“101 Greats of European Basketball,” a limited-edition collection published in 2018 by Euroleague Basketball, honors more than six decades’ worth of stars who helped lift the sport on the Old Continent to its present-day heights. Author Vladimir Stankovic, who began covering many of those greats in 1969, uses their individual stories and profiles to show that European basketball’s roots run long and deep at the same time that the sport here is nurtured by players from around the world, creating a true team dynamic unlike anywhere else. His survey covers players who were retired before the book was published and who inspired the many others who came after them. Enjoy!
A three-point professional
If an elite sportsman has a dream, it probably revolves around scoring the last goal, the last shot or the last point so that his team wins an important title. Alberto Herreros was lucky enough to live that moment. It was June 26, 2005, and the finals of the Spanish League playoffs between Real Madrid and Tau Ceramica had reached the fifth and final game. Both finalists had won a road game in the series, but Game 5 was being played in Vitoria because Tau had the home-court advantage. The Tau Ceramica fans were expecting the win and the title. In the final minute, with their team ahead 69-61, they started to celebrate.
A three-pointer for the ages
It was then that one of those miracles that only can happen in basketball occurred. Without any apparent reason, the hosts started committing mistakes: Luis Scola and Jose Manuel Calderon missed free throws; Pablo Prigioni and Tiago Splitter turned the ball over. Real Madrid got within 2 points, 67-69, but the title was still in Tau’s hands. Herreros didn’t play much in the series, but after a disappointing performance by Louis Bullock, the best scorer for Madrid then (he fouled out with 11 points after making just 2 of 9 three-pointers), head coach Boza Maljkovic decided to go with the experience of Herreros. His only shot during the 3 minutes he was on the court happened 6 seconds before the final buzzer. Herreros got the ball in the right corner, his favorite position. He pulled up, took the shot and hit nothing but net. It was the 1,233rd triple of his Spanish League career, a difficult-to-beat record. But this three-pointer meant a title for his team, Real Madrid. Officially, Herreros didn’t know it would be his last game. But at 36 years old and with a basket like this, he could not find a better way to say farewell to the courts after 17 seasons in the elite, with 654 games and 9,759 points, the most ever scored in the Spanish League. Basketball had been fair to Herreros, a great scorer and a modern forward with a privileged shooting hand. In just a moment, basketball gave it all back to him after so many years.
From Estudiantes to Real
Alberto Herreros, who was born on April 20, 1969, in Madrid, started playing for local club Estudiantes. But like many others (Fernando and Antonio Martin, Alfonso and Felipe Reyes, Juan Antonio Orenga and Jose Miguel Antunez) he moved on to Real Madrid. His only trophy with Estudiantes was a Spanish King’s Cup in 1992. Estudiantes had last won that trophy 29 years earlier. In the quarterfinals, Estudiantes eliminated Real Madrid 82-80 as Herreros scored 19 points. In the semis, they beat Joventut Badalona 78-77 with 13 points from Herreros. In the final game, Estu defeated CAI Zaragoza 61-56 as Herreros and Rickie Winslow had 16 points apiece and John Pinone was named MVP in his eighth season with the team.
In 1996, after eight years with Estudiantes, Herreros made the decision to switch teams in the Spanish capital. The Estudiantes fans never forgave him for that, but it was a rightful ambition on his part: to evolve and win titles, a great player needed to be on a big team. With Real Madrid, he won two league titles (2000 and 2005) and a Saporta Cup. The Saporta Cup final was played in Nicosia, Cyprus, on April 15, 1997. The opponent was Scaligera Basket Verona. Real Madrid, coached by Zeljko Obradovic, and with Dejan Bodiroga as the best scorer in the competition (20.2 points), won 78-64. Herreros scored 19 points with great numbers: 5 of 5 two-pointers, 2 of 3 triples and 3 of 3 from the stripe. It was his only European title at the club level. Real Madrid had a powerful team, with Bodiroga, Herreros, Joe Arlauckas, Alberto Angulo and Juan Antonio Orenga. But it had failed to make the EuroLeague that year.
In the EuroLeague, the closest Hererros came to a title was in the1991-92 season. Estudiantes took part in the Final Four in Istanbul that year but fell in the semis to Joventut Badalona in an all-Spanish game. Joventut was led by Jordi Villacampa with 28 points and the final score was 69-91. Curiously, Estudiantes had defeated Partizan Belgrade twice in the group stage, 75-95 and 75-72, as the Serbian team had to play its home games in Fuenlabrada, Spain – near Madrid – under FIBA orders due to the war in the former Yugoslavia. However, Partizan would win the final against Joventut thanks to the famous three-pointer by Sasha Djordjevic in the last seconds. Such is basketball.
Estudiantes had a great team in its first participation in the EuroLeague that year, under a new format, with three representatives from the most powerful countries in the sport. We must not forget that FIBA applied this formula one year before UEFA did it with the Champions League in 1992-93. The averages for Winslow were 18.5 points, Herreros had 18.0, Pinone had 14.3 and Orenga 11.2. Estudiantes was the first team to debut in the competition and make the Final Four the same season.
Even without winning titles, Alberto Herreros left his imprint on European competitions. His personal record of 42 points was achieved on December 7, 1993, in a 97-81 loss against Reggio Emilia. He was almost perfect: 10 of 11 two-pointers, 5 of 7 threes, 7 of 7 from the line. His thing was scoring. A lot. But once, against Bayer Leverkusen in the Korac Cup, he pulled down 10 rebounds. Not bad for a player just 1.99 meters tall!
EuroBasket, World Cup top scorer
Alberto Herreros made his debut for the Spanish national team in 1990 against Czechoslovakia, scoring his first 11 points. Until 2003 he would be a major factor on the team, an important scorer in all competitions. His average in FIBA events was 12.5 points, from the 10.5 at the 1990 World Cup in Argentina to the 3.3 at the 2003 EuroBasket in Sweden. His best moments with the team were, without a doubt, silver-medal finishes at the 1999 and 2003 EuroBaskets. In the latter, in Paris, his average was 19.2 points. He was the best scorer and a member of the all-tournament team with Carlton Myers, Andrea Meneghin, Dejan Bodiroga and Gregor Fucka.
Herreros’s best average in a World Cup had happened a year before in Athens. Spain finished fifth in 1998, but Herreros, with 17.9 points, was the top scorer over Mohamed Acha of Nigeria (17.5), Arturas Karnisovas of Lithuania (17.1), Shane Heal of Australia (17.0), Andrew Gaze of Australia (16.9) and Puerto Rico’s Jose “Piculin” Ortiz (16.5).
Herreros was a born scorer with a great wrist, a fast man who could score a lot on the break, but his best weapon was his shot. He didn’t care if he launched two- or three-pointers. Whenever he had the minimum space, he took the shot – and succeeded most of the time, which is most important. His personal high in the Spanish League was 38 points against Leon.
On December 29, 1998, he played in a FIBA all-star game in Berlin. He was a starting member of the West team, who lost to the East 104-98 in one of his last events of this kind. Herreros was never drafted into the NBA even though the Indiana Pacers took an interest in him. But his world was European basketball for Real Madrid and the Spanish national team. Since his retirement, he has been working as sports director for Real Madrid.