In a gym that looked ready to host an EDM gig, a 26 year old who looked like he was pushing 40 brought a team you probably haven’t heard of to unprecedented glory. Emmet Ryan looks back on the fascinating spectacle that was the FIBA Asia Champions Cup final as Petrochimi from Iran took their first ever title
Stadium 29 in Nonthaburi looked more suited to hosting a gig, it was like a boutique arena, but the Thai city is home to Mono Vampire which is sponsored by Mono29 which owns the arena and that’s how this all ended up here. The two teams playing Tuesday’s decider, for the club championship of Asia, are not from Thailand. They’d survived an 8 team tournament and were each in their fifth game in six days. This is not the healthiest road to winning a championship and the fatigue of the week was going to become obvious.
Even before tip however there were some great side stories. Milko Bjelica, no relation to Nemanja, had spent his entire career in Europe before making the jump and his very first run with Alvark Tokyo, reigning B League champions in Japan, was seeing him go for a continental title. Not a bad situation for the 34 year old Montenegrin. While Bjelica’s record is quite the colourful mix of titles won and places lived, he’s a padawan compared to the head coach in Tokyo.
Luka Pavićević, a countryman of Bjelica, won 3 European Champions Cups (the precursor to Euroleague) along with 3 Yugoslav leagues and 4 cups with Jugoplastika Split while also picking up the Finnish league and cup double with Espoon Honka, all the while having 14 different clubs as a player including 4 that no longer exist (including Espoon Honka). He’s been marginally less traveled as a coach, Alvark Tokyo is his 8th club, having also held head coaching jobs for the national teams of Montenegro, Iran, Japan, and both the U20 and University teams of Serbia. Only one of the clubs he coached at no longer exists, Atlas Belgrade, and in addition to last season’s B League championship with the Tokyo club he’s won a German league, a German cup, and a Montenegrin cup as a coach.
All of that means that somehow the ridiculously well-traveled Alex Kirk couldn’t claim to have the most interesting CV entering this one although he had impressed in the run-up to the final, averaging 25 points and 11 rebounds through 4 games. Between gigs in the NBA with the Cavs, D League/G League with Canton, CBA with Guangzhou, Pistoia in Serie A, Efes in Turkey, and now his current gig, the former New Mexico Lobo has seen the world since finishing college and he’s still only 26. If the money was right, you know he’d make a stop in the NBL in Australia in a heartbeat and then consider a NBB stint in Brazil.
For our analysis series The Ballin After, post-game interviews, and more, subscribe to BallinEurope’s YouTube channel
In contrast to all of this, Alvark Tokyo’s opponents were home birds all the way. Petrochimi hail from Bandar-e Mahshahr in the south west of Iran. In contrast to the image* that Asian basketball gets on it leaning immensely on imports, particularly Americans, their entire roster hailed from Iran and it’s a former club of Hamed Haddadi. Indeed Haddadi brought them to their first ever Iranian title in 2016 and now they were seeking a first ever crown at continental level. As the name suggests, this team is backed by the National Petrochemical Company of Iran. Alvark Tokyo is back by Toyota as it happens. Sponsor names are somewhat common in Europe but by far and away the norm in Asia with many being full subsidiaries of the parent sponsor.
*On the other hand, Mono Vampire’s Marcus Keene and Mike Singletary combined to average 56.4 points, 21 rebounds, and 9.4 rebounds in the tournament.
There was just cause to fear a basketball game wouldn’t actually break out in this one as it started off painfully slow in front of a not big crowd. The home side had played in the 5th/6th game, winning in style, and an already small enough arena wasn’t exactly loaded with travelling Iranians and Japanese fans. The basketball that greeted the brave few was that of teams that were clearly on their 5th game in 6 days as Tokyo didn’t so much go on a 10-0 run to open as a 10-0 crawl. There was 1 score made in the game’s opening 2 minutes, 2 in its opening 4, and 6 minutes 18 seconds elapsed before Petrochimi finally got on the board. Even their errors were those of a side that had played way too much basketball. Having survived a thriller with Meralco Bolts of Philippines the previous day, compared to a comfortable ride to the final for their Japanese rivals, Petrochimi were gassed looking early.
BallinEurope now has merch, like actual merch, t-shirts, phone covers, and even pillows. Check it all out on our RedBubble page.
Enter the hero of men that will change your life. Enter, Meisam Mirzaeitalarposhti. Who is Meisam Mirzaeitalarposhti? Why, let’s check out literally his entire Wikipedia entry:
“Meisam Mirzaei Talarposhti (born April 15, 1992) is an Iranian basketball player for the Iranian national team.
He participated at the 2017 FIBA Asia Cup.”
His bio box does at least generously list him at 6’10”, that he’s 26, and mention that he won a silver medal in that FIBA Asia Cup outing, but he’s so much more than that. He was the hero those of us bored on a Tuesday afternoon in Europe (morning EST) needed while watching a game that was in danger of putting us to sleep. Also, well, it turns out it’s Mirzaei Talarposhti not Mirzaeitalarposhti as FIBA lists him but we’ll allow that folk are overworked and alphabetic adjustments always lead to debates.
Save for a double double (16 and 10) in the group phase against Paiuan from Chinese Taipei, a facile 33 point win, he’d been quiet throughout the tournament but not this day. On this day He slew the beast Kirk and buried Bjelica, the defensive specialist who had handled the best in Europe.
Early on he was happy living with Kirk as he started going to work. After Kirk managed to block an weak lay-up by Sajjad Pazrofteh, there was Mirzaei Talarposhti for the put-back. He spurred on a 16-0 run by Petrochimi that saw them have it all turned around by the break, leading 30-27. Kirk, he was held scoreless until the last shot of the half and would only manage 4 points on the night to go with his 9 rebounds. This was a big man’s game but not the one anybody saw coming.
It should be noted that, at least to some degree, included Petrochimi who started the bandaged up Asghar Kardoustpoustinsaraei at the 5 after he’d put together an efficient display against the Bolts and looked more athletically suited for Kirk.
Noooope. Mirzaei Talarposhti was like a young Felipe Reyes out there albeit looking like an old Felipe Reyes. I get it that beards can really make a dude look older but, reader, I’m 37 and I know what a man approaching 40 looks like when he’s pushing himself hard and I saw that in the man wearing the number 4 for Petrochimi.
Mirzaei Talarposhti saw Kirk was assuming he was going to charge inside so he stopped and nailed a long two over him. That was the glam but most of it was bustle. Finally, midway through the third quarter, Bjelica was put on him and it worked…for a single possession.
Next time down the floor and Mirzaei Talarposhti dunked in wide open space before giving us all the gun show. That was an instant timeout. There were a couple of brief runs from the Tokyo club after that but, well you know who made sure Petrochimi held a 48-41 lead entering the final frame.
Things got so tight down the stretch as Alvark finally reeled in the Iranian club, with a Kirk dunk bringing the Japanese champions on level terms entering the closing stages. Then Mirzaei Talarposhti drew a foul from the American big to get to the line and put his side back in front and they stayed there for good from there. Every time the Tokyo club asked questions of Petrochimi down the stretch, it was Number 4 stepping up and making the play. A lay-up from him over a too late Kirk on D eventually proved decisive.
At the gun Meisam Mirzaei Talarposhti finished with 28 points, 7 rebound, and 3 assists. There was no place on the All Star 5 never mind the MVP award for him. This wasn’t about his body of work. He wasn’t there for individual honours. He was there for every over sized man that just wanted to get it done and, more importantly, he was there for Petrochimi as they raised the Asian Champions Cup.
To keep up to date with everything on BiE, like BallinEurope on Facebook