He has led Panathinaikos to their first Euroleague championship in 13 years and 40th Greek Basket League championship title.

2002 Saporta Cup, 2012 EuroChallenge, 2016 EuroCup, and finally the 2021-2022-2024 Euroleague…

Known for his tough demeanor and his unapologetic candor, he's without doubt one of the most debated figures in Turkish basketball.

But remember: Love is a choice, but respect is a duty.

Here is the story of Ergin Ataman.

The first Turk to coach a team in Europe

His full name is Halil Ergin Ataman. He was born in İstanbul in 1966.

He completed his primary and secondary education at the Private Italian High School. 

He then graduated from Istanbul University with a degree in Business Administration.

He started playing basketball at the age of 12. He played for the Eczacıbaşı and Yeşilyurt basketball clubs.In 1996, he ended his playing career and embarked on a new path. That same year, he became an assistant to Aydın Örs, whose team, Efes clinched the Korać Cup.

Over the next 28 years, he would make headlines as much for his actions off the court as for his on-court successes.

After the Korać Cup victory, Ataman began his head coaching career with the Türk Telekom team. He then coached Pınar Karşıyaka before returning to Efes.

In 2001, he made history by becoming the first Turkish coach to lead a European team, Montepaschi Siena. In his debut season, his team won the Saporta Cup, marking a milestone in Turkish basketball history.

The 2002-2003 season saw him leading Siena to the Euroleague Final Four, securing a third-place finish.

He was the first Turkish coach to achieve such success with a foreign team.

The recent Panathinaikos championship added yet another milestone to his impressive resume.

In 1996, Ergin Ataman became an assistant to Aydın Örs, whose team, Efes clinched the Korać Cup

Ergin Ataman's style: Harsh remarks, bold statements

After his European successes with Siena, Ataman returned to Turkey, signing with Ülkerspor. 

Following personal issues reported in the media, he chose to resign and signed with Bologna to stay away from Turkey for a while.

In 2007, Ataman returned to Turkey to coach Beşiktaş.

A season later, he joined Efes, winning his first league championship.

His argument with his own player, Igor Rakocevic, during a Euroleague game against Maccabi, showcased his fiery character.

After taking a one-year break from coaching, he rejoined Beşiktaş, leading them to a historic season.

When the new management failed to provide the budget he wanted, he parted ways with Beşiktaş and joined Galatasaray, a team he had supported since childhood.

In his first season, he replicated his success with Beşiktaş, leading Galatasaray to the league championship.

Meanwhile, the rivalry with Fenerbahçe, which was heavily investing in basketball, was escalating.

After a game in 2014, Fenerbahçe’s spokesperson Mahmut Uslu insulted him, and Ataman publicly shared the insult verbatim, without any self-censorship.

As the series drew to a close and tensions peaked, Galatasaray decided not to play at Ülker Sports Arena, leading to the match’s cancellation.

This period marked the first significant confrontation between Ergin Ataman and Fenerbahçe.

His confrontational stance wasn't limited to Fenerbahçe alone.

His remarks about the incidents surrounding the stabbing death of a Serbian fan before the match against Crvena Zvezda in Istanbul during the 2014-2015 Euroleague season caused an uproar in Serbia.

In 2014, Ergin Ataman was appointed as the head coach of the National Team for the first time, but his tenure ended in 2016 following a series of unsuccessful results.

Although he gifted Galatasaray fans the 2016 Eurocup championship, things began to unravel in 2017.

In March 2017, after a game against Fenerbahçe, he declared that a group calling for his resignation couldn’t be considered Galatasaray fans, stating, “A few hooligans can’t decide on my departure.”

No one could have predicted that his rivalry with Zeljko Obradovic, who led Fenerbahçe to Euroleague glory, would ignite so intensely during his next stint with Efes.

Every match between them was eventful.

The peak of this rivalry was the final series in 2019.

He exchanged insults with Fenerbahçe fans, who chanted at him to “take a timeout”.

He wore headphones to the next game because "Swearing was allowed in arenas" he said.

During the match where Anadolu Efes declared their championship, he didn't leave his seat, not even joining the celebration.

Although the tension didn't completely dissipate after Obradovic left Fenerbahçe, it was never quite as intense as before.

The end of the hot conflict also benefited Ergin Ataman. He built a well-oiled team at Anadolu Efes.

COVID-19 pandemic impacted sports fields, especially Efes.

The Blue and Whites, widely seen as the favorites to win the Euroleague championship, were leading the regular season when it was halted.

It was a challenging period for them, but they remained unfazed in the following season.

As Europe's best basketball team, they finally won the club's first Euroleague title.

In 2022, with team leaders like Micic and Larkin, and key players like Beaubois, Tibor Pleiss, and Bryan Dunston, they once again reached Europe's pinnacle.

With the addition of one of Europe's best small forwards, Will Clyburn, in the 2022-2023 season, they were seen as the top favorites.

Many said, "We used to say ‘Just give the ball to Micic and Larkin, and they'd handle the rest. Now, we have Clyburn too.’"

However, the plans on paper didn’t translate to the court.

It was time for Ergin Ataman and Efes to part ways.

How did the "miracle" happen at Panathinaikos?

He took over Panathinaikos, who had finished 17th out of 18 teams in the previous Euroleague season.

The Green and Whites started the Euroleague season with only 2 wins in their first 7 games.

Doubts about the season’s prospects were growing.

However, everything changed on October 31, 2023.

Panathinaikos' unpredictable president Giannakopoulos announced they had reached an agreement with Kendrick Nunn.

Nunn, who had been named to the NBA All-Rookie Second Team but had to return to Europe due to injuries, quickly adapted to European basketball.

With his arrival, the team’s performance improved rapidly. Ergin Ataman had found his guard, completing the most crucial part of his machine.Panathinaikos began to climb the rankings with a series of victories.

Disgruntled fans returned to the stands, recreating the legendary OAKA atmosphere.

Nearly every game of the season was sold out.

As a result, the team finished the regular season in 2nd place.

Their playoff opponent was Maccabi Tel Aviv.

Maccabi managed to defeat Panathinaikos, who hardly lost at home, in the first game.

In the press conference, Ergin Ataman stated, "If we don't make it to the Final Four, I won't be the head coach of Panathinaikos next year."

Announcing that he would leave the team while trailing 1-0 in the series and facing two away games was a bold move.

But, as we can see, Ergin Ataman isn’t just anyone.

His players responded by winning the second home game, but the real question was how they would perform away.

Despite missing their best player, Baldwin, Maccabi won the third game.

Things weren’t going well in the fourth game either.

Despite entering the final quarter with a 5-point lead, Maccabi went on a 13-1 run in three and a half minutes, leaving Panathinaikos trailing by 7 with six and a half minutes left.

With momentum firmly in Maccabi’s favor, a comeback seemed unlikely.

But Ergin Ataman had already made those bold statements.

Panathinaikos sparked a comeback in a game thought to be lost and went on to win the 5th home game, securing their spot in the Final Four for the first time in 12 years.

Thus, Ergin Ataman made his fifth appearance in the Final Four in six seasons.

Considering their initial state at the beginning of the season, reaching this point was a miracle.

But it was clear they wouldn’t be satisfied with just that.

Their first opponent was Fenerbahçe, making a fantastic comeback to the Final Four.

Old scores could be settled at any moment.

Indeed, tensions were high again as Ergin Ataman exchanged curses with Fenerbahçe fans in front of the hotel before the game.

While the off-court antics were deplorable, his on-court performance against Fenerbahçe was a coaching masterclass.

It’s painful to admit, considering the opponent was from our country, but Ataman deserved credit.

He silenced critics who questioned his “Micic-Larkin” reliant strategy by achieving success with a new team in a different country. 

In the final, their opponent was a formidable foe.

Last season’s champions, Real Madrid, who had added one of the league’s best guards, Campazzo to their ranks, arrived in Berlin as the natural favorites.

They started the game scoring 36 points in the first quarter.

Despite the deficit growing to 14 in the second quarter, Ataman’s players stayed in the game.

They had conceded 54 points in the first half and had to stop the league’s best offensive team.

One of the main criticisms at the season’s start was doubts about the team’s defense.

The first half of the game justified these criticisms.

But everything changed in the second half.

Panathinaikos held Real Madrid to just 7 points in the third quarter.

With the energy from this defensive performance, the Greek team took control in the final quarter and won the game by 15 points.

As if that was not enough, he has also led Panathinaikos to their 40th Greek Basket League championship title, defeating Olympiacos at OAKA Arena.

Now, it was time for a third “fist show” in four seasons.

2002 Saporta, 2012 Eurochallenge, 2016 EuroCup, and finally, 2021-2022-2024 Euroleague…

5 different teams, 6 European Cups...

Obradovic, Ivkovic, Messina, Malijkovic and Gershon…

Ergin Ataman’s name will be mentioned among these legends as one of the elite coaches in European history.

Source: Fayn

Fayn is an independent digital news and multimedia storytelling studio based in Turkey. Support our journalism by becoming a paid member.
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