Fragiskos Alvertis, the man with 25 titles

Jan 06, 2014 by Vladimir Stankovic - Print
Fragiskos Alvertis, Panathinaikos, at farewell retirement gameIn modern basketball, it's not easy to find examples like that of Fragiskos Alvertis, who played his whole career in the same club. Eternal love between Alvertis and his Panathinaikos Athens lasted for 19 seasons (1990-2009) and, in a way, it goes on because the legendary captain is still close by, as team delegate, ready to join in the celebration picture of a new title.

Born in June 11, 1974, in Glyfada, an Athens suburb, Alvertis is one of the most-crowned players ever in basketball. With Panathinaikos, he won 25 titles, among them five Euroleague titles. Only one player, Dino Meneghin, has won more Euroleague titles and only two others, Clifford Luyk and Aldo Ossola, have won as many. No player has won more than Alvertis in the Final Four era that began in 1988. With five titles and eight Final Four appearances between 1994 and 2009, he is living history of the competition. In his trophy case we can also find 11 Greek League titles, eight Greek cups and an Intercontinental Cup from 1996.

Start with a silver

Only the best basketball connoisseurs will remember that the name of Fragiskos Alvertis - Frankie to his friends - was already on many scouters notebooks in the 1991 EuroBasket for cadets, played in his native Greece. In that tournament's title game in Thessaloniki, Italy beat Greece by 106-91 as Andrea Meneghin led the winners with his 18 points. But the Greeks had many reasons to be happy. Apart from the silver medal, there were players like Maslarinos, Liadelis, Nikolaidis and, especially, Alvertis. His scoring average was 13.1, lower than Maslarinos (19.0), but Alvertis's figure was much more promising. He was a tall kid, with long hands, and he was good at rebounding. But what drew most attention was his shot. Due to his team's needs, he played close to the rim, but he used every chance he got to move away from the basket, look for the corner of the court - his favorite spot - and drop his three-point bombs. His shooting technique, with the ball behind the head and with a high arc, was very difficult to defend. At 2.06, he was more of a small forward than a power forward, but his versatility was one more advantage for him.

Already at 17 years old he made his debut with the first team of Panathinaikos, a club which until the start of the 90s was under the shadow of eternal rival Olympiacos and the two Thessaloniki teams, Aris and PAOK. Little by little, with some great signings (Nikos Galis, Alexandar Volkov, Stojko Vrankovic...) PAO - the nickname fans and media know the team by - started growing until reaching its first Final Four in 1994, in Tel Aviv. In an all-Greek semifinal, the Greens lost 72-77 to Olympiacos and Alvertis scored his first 2 points in a Final Four. In the third-place game against Barcelona, a 100-83 victory for PAO, Galis had 30 points, Volkov 29 and Vrankovic 14, but next in line was Alvertis with 9 points. The following year, in the Zaragoza Final Four, history repeated itself: Olympiacos was better than PAO in the semis (58-52) and Alvertis stayed at 3 points. But in the battle for third place against Limoges (91-77) he scored 29 points, which would remain his best personal mark in European competition.

European and intercontinental champ

Diamantidis and Alvertis - Panathinaikos - champ 2008-09Finally, the third time was the charm for Alvertis and the Greens. At the 1996 Final Four in Paris, Panathinaikos defeated CSKA Moscow in the semis, 81-77, with 35 points by Dominique Wilkins and 13 by Alvertis. Barcelona was waiting in the final. In dramatic fashion, Panathinaikos won 67-66 in a game that is part of the history books. Alvertis shined with 17 points and almost perfect shooting: 6 of 8 two-pointers, 1 of 2 three-pointers plus 3 rebounds in only 23 minutes. He was a European champ at 21 years old. After the retirement of Galis, and being the last active season of Panagiotis Giannakis, his teammate in 1995-96, Greek basketball needed a new face in its star system, and the figure of Alvertis appeared at the right moment.

In the big year of 1996, Panathinaikos completed a great run by also winning the Intercontinental Cup in September. The opponent was Olimpia BBC of Argentina, the South American champ. The first game was played in Rosario on September 4. Olimpia won 89-83 with an interesting team featuring Lucas Victoriano, Jorge Racca and Andres Nocioni. Alvertis, with 21 points, was the best man in his team together with John Amaechi (23 points). In Athens, Panathinaikos won by 5 (83-78) with 30 points by Alvertis, but the regulations called for a third game in case of a global tie. Two days later, on September 12, Panathinaikos won 101-76 with Byron Dinkins as best scorer with 24 points while Alvertis added 8.

The Obradovic era

In order to play a new Final Four, Alvertis would have to wait for the arrival of coach Zeljko Obradovic. In Thessaloniki 2000, Panathinaikos got rid of Efes Pilsen in the semis by 71-81 with Dejan Bodiroga (21), Zeljko Rebraca (15), Alvertis (11) and Johnny Rogers (9) as scoring leaders. In the final, and also the start of a great rivalry that would mark the start of the 21st century, Panathinaikos beat Maccabi Tel Aviv by 82-74 with Rebraca (20) and Oded Kattash (17) as stars, but Obradovic kept Alvertis 35 minutes on court. His 4 points and 3 rebounds seem discreet, but Obradovic had also discovered a great defender in Alvertis. His long hands and his speed contributed things that no stat sheet could reflect.

The following season, in the season of the "two Euroleagues" due to the ULEB - FIBA conflict, in the Paris Final Four Panathinaikos defeated Efes Pilsen 74-60, but lost to Maccabi in the final, 67-81. The following year, with a re-united competition, Panathinaikos reached the Final Four again, in Bologna. First it defeated Maccabi 83-75 with an outstanding Alvertis scorring 11 points with only one missed shot. In the title game, the Greens shocked host Kinder Bologna by 89-83 with Ibrahim Kutluay (22), Bodiroga (21) and Alvertis (11) as protagonists.

In Moscow 2005, Panathinaikos lost again to Maccabi (82-91) and defeated CSKA Moscow for the third place (94-91) but soon the team was back to the top, in 2007 in Athens. In the semifinals it defeated Tau Ceramica by 67-53 and in the great final it outlasted CSKA Moscow by 93-91. Alvertis lifted his fourth title. His fifth and last Euroleague arrived two years later in Berlin, even though he was semi-retired. He played at the start of the season, enough to be considered part of the roster of the champions, despite not playing in the Final Four. He retired like the greats by lifting his 25th trophy.

Zeljko Obradovic had big confidence in him and for all the good reasons. Alvertis was a very stable player, he never or hardly ever played a bad game. If he didn't shine, at least he was a decent player who could always contribute good things for Panathinaikos. If he didn't score, then he pulled the boards or guarded the most dangerous forward of the opponents and, especially, showed his character. He was the extended hand of the coach on the court. Obradovic has said many times that Alvertis was "the best captain I ever had."

While he triumphed with his club, he didn't win any trophies with the Greek national team, whose jersey he wore 155 times. He played EuroBaskets in 1995 and 1997. He then missed the 1999 one due to injury after having averaged 18.1 points in the qualifying tournament. He was back in 2001 and 2003 and he also played the World Championships of Athens in 1998, but the best he did was three semifinals and three fourth places: in 1995 and 1997 and the worlds in 1998. His last great competition were the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens. He retired from the national team at 30 years old. If he had waited one more year he would have won the European gold medal in Belgrade 2005 and with two seasons more he would have the world silver medal from Japan 2006.

It's a shame because he deserved those since all the sweat and suffering from his hard work from the previous years were big part of those two triumphs. However, despite being winless with the Greek national team, Fragiskos Alvertis will always have a place in the history books in Greek and European basketball.