However, not all was easy sailing in the 2021-22 season, as Efes struggled in the early part of the campaign. When it looked as though the team's EuroLeague triumph the year before was not going to be repeated, Efes guard Rodrigue Beaubois could not understand what was happening: "We really thought that, at one point, we were able to turn the situation around. But it didn't happen quick at all. It's hard to explain."
Fast forward a few months and Efes had found a way not only to finish in sixth position in the standings but also to beat AX Armani Exchange Milan in the playoffs. The Efes players were feeling confident about themselves afterward, as they had booked their place to the Final Four once again. "It is just what we do now," stated guard Larkin. "That's who we are, that's who we've tried to become, and I think we've earned the right to kind of sit here and say, 'That's just what we do.'"
In its third Final Four appearance in a row, Efes was able to get past Olympiacos Piraeus in the semifinal to reach the championship game, but only after a game-winning buzzer-beating triple by Micic. For the eventual Final Four MVP, playing back in his home country of Serbia, that is a moment he will never forget: "I mean, to make that three-pointer, and in that moment, in Belgrade, it's the best moment so far."
Real Madrid, the 10-time winner of the EuroLeague, was awaiting Efes in Europe's showpiece fixture. There was plenty of star power on the court and on the sidelines in the form of Ataman and Real boss Pablo Laso. It was incredibly difficult to separate the teams on paper, and that remained the case right until the championship game's final moments.
However, before the game, Coach Ataman was convinced that his team would add to their first-ever EuroLeague title: "Play like a champion, because we were the last champion. And don't care about anybody. Play your game, play like a champion, and you will see that we will win again."
Coach Ataman's words rang true when the final buzzer sounded, as Efes beat Real 57-58 to become just the third team this century to win the title back-to-back, joining the Maccabi Elite Tel Aviv teams of 2003-04 and 2004-05 and those of Olympiacos in 2011-12 and 2012-13.
"This is history. This is back-to-back," Coach Ataman stated after Efes secured its second successive EuroLeague crown. Efes made history in 2021, and one year later it did so again.
Re-live Efes's "Back 2 Back" triumph in this Euroleague Basketball Originals documentary. The Euroleague Basketball Originals documentary series captures the intimacy behind the EuroLeague spotlights and provides full access to the protagonists and the people who know them best.
Watch episode 1: