European basketball got a new, first-time continental champion on May 30, 2021, when Anadolu Efes Istanbul won the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague crown at the Final Four in Cologne, Germany. Efes became the 22nd different club since the dawn of continental competition in 1958, and just the second ever from Turkey, to lift the trophy as Europe’s best basketball team.

History was made in bunches when Cologne as Efes beat FC Barcelona 81-86 in the championship game. All of the team’s players were first-time champions and Ergin Ataman became the first Turkish-born head coach to lift the EuroLeague trophy. That added to Ataman’s personal collection, which also includes the 7DAYS EuroCup, the Saporta Cup and the FIBA EuroChallenge.

Efes point guard Vasilije Micic earned the Final Four MVP honor a day after he received a season-long MVP award, becoming just the fifth player this century to win both awards in the same season. Meanwhile, his backcourt mate Shane Larkin set a championship-game record by making 12 of 12 free throws against Barca.

For the entire team, it was a triumphant end to a journey that Efes had started from the bottom of the standings in 2017-18. It saw the team lose the 2019 championship game and then dominate the next season, only to have it stopped by a worldwide pandemic. But finally, the journey culminated with Efes enjoying jubilant celebrations on the floor of Lanxess Arena.

Efes did it all with quite a dose of drama, too. In the best-of-five EuroLeague Playoffs, Efes won its first two games against Real Madrid by a combined margin of 50 points and held 13-point leads in the fourth quarters of both Game 3 and Game 4, but only clinched the series in the final minute of do-or-die Game 5.

At the Final Four, Efes led by as many as 21 points in the third quarter before managing to hold off CSKA Moscow 86-89 in the semifinals. In the championship game itself, Barcelona came back from an 11-point deficit to tie the game in the fourth quarter, but Micic scored 7 points in the final 3 minutes to make sure Efes went home with the trophy. He finished with 25 points and 5 assists while Larkin scored 21 points.

It was 24th win in 24 games for Efes when it scored at least 80 points in any game last season. Efes also became the first team to win the trophy needing to play more than 40 games in a single season, finishing the 2020-21 campaign with a 27-14 record. The team had lost 9 of its first 17 games, before shifting into high gear and putting together a late regular-season run, eventually going all the way to capture the crown and become a deserving part of basketball history.

Seen at: Euroleague.net