Vassilis Spanoulis compares his relationship with Olympiacos fans to a cult

Giorgos Kyriakidis
Staff Writer
2022-10-17 08:00

Vassilis Spanoulis returned to the Peace and Friendship Stadium to face Olympiacos from the sidelines. The new Peristeri head coach and EuroLeague legend described his feelings from an evening full of emotion.

Credit: Peristeri BC
Credit Peristeri BC

Under normal circumstances, any game involving Olympiacos Piraeus and Peristeri in Greek basketball's modern era would be indifferent to the casual basketball fan and totally forgettable as far as the outcome goes. 

While the latter part was once again confirmed, as the team from Athens' western suburbs couldn't keep up with the Greek champs for long, the first part couldn't be further from the truth.

If someone chose to attend the Greek league Round 2 game on Sunday evening without being informed of the ins and outs, they would guess that an important EuroLeague contest was about to be held at the Peace and Friendship Stadium.

But this time, the atmosphere did justice to the venue's name. Peace was never really at stake, mainly because Olympiacos' opponent wasn't called Panathinaikos, and the game's development didn't evoke great passion.

And friendship? Well, it was all over the arena. A lot of familiar faces were going to vouch for it. One of them was Giorgos Printezis, who retired in June and watched the entire game near the court. 

When Panagiotis Vasilopoulos, Peristeri's team manager, and former Olympiacos player, entered the arena, fans welcomed him as if they had been waiting for him for hours to appear.

Vasilopoulos' bald head and the way he immediately responded to the fans' applause by waving his hands vividly brought someone else to mind; someone who was the main reason why almost 7.000 people had decided to attend a game with a foregone conclusion. 

Roughly 20 minutes after Vasilopoulos had emerged from the guests' locker room, another familiar face appeared. As the last man to step foot on the arena, Vassilis Spanoulis was ready to receive one of his usual royal treatments at the place he calls home.

But this time, neither as a player nor a retired EuroLeague legend as had been the case on the last two occasions. Now, Spanoulis had to take his seat on the bench of the opponent team instead of joining his former teammates, as he had done from 2010 until 2021 when he retired.

The feeling must have been unique for the 40-year-old, whose lack of a coaching license has led Peristeri to register Vasilopoulos as their head coach and Spanoulis as an assistant. 

"At first, I felt awkward about going the other way. It's weird, but that's how it had to be," Spanoulis said in the postgame presser after Peristeri had fallen to Olympiacos, 79-101. 

"It felt really good to be back in the gym where I spent 11 fantastic years. I only have good memories and friends. I felt perfect. I thank Olympiacos' management for welcoming me," the Greek coach continued. 

A few minutes prior to tip off, Olympiacos' owners and co-presidents Panagiotis and Giorgos Angelopoulos made sure Spanoulis wouldn't leave his former professional residence empty-handed.

Credit Olympiacos BC

When the Larissa-born former guard retired officially a year ago in a special ceremony held in the arena, the duo comprising the Reds' management revealed that something more fancy was on the cards.

The Angelopoulos brothers wanted to host a big friendly game featuring Olympiacos and another EuroLeague powerhouse whereby many of Spanoulis' former teammates and opponents would give a special tone.

It seems that the event is likely to take place next September, after the FIBA World Cup. 

The last time Spanoulis visited the Peace and Friendship Stadium as an opponent was on June 6, 2010. Olympiacos were hosting Panathinaikos, and the Greens were ahead of their main rivals 76-69 when the home fans decided they had enough.

Game 4 of the Greek finals was interrupted, and the action never resumed, resulting in PAO winning the title, Spanoulis' last with the club that first got him acquainted with the EuroLeague. 

Although 'Kill Bill' has repeatedly clarified that the player in him no longer exists, he didn't shy away from congratulating his former teammate Kostas Sloukas on a tough basket that made it 76-59 for the Reds - as if the two were still playing together.

Of course, blood is thicker than water, and Spanoulis' ties with Olympiacos extend well beyond the boundaries of any article. 

In this vein, it's far from a curiosity to see Spanoulis' children celebrating Olympiacos' baskets. Peristeri's new head coach wasn't surprised, either.

"Even the walls know what team my children support; they're die-hard Olympiacos fans and have seen all the games," the three-time EuroLeague champion said.

In fact, one of Spanoulis' sons is playing with the Reds' youth teams. 

Spanoulis realistically said he's not expecting to hear his name become a chant by fans of other teams.

"That's very unlikely. My connection with Olympiacos' fans is at a cult level. The reception I get can't be described even in my wildest dreams. Nothing has been given to me for free.

Everything that I have, I've earned with my character and love for basketball. That's the greatest medal one can win as an athlete, as a person, and as a family man."

Spanoulis spoke highly of Olympiacos, calling his former team the most in-form team in Europe.

"They played very well, they deserved the win, and I hope they continue like this," he added.

The legendary player thinks the Reds are one of the favorites to go all the way. 

"They play very well, they've put all the work in. We all hope that Olympiacos will go to the Final Four," he said. 

Credit Olympiacos BC

Spanoulis also emphasized that Peristeri and Olympiacos have different goals. While the Reds are a EuroLeague shareholder, his side competes in the Basketball Champions League in a group featuring reigning champs Lenovo Tenerife, Bnei Herzliya, and Rytas Vilnius. 

"We want to build a good team and get the people to come and watch it play," Olympiacos' former captain pointed out.

"We cannot be compared to giants like Olympiacos. We are a new team, and we will improve along the way. We're a team with a specific budget, trying to do our best. Peristeri must profess good basketball and a family atmosphere."

Spanoulis thinks his players have figured out what it takes to achieve the team's goals this season.

He also stressed that he's "proud of the way guys played; they weren't scared, and if we continue with the same mentality, good things will come."


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