Jordi Bertomeu to Eurodevotion: I’m proud of my 22 years at the helm of Euroleague

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Jordi Bertomeu, Euroleague CEO from the birth of the league until last june, opened to Eurodevotion to describe an outstanding adventure.

22 years at the helm of a dream called Euroleague, Jordi Bertomeu told us about the great adventure of the top level basketball organization. The birth, the first years as true pioneers, a world to convince and the great achivements. The protagonists, a role to be carved out alongside a dominant football Champions League, the big changes in the last decade and the ultimate period lived with great pride.

Mr Bertomeu, where do we start from? I’d say from the beginning of the path. Your idea and which other far-sighted executives?

«The Spanish League wanted to take a step forward, as did the French and the Greek ones. In that period, Italy was experiencing a transition and “la Liga” was the most important organization after the italians themselves had been leaders in Europe. That was the spark».

Convincing a slightly skeptical world was not easy: what is the key to bringing the big clubs to believe in the Euroleague project?

«Clearness and openness much more than money, which came later. We were ready with the whole organization in June 2000, while the agreement with Telefonica was signed in mid-September. I involved people like Andrea Bassani and Kostas Rigas, as well as others, so that everyone could manage their own areas of expertise ».

The first decade was basicly dominated by 4 great teams: Virtus Bologna, Maccabi, Panathinaikos and Cska. Sure we remember the superstars on the hardwood but above all the great coaches like Messina, Gershon, Obradovic and again Messina in Moscow. Can we say that these outstanding basketball minds have managed to even surpass the popularity of those great players they have coached?

«No doubt they have made an incredible contribution. To your list I would add others, such as Aito for example, a true basketball genius, or Ivkovic. The reality is that european basketball was basically about the coaches, characters who had great influence even outside the court. But that didn’t hurt the players. In the second decade we had other great bench masterminds but I’d say the situation has balanced out a bit ».

In the following years, let’s call it the second decade, the idea of ​​change begins to mature to reach today’s Euroleague format. Sure it was your idea but I think there was a big push from the clubs to get to the tournament with the current formula. Can I ask you if anyone pushed harder than others? 

«Not particularly. The word you use, mature, is the right one, as happened for each of our single steps. The transition to licenses was already foreseen by the 2000 regulations, when we asked the teams for a three-year contract. The next step was natural. We never changed the approach to our work, trying to talk to everyone around Europe in order to reach the largest agreement to move forward all in the same direction.

One of the key situations, in my opinion, was earlier however, when it came time to manage our rights alone, in 2005. It meant doing our own thing and choosing whether to move forward or return to FIBA. And I want to add that in 22 years we only needed to vote once, despite the fact that the “management” of the clubs have changed a lot season after season».

Now I’m curious… when did it happen? 

«During the pandemic about the agreement signed with the players. It was a fundamental step and I asked for a vote. 10 in favor and one abstention »

We arrive at the last two years and after that famous “secret” meeting in Athens the idea of change arises for some of the clubs. I do not want to discuss what could be right or wrong and I simply ask you: when you realized you were 100% out, it was more about the disappointment for what happened or the pride for those 22 years and all the accomplishments?

«No doubt it was all about the pride of having effectively changed European basketball. In 2000 it was something I would describe as individual. One team facing an opponent one year and another one the next year , there was no system because it was a competition, not a league. Our biggest change is to have brought things to everyone’s interest, as a real league must do. If a team is doing badly, it can’t be an individual problem, it has to be a collective one. Gianluigi Porelli, a friend, was very helpful and supportive in the vision we had, in looking beyond the individuality of the problems».

You mentioned “Avvocato Porelli”, a man who loaned a player like Marco Bonamico the archival of Olimpia Milan just to improve the quality of the Italian championship…

«Typical for a man with a vision that went beyond the individual club and that truly involved the common good».

So what happened to this change of direction that led to the end of your management?

“What happened? I think it can be defined as fear. Just the opposite of what a man like Porelli thought. Fear and no vision. A fact to explain the fear? Asvel and Bayern were accepted as new shareholders years ago: it took a long time to make their presence effective. It was a kind of going out of “comfort zone” for some management, maybe they were afraid of a 18 or 20 teams closed league, fear of more games etc.

The feeling was that the next step was somehow risky and out of that comfortable territory ».

«I don’t want to make any controversy, it’s over and I accept it without any problem. Thanks to a team of very capable people we have come this far, it would not have been possible alone. We overcame the pandemic crisis by reaching a 100 million business, we signed a historic agreement with players, something that even have football does not have, there was a “road map” for the evolution of the process but it is over. I repeat, pride is far bigger than any controversy».

If I may make a criticism, it seems to me that too often clubs are closed in relations with the press, too difficult to contact and unwilling to let the protagonists available to the media. All this, in my opinion, did not benefit the popularity of the competition. We always look at the NBA as an example but in that case the players are “forced” by a strong league to do certain things and participate in several initiatives that we do not see in Europe. Was there a lack of league strength or a simple mistake by the clubs?

«I have a question for you: what role does an NBA coach have, compared to a Euroleague one?».

Well, I would answer as simple as this: Budenholzer is much less important than Giannis, while Obradovic is much more important than De Colo or other champs he coached.

«Well, that difference in role is part of the answer. It is true that the clubs are closed and it’s because they believe a player who misses 10 minutes of a practice is impossible to accept, because of the trips, of the games etc. All things the Coaches do not like so the press officers are so often not available with the media.

10 years ago I organized a meeting with the coaches to explain the importance of opening the locker rooms after the game. Someone told me ok, but only for the winning team. Definitely no, I replied, the news is about by who wins and who loses …

In any case we have always tried to increase our contribution with Media Days and other contents. In the last 5 years, 80% of this contents about players was about life outside the hardwood, to bring them closer to people who, as you say, want to know many things besides their performance on the court. It is a necessary process but it is still difficult».

After a criticism it’s time to congrat… The Euroleague referees were strongly criticized so many times, then Eurobasket clearly showed that they are the best compared to the disasters we saw in the tournament for national teams … Have you ever felt a problem with the quality of the refs or, I would add, we can say maybe the only problem is about the new generation that does not belong to the same level of the old great refs?

«It is a problem that will always exist, everywhere. Every 3 or 4 years we have changed 30% of the referees. We established a path starting from Eurocup and put into practice a very effective referee scouting system with Richard Stokes. Frankly speaking I don’t see big problems ».

#everygamematters is the Euroleague claim. Then comes Efes, but also other teams first, and shows us that yes, every game counts, but the ones that really matter are in April and May. Don’t you think too many coaches put too much pressure on regular season games and then come short when it’s time for “do or die” games?

«The problem is the“ corto plazo ”, the short term. In european ball if you lose three or four games in a row, it’s time for rumors and problems. We need a vision that is not linked to W and L».

One of the problems with a lot of talks for years now is the financial sustainability of the clubs and the entire league. Do you think it is really achievable or are we too different in Europe from the NBA we always look at as an example?

«I am absolutely convinced it is possible. Let’s start with two things that need to be mentioned and that are negative for me. The thing that matters most here is winning, compared to the NBA, and also a system to control the financial status the clubs operated by the league is not welcome.

Some clubs make the budget of the expenses and then the one of the incomes… Then they lose and blame Euroleague who does not guarantee them sufficient income to cover those losses.

The commercial value of the teams is determined by what they spend on the players.

The fact we have a league doesn’t mean it has to guarantee you the amount you lose as a club.

We need to change our mentality, to understand that winning is not the only thing to be taken into consideration. We must believe in the system and if this system creates a financial fair play we an’t see it as a limitation. If you do not accept rules for a fair competition, it’s totally useless any talk about a “break even”.

The value of EL, now at 100 million, is 70% more than in 2015/16. The teams’ one has grown by a 30% …

We need new markets such as UK, France and Germany, as we introduced, such as the two Eurocup teams playing in Paris and London, two cities that must have a future in the Euroleague».

Also in this market the “big” have turned more to players with a consolidated EL experience, not considering young guns or “new” profiles. I’m asking you if you ever thought of an agreement with the NBA to ste up an agreement and a kind of regulation. I remember I talked about that with Edu Scott in Vitoria in 2019 and the answer was that there was not much interest from the american league.

«It was an Easter period several years ago when we met David Stern in New York and we discussed a potential agreement on the basis of data that told us that many players lost too soon from Euroleague then turned out to be lost also in terms of NBA and when returning in Europe they struggled a lot. Stern told us that it was difficult to find an agreement because there were so many problems with the NBA players, it was the time of the lockout… The truth is that NBA has always brought players from Europe any time they wanted. Their financial offers were simply impossible for our clubs to be matched ».

Let me go with the last questions in your new role out of the organization, something that is quite weird and impressive after so many years… What’s your opinion about the talks in Dubai and the potential arrival of financial forces from the world of the United Arab Emirates in a future that seems closer than we think?

«Very positive. The Euroleague has always been innovative, reaching many things before the others, including football. One or two teams outside the European context is a good opportunity. But there must be a serious project behind it, this is the most important thing to check. I started those talks in February, then we continued the speech at the Final 4. But the Final 4 team in those locations must be evaluated with great attention».

I would like you to look back at your whole experience and mention to me just one thing you did you are very proud of and another one you would have liked to do and that you feel you have not achieved.

«It’s two sides of a coin… Certainly the pride of having created a real European league that was not just a competition. A true system as a real league must be, where everyone is involved.

A goal I did not accomplish is about  not being able to complete the work that would have led to the expansion of the basketball markets, from 13 to 18 or 20 licensed teams».

So after 22 years you are starting a season without the role of CEO of Euroleague: what is in the future of Jordi Bertomeu? A club perhaps, a national league or…?

“I enjoy some rest but I am not able to do it so long. I’d love 22 years at the helm of the Euroleague could be useful in helping other managers, in new situations. I have had a lot of luck in my life and I would like to share it giving my contribution in other situations, not necessarily basketball. We have all grown in the Euroleague. You mentioned Edu Scott, who joined us in his early twenties when he was making photocopies and reached a key role in our organization.

Now it’s time to consider what I can do and where I can do it. A club? I worked 36 years for the clubs but never did it in a club, who knows… ».


About Post Author

alberto marzagalia

Due certezze nella vita. La pallacanestro e gli allenatori di pallacanestro. Quelli di Eurolega su tutti.

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