SZ: It was only a month ago that Alba Berlin won the German basketball championship, celebrated the double and finished the best season in a long time – and half the team is already gone: Martin Hermannsson, Rokas Giedraitis, Makai Mason and Tyler Cavanaugh went to Spain, Larry Nnoko to Belgrade, Kenneth Ogbe to Bamberg …
Axel Schweitzer: … the joy of the championship is still there.
So you’re not worried that the team will fall apart?
But no. What makes me even more happy than the two titles this year is our continuity: The fact that over 30 years we have made it 34 times into a final and also won 20 times. Always standing at the top for such a time is something that distinguishes Alba: building on our solid foundation, constantly developing and renewing ourselves.
Alba quickly renewed itself again this summer: apart from the established national player Maodo Lo, who initially signed for a year, the talents of Ben Lammers, Simone Fontecchio, Louis Olinde have come – all in their early twenties and with three-year contracts fitted. Such long terms are unusual in basketball.
This is a logical consequence of our orientation: Years ago we took a path based on attracting young players with development potential with the aim of taking them to a higher level. We also accept the departure if they later use the financial opportunities and sometimes earn double or triple at other clubs. It’s part of the business. On the other hand, we develop a team that wins the title. Therefore it makes a lot of sense to conclude long-term contracts. This focus – developing talent, winning titles and at the same time acting as an essential social actor – is unique.
Many contracts from regular players such as Luke Sikma, Peyton Siva, Jonas Mattisseck, Marcus Eriksson are also valid until 2023. Will a break be expected then?
Not at all. It is always the case that we keep a core of players and add talent. This also means that players keep leaving us. This is how we maintain our game philosophy and still manage to keep developing: just look at Team 2017 and Team 2020.
2017 was the year that Spanish coaching legend Aíto came to Alba. At the moment the fans are eagerly waiting to see if he can hang on for another year; he is already 73. What does it look like?
Aíto will always be a part of Alba, and that well beyond the season. And Alba will always be part of Aíto. The exchange I have with him makes me confident that the path together will continue.
What distinguishes him in your eyes?
What I find so fascinating about Aíto: that he doesn’t just care about the next game, but that he is always focused on the game after the next. And at the end of the season. And then at the end of the season to the next one. In principle, this is an ever-expanding cycle. If you remember the first season under Aíto: We had the Lithuanian Marius Grigonis, and when he left after a year it said: Now everything is falling apart. Then his compatriot Rokas Giedraitis came – and nobody spoke about Grigonis anymore. It doesn’t always have to be like this, but this change is part of our philosophy. What makes me happy is how much it is now recognized. In the beginning, our sports director Himar Ojeda had to convince more: come to us! In the meantime, more and more talents want to go to Berlin because they see: Hey, Alba manages to make the individual better.
At Alba, the team spirit is always held up …
When you talk about sports clubs, everyone says: Of course we are a team. I think in the final tournament for the championship one of the reasons why we won was that we showed that team is not just a word that has no content – we live it too. What makes me really happy is that we have players who stay in Berlin, although they could earn a multiple elsewhere. We are talking about professional sports, where athletes only have a limited amount of time to monetize for themselves! And if players stay with Alba despite demonstrably more than twice the other offers, this speaks for what is very important to us: That Alba is more than everyone – just a team.
Which players are they who could have earned more elsewhere and still stayed with Alba?
Oh, I don’t want to name an individual now. That would contradict the team spirit I was talking about.