Live games at prime time on free TV, packed halls and huge euphoria: On their medal mission, Germany's giants triggered a basketball boom that was hardly thought possible before the European Championships at home.
Captain Dennis Schröder's team is far from satisfied with the first semi-final entry since the Dirk Nowitzki era 17 years ago. "Before the European Championships, the goal was a medal. Of course we want gold now," said center Daniel Theis after the breathtaking 107:96 in the quarterfinals against title favorite Greece with NBA superstar Giannis Antetokounmpo.
In a furious manner, Schröder and Co. dismantled the Greek team, which was not only peppered with Antetokounmpo, but also numerous other professionals with experience in the Euroleague. The second half in front of 14,073 completely ecstatic fans in the arena at Berlin's Ostbahnhof and a peak of 2.06 million people on RTL was the best that a German team has played in decades. The reward: In addition to MagentaSport, RTL will also broadcast the semifinals against Spain live on Friday (8:30 p.m.).
"It's unbelievable for German basketball how these guys have performed on German soil so far," national coach Gordon Herbert praised his selection. "People can see the team's identity and identify with it," said the Canadian, who has played a major role in Germany's upswing. "I already said in October that we want to win a medal at the European Championships. A lot of people looked at me as if I was crazy."
The Herbert team has undergone a development that nobody would have thought possible just a few weeks ago. The cancellations of important players like Maxi Kleber, Tibor Pleiss, Isaac Bonga, Moritz Wagner and Isaiah Hartenstein as well as temporary absences from Schröder and Theis during the preparation had sowed doubts about the performance of the German team. The sportingly correct non-nomination of long-time captain Robin Benzing, which was clumsily communicated by the association, also dampened the mood. The big question was: will Schröder and Co. even make it to the finals in Berlin?
Sworn Unity formed
They did it - and how. Also because Herbert has managed to form a sworn unit. The athletic class of a Kleber may be missing. At the botched World Cup three years ago in China, the individual quality in the team was perhaps even greater, but the mix of different characters didn't fit at the time. That's different now.
"It's our strength that we have a lot of experienced guys. But it's much more important that the guys don't take it personally when they're told something," said young star Wagner, describing the team structure. "China was a failure. But we've all matured and learned from it," Theis said recently in an interview with the "Braunschweiger Zeitung".
Matured and euphoric, the revenge against the Spaniards should now succeed, against whom the 2017 European Championship quarterfinals ended. "We can enjoy the moment, but we still owe the Spaniards something from the EM five years ago," said Theis. First of all, however, there was a rest day on the program on Wednesday. The intensive 40 minutes against Greece had left their mark, instead of training, the focus was on regeneration and care. A quarter of the team was already ailing before the quarterfinals.
"It's a tournament of survivors," said Herbert. And his team is still there. A final entry would finally catapult the euphoria into spheres never seen before in German basketball. "I think something like that can move people," said Schröder, who received extra praise from Herbert on Wednesday for his achievements so far. "There was a lot of talk about Giannis (Antetokounmpo), Luka (Doncic) and (Nikola) Jokic. I think it's time to talk about Dennis Schröder," said the national coach about his captain, who scored 26 points and eight against Greece Assists towered.