In closing out the calendar on this decade – not technically, we know, but we’re going with the flow here – BallinEurope today considers the top European teams of the 2000s. (For BallinEurope’s official All-Decade All-Europe All-Star team, click here.) Though only Euroleague championship finalists were considered, domestic league records were also factored in vis-à-vis placement on this list.
Drumroll please, and here are your top five-and-a-half European teams of the 2000s! (Presented in reverse order.)
5. 2000/01 Kinder Bologna. Despite the asterisk of having played in a split Euroleague during that season of the FIBA/ULEB rift, the record shows that this Bologna team took a triple crown with Italian League and Italian Cup titles in addition to outlasting Baskonia in a five-game championship series (which, really, the Euroleague finals should be). Boasting a roster which included Manu Ginobili, Matjaz Smodis, Marko Jaric and Rashard Griffith, the team would make a repeat finals appearance in the reunified Euroleague of 2001/02, only to lose disappointingly at home.
4. 2006/07 Panathinaikos. A classic clutch team and one that got better as the season progressed. While Unicaja Malaga and CSKA Moscow both racked up 20-win seasons in Euroleague play, Panathinaikos knocked both out when elimination time came. Ramunas Siskauskas and Euroleague Final Four MVP Dimitris Diamantidis headlined a smart-playing roster that also included Sani Becirovic, Mike Batiste, Tony Delk and Nikos Hatzivrettas. Back home, Panathinaikos fans got to celebrate the team’s first triple crown made sweeter by overcoming rival Olympiacos for the A1 Ethniki championship.
3. 2008/09 Panathinaikos. After a pretty thorough shakeup, Panathinaikos was able to recapture glory two seasons later despite holding onto only four members of that 2006/07 team: Fragiskos Alvertis, Batiste, Diamantidis and Hatzivrettas. The losses of Siskauskas and Becirovic were compensated for by the likes of Sarunas Jasikevicius, Vassilis Spanoulis and Antonis Fotsis. The result? Panathinaikos’ second-ever triple crown.
2. 2003/04, 2004/05, 2005-06 Maccabi Tel Aviv. Defending champions Maccabi went a combined 20-4 in Euroleague play in 2004/05 – with all losses coming in the first round of pool play – in a show much more dominant than that of the previous Euroleague season. Maccabi went on to outscore opponents by more than 14 points while going 6-0 in the second round, and maintaining a 13-plus point differential in the quarterfinals on, including the sole close game, a 103-100 shootout win over Scavolini Pesaro. Pini Gershon’s triple crown-winning roster that season included Sarunas Jasikevicius, Anthony Parker and Nikola Vujcic. Without Jasikevicius, but with Willie Solomon and young Omri Casspi, Maccabi nearly turned a triple crown threepeat in 2006 but was upset by CSKA Moscow in the Euroleague finals.
1. 2005/06, 2006/07, 2007/08 CSKA Moscow. Take your pick. Maintaining a high level of stability for a Euroleague team, CSKA dominated Russian and Euroleague ball for three seasons. In 2006, the team saw its only triple crown season with the upset of Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Euroleague finals. In 2007, the team was one basket away from repeating the feat and 2008 brought Moscow the Euroleague title, the Russian Superleague title and lots of accolades, including a Gomelsky Award for Ettore Messina, a regular-season MVP award for Ramunas Siskauskas, a Final Four MVP for Trajan Langdon, All-Euroleague First Team nods for both, and an All-Euroleague Second Team nod for Theo Papaloukas.
And for your consideration: 2009/10 Regal FC Barcelona. All right, it’s way early to be making this call, but this team has thus far turned Euroleague opponents into laughingstocks, running up a nearly plus-20 point differential while cruising to an 8-0 record. While Barca’s first-round pool competition isn’t exactly the Olympic Games medal round, the Spanish team made a shambles out of Montepaschi Siena, seemingly a legitimate Final Four contender. Meanwhile, they’re 12-1 in ACB play and top of the table there. Plus, this roster this year – Ricky Rubio, Juan Carlos Navarro, Terence Morris, Erazem Lorbek, Pete Mickeal, Boniface Ndong, etc. – puts 2009/10 Barcelona in the conversation alone. To riff on the old cliché, the only ones that can beat Barcelona this season (and keep them off this list) are Barcelona themselves.