The first Turkish Airlines EuroLeague opening night in Villeurbanne, France in almost a decade was celebrated on Friday with a special press conference prior to the Round 1 matchup between LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne and visiting Olympiacos Piraeus. Attending the press conference for the occasion were Tony Parker, LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne President and controlling shareholder; Jordi Bertomeu, Euroleague Basketball President and CEO; Jean Michel Aulas, President of Olympique Lyonnais, whose club is now a minority shareholder in ASVEL; and Gaetan Muller, ASVEL's Managing President.
The last time that Astroballe arena was host to a EuroLeague game was on January 7, 2010, but this season French champion ASVEL is playing with an associated wild card that brings the best club basketball in Europe back to France's third-largest metropolitan area. ASVEL played five EuroLeague seasons last decade and before that reached as far as the Final Four, in 1997. The return of ASVEL means that French basketball, too, has returned to the EuroLeague for the first time under its new round-robin format, bringing the continent's best players and teams to the dedicated fans of the Lyon-Villeurbanne area once again.
Read below the statements from the press conference guests.
Tony Parker, LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne President and controlling shareholder
"First of all, I just want to welcome everybody. I want to welcome Jordi. I really appreciate your presence here in the first round of the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague here in Villeurbanne. We're really excited. It's been 10 years that we didn't have a EuroLeague game here and three years that France didn't have a EuroLeague game. So it's a special day. I am very proud that ASVEL and the country of France is hosting a EuroLeague game again. I'm very happy to be playing Olympiacos, too. We've had a lot of battles with the country of Greece, so it's great to play against them.
"This is an important night with all the events that have happened during the week, with all our teams, Jean Michel naming me emeritus ambassador, with the opening of the Academy, and we close it tonight with the participation in the Euroleague. Our objective was to participate in the EuroLeague. We talked with Jordi back in 2014, and with Gaetan we have developed a relationship based on trust, explaining our vision and the fact that they can count on us. We have worked very hard, and today we can say that all the hard work was worth it."
Jordi Bertomeu, Euroleague Basketball President and CEO
"It's a great day for us as well, very special as Tony has said, because this is exactly the moment we have been waiting for since 2014. So this is the moment, and we are very happy to be here today. But probably the headline is that after many years we have another EuroLeague game here in Villeurbanne. But I believe that this is not the most important thing today.
"In our opinion, the most important thing is that today is the beginning, the beginning of this long path that will take ASVEL Villeurbanne to joining the European basketball powerhouses of the future. That is good news for the French fans, excellent news for French basketball, and amazing news for European basketball, as well.
"We had many conversations, many meetings in the last five years. We had the opportunity to share a well-designed project with an excellent level of commitment and fulfillment. And when sometimes people ask us, 'Why ASVEL?', the answer is very simple. For tradition, for the passion and for the ambition of this club and this project. We trust in this vision, we believe in the ASVEL management, and we believe what we will have ahead of us will be a story of success.
"The recent partnership with Olympique Lyonnaise will bring this project to another level. I want to take this opportunity to express our gratitude to Mr. Aulas for believing in basketball and for believing in EuroLeague. And I want to finish by saying it's a very great moment for us and ASVEL to start walking this path. It's the moment that we are designing the EuroLeague of the future with a select group of 16 teams that will have a long-term presence in the EuroLeague. And to design this future, ASVEL will be part of the conversation. I think this is crucial for the future of the club."
Jean Michel Aulas, President of Olympique Lyonnais
"I am very honored to be here tonight with ASVEL and with Jordi representing Euroleague Basketball. We have had an exceptional week with Tony, presenting the Academy with Gaetan, too. There is a synergy that we haven't had to force. Tony has this characteristic of a champion. We have around 50,000 spectators for our football games and the fans have immediately mobilized for Tony, Gaetan and the team, which is something that has been organic, behaving like a family, something spontaneous. Besides the fact that we have built a road, it has happened in a spontaneous way."
Gaetan Muller, LDLC ASVEL Villeurbanne Managing President
"In 2014, we had 400 season-ticket holders and now we have 1,700. We have more than tripled. It is very important to have the fans of Olympique Lyonnais on our side. Tonight, we will live one of the most important moments in ASVEL's history. Playing the EuroLeague is very important for us. Watching our team playing in the EuroLeague is definitively one of the most important moments in our history."