August 10, 2018, 7:06 pm
Welcome back Hoop Ballers to our International Spotlight weekly feature. With Summer League action over and most of the free agent transactions complete I thought this would be a good time to educate our readers about the status of the European basketball world since, for the last 15 years, the NBA has been receiving a heavy dose of players from overseas every year.
In the first part of this feature this week I will be breaking down the different types of leagues that teams participate in every year. And what you basically need to know is that every club in Europe competes in at least two different types of organizations. The national leagues (e.g. Barcelona plays in the Spanish league, called Liga ACB) with teams from the same country and the transnational leagues like EuroLeague, where teams from different countries travel back and forth and play each other every week in home or away games. This translates to a minimum of two games per week and even though this might not seem as intense as the level of the NBA (with a minimum of 82 games and up to four games per week) the top teams really end up playing more or less some 70 games on a tight schedule that runs from October until April that often ends in June, with grueling travel across the continent and daily practices.
EuroLeague is the Europe-wide top-tier level professional basketball club competition that has long established itself as the benchmark for basketball outside the NBA. Organized since 2000 by EuroLeague Basketball, a private entity with shareholders from the 11 founding members and a neutral commissioner, the league is so financially stable that approximately 100 players are making as much or more money than the bottom 100 players in the NBA.
Who participates in the EuroLeague: 16 teams overall that include the champions of the top European national domestic leagues, along with some of the traditional powerhouses from the most important national domestic leagues, all playing in a tournament system that leads to a Final Four (similar to the NCAA). 11 out of the 16 openings are held by licensed clubs that have long-term contracts with EuroLeague Basketball and are members of the Shareholders Executive Board. These eleven licensed clubs are:
Olympiacos BC and Panathinaikos BC from Greece
Maccabi Tel Aviv from Israel
Olimpia Milano from Italy
BC Žalgiris from Lithuania
CSKA Moscow from Russia
FC Barcelona, Baskonia and Real Madrid from Spain
Anadolu Efes SK and Fenerbahçe Basketball from Turkey
The remaining five spots are awarded to associated clubs that receive annual licenses with one place going to the winner of the previous season’s European-wide second-tier level league, the EuroCup, and the remaining four to a combination of European national domestic league winners and wild cards. For the 2018-2019 season these teams will be:
Darüşşafaka SK of Turkey (winner of the EuroCup)
KK Budućnost of Montenegro
FC Bayern Munich of Germany
CB Gran Canaria of Spain and
BC Khimki of Russia
The number of teams that have taken part in the modern era of the EuroLeague comes to 83, originating from 19 different countries, while 2,700 players have honored the competition with their presence. The following have been the most successful. (source: Eurohoop)
League format: 16 teams, which each play each other twice, once at home and once away, in a regular season format totaling 30 games. The top eight teams at the end of the regular season advance to the playoffs, which are held as four individual best-of-five series. The higher-placed team in the regular season standings of each playoff matchup has home-court advantage, playing three out of the five games at home. The winners of each of the four playoff series advance to the Final Four, which is held at a different location every year.
Style of Play: European leagues are filled with veterans and former NBA draft picks while young players, despite possessing great talent, often struggle to earn minutes (Kristaps Porzingis, Giannis Antetokounmpo and Rudy Gobert didn’t even play in the EuroLeague). It’s a very structured environment with complex offensive and defensive schemes that emphasize team play rather than individual talent. Most American players fail to recognize this aspect of the contest even though they are extremely talented and can make a difference on both sides of the floor. On the other side, the ones that do embrace this kind of play end up staying in the league for many years with lucrative contracts. Mike Batiste, the former Grizzly, had a tremendous run with Panathinaikos a few years ago and is being considered as one of the most successful American-born players to end up making a career in Europe.
An ongoing battle between FIBA and EuroLeague
While EuroLeague has been running the most successful league in Europe, FIBA, the International Basketball Federation which consists of an association of national organizations, also wants a piece of the pie and the two sides are currently in a unprecedented legal battle.
The root cause of this feud is a dispute over which entity gets to organize the national events and the dispute has already been litigated before a state court in Germany while both have filed complaints before the European Commission in which they accuse one another of anti-competitive behavior.
While FIBA has failed to establish its own top national-wide league (like the EuroLeague), it still controls what’s arguably the biggest event of all in Europe, the EuroBasket, an international basketball competition that is contested biannually by the senior men’s national teams. Lately, FIBA has been trying to leverage their way into a power position by deciding not to align to the EuroLeague match calendar for the 2019 FIBA Basketball World Cup qualifying windows in November 2017 and February 2018, which led to many EuroLeague players being unable to play for their national teams.
The current feud reminds me of the long battle between American Football League and the established National Football League in the 60’s and I expect for them to merge at some point in the future as there are currently too many leagues to support the size of the European market.
EuroCup Basketball is the second-tier, European-wide professional basketball club competition that has been organized by EuroLeague Basketball since 2002. The winner of EuroCup each season qualifies for the next edition of the EuroLeague, assuming they do not already qualify through domestic performance.
Who participates in the EuroCup: Clubs qualify for the competition based on their performance in their domestic leagues competitions except from clubs from the Adriatic League (ABA) which qualify for the competition based on their performance there, and not their domestic leagues.
Specifically, the current state of the EuroCup includes the following participants:
3 highest-placed teams from the Adriatic League (ABA)
3 highest-placed teams from Russia
3 highest-placed teams from Spain
2 highest-placed teams from France
2 highest-placed teams from Germany
2 highest-placed teams from Italy
2 highest-placed teams from Turkey
1 highest-placed team from Greece
1 highest-placed team from Lithuania
1 highest-placed team from Poland
2 finalists from Basketball Champions League
2 wild cards
Unfortunately, politics play a major role and some teams often choose to ignore an invitation for the EuroCup and instead play in another European-wide league organized by FIBA and not EuroLeague Basketball. Greece, for example, has repeatedly snubbed the invitation extended to them by EuroLeague in recent years opting for the lesser Basketball Champions League instead.
League format: The 24 clubs are placed in six groups and begin the regular season with each team playing two games (home-and-away) against every other team in its group. At the end of the regular season, the top 16 teams (two from each group) advance to the next round in four-team groups. The group winners and runners-up then advance to the third phase, the playoffs, with best-of-three series persistently until the Finals that feature the two remaining series winners in a best-of-three series with home advantage belonging to the best-placed team in the Top 16.
Style of Play: Even though the EuroCup is not as glamorous as the EuroLeague, it still attracts top talent as it’s the safest avenue for teams to advance to the top-tier organization. Unfortunately, the lack of sponsors creates a rather uncompetitive environment as teams who can spend are able to compete for the two tickets that league to the EuroLeague while the rest are just placeholder teams.
The Basketball Champions League (BCL) is an annual professional basketball club competition organized by FIBA.
Who participates in the BCL: Clubs mainly qualify for the competition based on their performance in their national leagues and cup competitions, but this is not the only deciding factor, as sometimes clubs which did not finish in the highest place also get in. For example, even though AEK Athens won the BCL last year and could have opted for the EuroCup instead, the team decided to remain in the same league.
A total of 56 teams from 28 countries will participate in the 2018–19 Basketball Champions League with the most prominent ones being:
Le Mans Sarthe and SIG Strasbourg from France (1st and 3rd respectively in last year’s French LNB Pro A league)
PAOK and AEK Athens from Greece (3rd and 5th respectively in last year’s Greek Basketball League)
MHP Riesen Ludwigsburg, Brose Bamberg and Telekom Baskets Bonn from Germany (3rd, 4th and 5th respectively in last year’s German Bundesliga) and many more.
League format: The tournament begins with a regular season of 32 teams, divided into four groups. Teams from the same country may not be drawn into groups together, while each team meets the others in its group in home and away games. The top four teams from each group then progress to the playoffs while the fifth and sixth-place teams enter the FIBA Europe Cup, the next tier league organized by FIBA.
In the round of 16, the winning team from one group plays against the fourth-place team from another group and the runner-up from one group plays against the third-placed team from another group, while teams from the same country again may not be drawn against each other. For the quarterfinals, the series winners between the winning teams and fourth-place teams play against the series winners between the runners-up and third-place teams. From the quarterfinals onward, the draw is entirely random and is played in a neutral venue with the playoffs being played in a two-legged format, with the exception of the Final Four.
Style of Play: In 2017, FIBA agreed to adopt eligibility rules, forcing the clubs to have at least five home-grown players in rosters of 11 or 12 players, or at least four, if the team has less players. The point is to try and make this contest a development league on top of the competition level that it offers but this translates to a level of play that is clearly a downgrade compared to the EuroLeague and the EuroCup. Obviously, revenues from the EuroCup and the BCL can’t be compared with the EuroLeague in which 16 teams share 30 or more million euros per season. This leads to the EuroLeague champion receiving more money than all the EuroCup or all the Basketball Champions League teams combined.
Last but not least, the FIBA Europe Cup is an annual professional basketball club competition organized since 2015 by FIBA for eligible European basketball clubs.
Who participates in the FIBA Europe Cup: Teams also qualify for the competition based on their performance in their national leagues and cup competitions, although this is not the sole deciding factor and politics again play a major role on who gets in the lesser tournament.
League format: The 32 teams are drawn into eight groups of four, where a maximum of two clubs from the same country can be in the same group. In each group, teams play against each other home and away games. The group winners and runners-up advance to the second round, while the third and fourth-place teams are eliminated. For the playoffs, the winning team and runner-up from each group joins with the fifth and sixth-place teams dropped from the Basketball Champions League regular season and play in a two-legged format. The Finals are played in either a Final Four tournament format or with a two-legged series.
Style of Play: This is where the competition level drops significantly as the FIBA Europe Cup attracts lower level clubs who only participate in order to get exposed to a far more competitive league than their own national leagues. Top leagues like Liga ACB from Spain and the Greek Basketball League do not participate in this tournament, showing a lack of interest for the fourth-tier organization in Europe. Still it’s a nice hub for teams trying to develop young talent.
Thank you for reading this article and please feel free to contact me on Twitter @philysstar if you are looking to learn more about European leagues. Make sure to check us out next week on the second part of this mini feature where I will be ranking the individual national leagues. Stay up to date on all the breaking news and rumors posted on our website and on our Twitter account @HoopBallFantasy.