After Panathinaikos pioneering victory in 1996, powerful Olympiakos, finalist in 1994 and 95, could not let its domestic championship runner-up get all the European glory.
If Olympiakos would not be the first Greek team ever to win the supreme club competition, it would at least be the first to win the opening season of the EuroLeague. But the season was not without its bumps along the way. Olympiakos had trouble with one of its foreign players’ spots.
Willie Anderson started the season, but his performances led the front office to cut him. He was replaced by Evric Gray, who finally did not participate greatly to the team’s success either, playing only five games and being released before the Final Four.
Anyway, the other foreign spot lived up to all expectations as David Rivers played well enough for two. He had a superb season (17.2 ppg) and was the true star of the 1997 Final Four. Before this achievement, Olympiakos, had finished barely over 50%: 9 wins and 7 losses.
They also had to struggle to stop Partizan Belgrade in the first round of the playoffs (2-1), and faced their old rival of Panathinaikos in an explosive quarter final. Panathinaikos, coached by Bozidar Maljkovic, ranked as the number one team in Europe with a 13-3 record, and had easily swept Limoges in the eight-finals.
But on the other side, on the Olympiakos bench, another Yugoslavian brain, Dusan Ivkovic, was plotting. It seemed obvious that the winner of this Greek quarter- final was going to be a solid contender for the final crown; since 1988, when Dan Peterson’s Olimpia Milano had won its last title, only coaches from the “former Yugoslavia” had managed to win the trophy (Maljkovic, Pavlicevic and Obradovic).
And Dusan Ivkovic’s number was up.
Eventually the “ Reds “ suprisingly overwhelmed the “Greens” (69-49 in Panathinaikos’ arena), and earned a ticket to Roma. With an outstanding Rivers (28 points, or 8 for 13 shooting), Olympiakos beat Olimpija Ljubljana in the semi-final and took on FC Barcelona in the final. The Spanish club, a powerhouse in Europe, had already played four finals and had lost all of them (1984, 1990, 1991, 1996).
Barcelona fans were praying for this curse to end, and felt that 1997 would be the year, as the veteran forward Andres Jimenez started well in the final.
Nevertheless, it seemed quickly clear that the “ Reds “ would not be denied, and Rivers put on another scoring show, going for (26 points, or 7 for 12 shooting).
Olympiakos would secure its status as the best European team, winning the Greek championship and also making the Greek Eight-finals cup its own.