nikolaidis Stadium was named after him, in his honor. He was one of the most beloved owners in Europe and the majority of the basketball world really admired him. Pavlos and his brother, Thanasis, helped Panathinaikos create its dynasty and win six EuroLeague titles. This is why the club’s fans will always love him and remember him.
With that in mind, Dimitris now wants to continue his father’s legacy and make Panathinaikos EuroLeague champions once again.