The Grand Slam year

With a roster gradually getting older, the general idea was to start the training camp late to increase the lenght of the off-season and save energy for the last segment of any season although it was a risky move early. There was another additional advantage: the chance to pick the American players at the last minute, increasing the opportunity to sign big players and still creating no disfunction whatsoever (at that time you could sign only two Americans, while Mike D’Antoni was playing as an Italian). At the eve of the season start, in 1986 Olimpia signed the first-round pick of the Los Angeles Lakers, the forward from Notre Dame, Kenny Barlow but more than that it was Bob McAdoo, the unexpected addition. “We got a lot of criticism for those choices – coach Dan Peterson recalls – Barlow was coming off Notre Dame, he had a bad ankle, he was recovering from a tragic car accident and then he started the season very slowly. Inspired by the press, the people was against him, on top of everything. We won everything that year but the criticism had a lasting impact. Barlow at the end of the season was not re-signed, he went to Maccabi and made it to the final again. Almost winning it. McAdoo? I had been trying to sign him for years”.

They called him DooDoo in the States: a guy from Greensboro, North Carolina, a great body and golden hands, he was 2.05 and played like he was from another planet, an in-between, a little bit of a center, a little bit of a power forward. He spent one year in an Indiana junior college to set his grades straight, then he moved to North Carolina to be coached by legendary Dean Smith. He stayed one year, then he was the number 2 pick in the NBA draft, selected by Buffalo. The first segment of his NBA career was marked by great scoring sprees, in Buffalo and eventually with the New York Knicks and bad team results. Three times he was the league leading scorer, in 1975 he was named Mvp. But his teams never won anything. The second part of his career took place when he went to the Los Angeles Lakers, during the Pat Riley’s Showtime years. He played along Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Riley made him his perfect sixth man, a great scorer off the bench. He won two championships in 1982 and 1985. He then moved to Philadelphia but he was at the end as an NBA player. And Milano called.

McAdoo was welcomed among a little bit of skepticism: was he motivated to play in Italy? Was he in good enough shape? Could he adjust his playing style to the one implemented in Milano like he did with the Lakers? McAdoo answer was great. With his help, Olimpia won two championships in three years and two European cups also. In 1986/87 he was coached by Dan Peterson, the by Franco Casalini. He played alongside Kenny Barlow once, then Rickey Brown. He arrived to finish his career in Italy but he stayed a lot and played also in Forlì, briefly in Fabriano and then he was back to the States to become a coach with the Miami Heat under Pat Riley.

The 1986/87 team won the championship for the third consecutive time beating Caserta in the finals, like it did in 1986. Olimpia won also the Italy Cup (95-93 to Pesaro in the final, McAdoo scored 29) but its success level in Italy was up for discussion anymore. What’s expected was an international win. In 1985 Olimpia won the Korac Cup but the organization aspired to much more, The Champions Cup, basically the Euroleague, was an incredibly difficult competition: you could play only by winning your own league the season before. Not many teams participated and every game was a battle. Further problem: to play in the final group, open to six teams only, you had to win the preliminary phase, and the opponents were already strong. Olimpia had to beat Aris Thessaloniki, the best Greek team of that era, with the iconic players of that generation, Nick Galis and Panagiotis Yannakis (in 1987 they led their National Team to an historic european championship). The first leg of  the serie in Greec was a surprising blow-out. Inside a terrible atmosphere, Aris won 98-67, with Galis scoring 44. And still a catastrophic game became the cornerstone of a team heroism to be remembered. One week later, on November 6, in the Palatrussardi of Lampugnano, Olimpia won by 34. Roberto Premier scored 20 points, Nick Galis was held to 16. It was a night to remember. Olimpia was up by 14 at halftime and touched the 31-point margin with 5 minutes to go. It’s one of the most famous game in the history of Italian basketball and of the Olimpia. But the remaining bgames were not a cakewalk in no way. The then-called Tracer won a terrific game in Tel-Aviv 97-79 (Premier had 31 points) but lost in Milano and to get to the final had to wait the last game against the croats from Zara. A game to be played in nearby Pavia.

The European title was won in Switzerland, in Lausanne, beating Maccabi Tel-Aviv in the final act. The game was played in an hockey building but it was a pure fight. The leading scorer was Premier with 23 points, an amazing number for a low-scoring game. With one minute to go and the score tied at 69, Mike D’Antoni scored and then Dino Meneghin – in an epic picture – was hit by a cramp attack and still he remained on the court, in pain and on a single leg. Maccabi had the last shot: the team’s best shooter, Doron Jamchy, took it and missed. Badly. 21 years later, Olimpia was again European Champion. McAdoo scored 21 points, the young gun Kenny Barlow had 18. The team was exceptional, with also Franco Boselli, Fausto Bargna, a young kid named Ricky Pittis and Vittorio Gallinari. An Pittis himself was decisive in leading the team to the Italin championship. Up 2-0 in the serie against Caserta, Milano had no more energy in Game 3 when it played host to a team lead by Oscar Schmidt. After 15 minutes, Olimpia was down by 20 and Peterson looking for freshness sent to the court Pittis. He made two threes and two dunks. The game was under control again and won in the second half.

The last year of Dan Peterson coaching the team was also the best. Olimpia completed the legendary Grand Slam, a feat that only Virtus Bologna in 2001 was capable to do in Italy. At the end of the season, Peterson left the bench, his trusted assistant Franco Casalini was promoted and his first task was to win the Intercontinetal Cup in Milano.


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