The boiling Stark Arena awaits Madrid

After the disaster that closed Real Madrid-Partizán, a game that made it 0-2 in the series for the Serbs but of which nobody spoke later for sports reasons, Zeljko Obradovic made a first attempt to put peace. The mythical 63-year-old coach, who was European champion with Real Madrid in 1995, asked for a sense of sanity to begin to prevail that was lost with the brutal fight that closed a game that left Real Madrid on the verge of elimination, and the playoff pending Euroleague disciplinary decisions: “From now on I’m going to try to calm down all the people in Belgrade. I want to talk about basketball, I do not want to talk about this. I have friends here and great respect for everyone. When we get to Belgrade, I’m going to try to calm down all the people who receive Real Madrid. They are not going to do anything. Every day I will repeat this. We need to talk about basketball. When it comes to basketball there is nothing better”.

The experienced technician from Cacak gave a lesson in serenity and sent the right message, because the truth is that now the series, red hot and involved in a controversy like few can remember, moves to Belgrade. And it does so with Partizan one victory away from their first Final Four since 2010, which has been the year of their return to the Euroleague, with a great project that started to recover Obradovic, who took charge of a team in 2021. club in which he played for seven years and which he coached between 1991 and 1993. In 1992, in fact, he won the first of his nine Euroleagues. And the only one in the club so far.

Belgrade, of course, is not just any city. In Serbia, basketball is more than just a sport, and this year has been especially momentous as both Partizan and Red Star have participated in the Euroleague. With level squads and a better result for some than for others, since Dusko Ivanovic’s Red Star could not get into the quarterfinals despite having a top-level team, led by the backcourt Argentine Campazzo-Vildoza. In Belgrade the atmosphere is always thunderous, overwhelming, and it is logical to think that Real Madrid will receive a very hot. The third game is played today at 8:30 p.m. and the fourth, if necessary, on Thursday at the same time. If Real Madrid manages to turn 0-2 into 2-2, the fifth game would be played on Tuesday the 9th, back at the Wizink Center.

In this season the Euroleague has had a record audience: 668,148 total fans in the regular phase, an average of 8,748 which has left behind the 8,676 of the 2019-20 academic year. And while the Wizink has suffered in the year I of the it was post laso (7,524 fans on average, just over 54% of the total capacity), the Partizán matches have been a pressure cooker with more than 92% capacity. Maccabi commands this average data, above 96%. But no one surpasses Partizan in total volume: 10,361 for those in Tel Aviv, 17,763 for those in Belgrade. Behind, Kaunas and its 14,801 fans per Zalgiris game at home. In addition to these three, Olympiacos and Fenerbahçe exceed 10,000 Efes.

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The data from Partizan is tremendous, of course. It would, in fact, be the 15th best average assist in the NBA. Some matches exceed 20,000 fans, like the one played by Real Madrid in the regular season (loss, 104-90, on March 31). And it’s not just the impressive number: the environment is one of the most spectacular and complicated for the rival team in all of world basketball. At the head, the most radical group of fans of Partizan, the Grobari (gravediggers, if translated). The Belgrade team has also set a new record for total fans in its ABA games (98,130), a number that skyrockets in EuroLeague (301,285), where the ten games with the highest capacity in the history of the competition all belong to Partizan. Including three of this course and with the cap at the 22,567 spectators reached in a duel of the 2008-09 season.

Previously, Partizan also played its Euroleague matches in the emblematic Pionir hall (the Aleksandar Nikolic Hall), with a capacity for more than 8,000 people. But now he disputes them in the much larger, and utterly imposing, Stark Arena. Before Kombank Arena. A venue with a capacity that, depending on the event, can reach 25,000 fans, and therefore one of the largest in Europe in its style, not including the great Olympic and football stadiums. With more than 48,000 square meters, its facilities were inaugurated in July 2004, cost 70 million euros and lasted during a very long and traumatic process: construction began in 1992, with an eye on a 1994 World Cup that was not held there (he moved to Canada), but suffered several stoppages due to the terrible wars in the Balkans. Until it was finally resumed in 2000.

The Stark Arena does save a great memory for Real Madrid, who won their last Euroleague there, in 2018 after beating CSKA and Fenerbahçe in the Final Four. It was a team that had Doncic, Campazzo, Ayón, Felipe, Carroll… and which already included, from the current squad, Tavares, Rudy, Llull, Randolph and Causeur. Last season, the huge Belgrade pavilion also hosted a Final Four that was originally going to be in Berlin. Sanitary regulations motivated by the pandemic caused the change. In Serbian, Real Madrid beat Barça in the semifinals but couldn’t beat Efes in a final which was resolved, literally, on the last possession. Now the white team returns to a track where they will have to look for a sporting feat. And, above all, in which you have to cross your fingers so that everything runs smoothly and with sportsmanship.

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