When looking at the rich history of the Fraport Skyliners, there is much to look back on in their 20 year history to smile about. They have won three professional titles with the 2000 BBL cup under head coach Stefan Koch and the 2004 BBL title and 2016 Fiba Europe cup under Gordon Herbert. That they belong to the top BBL teams with having the best youth program and development is no secret as over the last 5-7 years guys like Euroleague players Johannes Voigtmann and Danilo Barthel have matured to vital German national players and Isaac Bonga is an NBA player with the Washington Wizards. The organization continues to make huge strides in their ambitions for young player development and recently won the U-14 club title with a certain young man by the name of Joshua Bonga who led the charge. The club also have celebrated other wonderful memories like winning a breathtaking 5 game semi -final playoff series against the Bayer Giants Leverkusen in 2008 where ex Skyliner Tyrone Mccoy missed the last shot or the bitter 5 game finals loss to Bamberg in 2005 and 2010. The club also has witnessed amazing buzzer beaters like the Eric Chadfield three point bomb in the first game of the 2006-2007 season where the American ruined top coach Mike Taylor´s BBL coaching debut, the beautiful Justin Gray jumper in 2011 that beat Wurzburg, tee 2014 buzzer beater by Kevin Bright in Vechta or the game winner in Tuebingen by AJ English in 2016. A few more club highlights was Jacon Burtschi´s club record 10 three pointers against Bremerhaven in 2015 as well as a few memorable crushing dunk from ex NBA player Roger Powell in Artland in 2010 or Danilo Barthel´s poster dunk over Patrick Ewing Jr in 2012 where he proved that white men can truly jump. It has been so many beautiful memories of the Skyliners in their 20 year history that it had to be celebrated in a grand style.
On Saturday August 31th the Fraport Skyliners invited fans and anyone who wanted to experience a great party as well as trying to infect new fans with various festivities in the city. The festivities for a smorgasbord program of basketball began at midday at the harbor park in the east part of the city Frankfurt which would go until early in the evening. Here fans could enjoy conversations with other basketball fanatics with the various food trucks, seeing 3 on 3 games at the various basketball courts as well as a three point contest. The club wanted to not only give fans something to celebrate about all day, but also give people in the city the opportunity to experience this special basketball culture in various known places in the city. For example one could party at the old Opera house from 12-6.00pm where music was the focus and the new Skyliner song “Big Love” was unveiled from singer Lu-Key as well as getting one of many team presentations lined up for the day. One could also get a dose of Skyliner nation at the Main river downtown where the official Skyliner 3X3 basketball tournament was played for the kids from the years 2002-2006 Right in the heart of down town at the Ross Market, one could witness basketball and graffiti art as well as shooting contests. Last but not least was a special reception at the Romer for the Skyliner delegation and fans were awarded mini basketballs and T-shirts from 5.45 to 6.15 at the old opera place. After that everyone was greeted back at the harbor park where the 20 year celebration was continued where everyone could gather and talk basketball and meet current and ex Skyliner players.
I didn´t start my day like the hard core fans at mid day, but joined the Skyliner festivities around 4.45 at the old Opera(Alte Oper) area where there was a stage and some acts playing as well as a basketball court where some 3 against 3 games were taking place among the young basketball players of tomorrow. Fans also lined up to get their commemorative 20 year anniversary t-shirts “Big Love” and a mini basketball. At 5,30 the fans marched over to the Romer which is one of the most beautiful places in Frankfurt where the architecture is still very old. It is also where the town hall is which is also known for being the place where in the past the German football national teams of 1974 and 1990 gathered to celebrate their World Cup titles as well as city club Eintracht Frankfurt. Here fans witnessed the new 2019-2020 team come out of the town Hall followed with ex players and the VIP guests as they took a short walk down to the Main river where they embarked on a short boat ride over to the harbor park area for the last part of the festivities. It was during this time where you could see exactly which of the former players had made the trip back to Frankfurt. It was nice to see the club´s first head coach Stefan Koch who had helped lead the first season´s team to the 2000 cup victory. It was also nice to see other guys like Bernd Kruel, ex NBA player Mario Kasun, Carlos Andrade, Miro Todic, Ibrahim Diarra, Dominik Bahiense De Mello, Mladen Sljivancanin, Robert Maras, Juka Matinen Marius Nolte, and Tyrone Mccoy. It was really a shame that there weren´t any other Americans there. I had spoken to Jacob Burtschi some days before and he really would have liked to have come, but his fiancé is expecting their first child so it was logical that he had other priorities. Another guy I would have liked to have seen was Ilian Evtimov, but he also was unavailable to attend. The first ever Skyliner identity figure Pascal Roller also wasn´t in attendance which also was a shame.
One thing that I was really looking forward to was meeting some of the old players again and seeing how they were doing and to see how much they had changed. At the Romer I saw Carlos Andrade who had played in Frankfurt in the 2005-2006 season and celebrated his 40th birthday last year. He went on to have a very long fruitful career playing two seasons in Spain including a season in the best league in Europe ACB with Bruesa-Guipuzcoa BC and then concentrated on playing in his homeland where he played with the countries two best known clubs with Sport Lisboa Benfica for 6 years and with FC Porto Ferpinta for three years. He would win 8 Super Cups in his country. He retired last year and lives in Portugal, but is in Frankfurt frequently to visit his two kids. Then I bumped into Miro Todic who also has his place in Skyliner history as in 2005 as a 19 year old hit the game winning basket in a Euroleague victory against powerhouse team Panathinaikos Athens. The Serb is only 34 years of age and still playing. Last season he played with Al Sadd Sports Club Doha (Qatar-D1) and has seen many arenas in Europe as after Frankfurt he played 6 seasons in Greece, but also played in countries like Cyprus, Italy, Turkey, France, Sweden, Ukraine, Romania and Portugal where he was teammates with Andrade in his last season. I also spoke with Ibraham Diara who had played in Frankfurt for five seasons starting in the 2001-2002 season and then again from 2003-2007 helping win the 2004 BBL title and then retiring in 2007. The Swedish forward had gotten an early love for fashion in Frankfurt and started a label and today he is living in Berlin and working in fashion. The fourth guy in the lot was Dominik Bahiense De Mello who played with the Skyliners from 2005 to 2011 and reached the BBL final in 2010. He was a player that really saw a lot of the club´s high´s and low´s during his tenure. He was a very talented player that never really could make that total break out in Frankfurt. He would play three more years in Oldenburg and finished with BG Goettingen retiring at age 30. After seeing these guys, I departed over to thee harbor park for the finale.
At the harbour park, the club was welcomed again to the fans on a stage and then the evening wound down with a buffet and dancing. I grabbed new Skyliner Matt Mcquaid as I needed some quotes for an article I was writing on him. I told him I had waited 5 hours to talk to his ex coach at Michigan State Tom Izzo on Friday and still not gotten a hold of him and it didn´t surprise him that it was difficult to catch his ex coach. Then I was able to talk to a few more of the former players as well as with some of the current players. I had a little chat with ex NBA player Mario Kasun. He is a guy I didn´t really realize at first in 2004 when I started to follow German basketball as my desire to converse and have dealings with Americans was how I worked. Back in the title season, the trio of Chris Williams, Tyrone Ellis and assistant coach Simon Cote had my attention. But as Kasun made the jump to the NBA, I became more aware of him. He ended up playing only two seasons in the NBA playing 73 games for the Orlando Magic. He then would continue to have a very long and successful career playing with FC Barcelona, Efes Pilsen, KK Zagreb Croatia Osiguranje and Montepaschi Siena. He would play a total of 63 Euroleague games. He went on to win 7 titles in 5 countries. He actually retired 5 years ago, but looked like he could battle anyone on the court today. I interviewed him back in 2009 when he was with KK Zagreb playing an exhibition game in Frankfurt and a few more times later on. Then I spoke to Marius Nolte who was a fan favorite in his time in Frankfurt from 2009-2016. He had played many years in his home town Paderborn and finished his career in Frankfurt. He wasn´t the most talented, but always played hard and with a big heart. He was the kind of player that every team should have, but rarely get. He worked a few years after in the organization and now works for an IT company. Then I bumped into new Skyliner Adam Walekowski who signed a day before the party. He had a huge smile on his face as one easily noticed he was more than thankful to not only still be playing at age 36, but that he was a member of the Fraport Skyliners. When new head coach Sebastian Gleim strolled by, I congratulated him for the important signing. I mentioned that Adam had told me about a month ago that he was in talks with the team and that I was happy that it fell through at the end. Gleim than said oh you know each other. And Waleskowski beamed since 10 years. The Fraport Skyliners couldn´t have picked up a better character guy than Waleskowski. He is a guy that has had some great moments in his career, but also very tough moments, but he definitely is ready for the new challenge in Frankfurt.
Another ex player I chatted with was Bernd Kruel. He had a long career as well and there are few players that can boast having played until they were 40. He was in the right place at the right time in 2004 as he came to Frankfurt in January as his Hagen team folded and was German champion 5 months later. He played two and a half seasons in Frankfurt, but will remain a legend with Hagen fans as he played 16 seasons there first with Brandt Hagen and later with Phoenix Hagen. He also played two seasons with the Telekom Baskets Bonn and ended his career with the Rhein Stars Koeln. Today he is working in the Phoenix Hagen organization. What I will never forget about him was his dry sense of humor. In his stay in Frankfurt we started our conversations with “Mahlzeit” which would continue until the end of his career. The reason for this was when he was in Frankfurt, I would always catch the Skyliner players after games for game quotes as they went from the dressing room to the VIP room to eat. In Germany when it´s time to eat, you say “Mahlzeit”. Funny though for the first time ever maybe, neither one of us said “Mahlzeit” at the 20 year anniversary. Another player I had immense joy in seeing was Serb Mladen Sljivancanin. He played one and a half seasons with Frankfurt totaling 46 BBL games and 13 Euroleaguee games. He would never admit it in Skyliner country, but his leaving in February 2006 was a blessing in disguise as a few months later he was German BBL champion with Rhein Energie Cologne and the next year he won the cup title with the team. After Frankfurt he would play in countries like Romania, Croatia and Russia, but retired very young at age 29. He had his beautiful family with him and boasted that maybe one day I will write something about his son. I then bumped into this bearded giant who really hadn´t changed so much except for a few more pounds. The big man Robert Maras greeted me with Legend. Getting a reception like that isn´t so usual for me and it surprised me a bit, because I can´t really remember having much to do with him over the years as I don´t even think he is even in my collection of 1200 plus interviews, but I would have to check. I guess some of my work over the years must of reached him in some way at Eurobasket.com. I saw him play early in my career, but moreover after he was in Frankfurt. During the title run in 2004, He also was under my radar because he was a German player. I saw him play later from 2006-2011 when he played with Giessen and FC Bayern Munich. He had a stellar career winning titles with Alba Berlin and FC Bayern Munich, was a two time BBL allstar and won a Bronze medal at the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis and a Silver medal in 2005 at the European championships with Germany and Dirk Nowitzki in Belgrade. I finished the evening talking with Tyron Mccoy. He is a guy that played very early in his career with Frankfurt in 2001 after tearing up the league in scoring with Lich. After Frankfurt he would continue to be a top player with thee EWE Baskts Oldenburg. I saw his last game and last shot in 2008 in Leverkusen. It was game 5 of the semi-finals playoffs and Frankfurt won a exciting nail bitter. Mccoy took the last shot. He saw me a video of that last play that someone had sent him recently. He believes that he was fouled on the last play. We talked basketball and he was beaming about their new starting point guard Kilian Hayes who is a projected NBA first round pick. All in all it was a great event put on by the Fraport Skyliners. Their event motto “Big Love” fit perfectly to the day. One could feel that gigantic family feeling among everybody in attendance especially the players who were glad to be back. Below I have a collection of quotes from the player guests.
It is amazing to be back. The first time that they called me for the 10 year anniversary party, I was in Greece, but this time I could make it .It is great to be here and see my old teammates and fans. I haven´t seen anybody from my teammates for more than 10 years. My biggest moment was hitting the winning shot against Euroleague team Panathinaikos. I have the video. I remember everything from that game. It was my greatest game in my career.
It means a lot for me to back and see my ex teammates and the fans. It´s funny. When I see all these guys, it really doesn´t seem like such a long time since I saw them, but it is. I think that shows how tight knit we all were then and that we did something special. Obviously my biggest moment was winning the title in 2004, but it wasn´t only that. The travel, playing Euroleague and being around my teammates was special. There were so many great moments. Winning the title was an amazing thing. I remember that we worked so hard to win in 2004. It was nice seeing how much we were appreciated. I am happy that the fans still remember it.
It is amazing to be back. I almost wasn´t able to make it. I was talking to Robert Maras recently and he asked me if I was coming to the 20th anniversary party. I told him I didn´t know anything about it. Gunnar Wobke had sent the invitation to my old email. But thanks to Robert he told me. I also had been in contact to Robert Garrett and Juka Matinen about this event. The Skyliners was my first professional team and my favorite team. This was the only team that I ever played for that had spirit. We were more than a team. We were family. I hadn´t seen Robert Maras in 15 years. It is great to be able to catch up with so many people here. I played two years with the Skyliners. The first year coach Herbert and I hated each other. In the second year he was like a father to me. After we won the title in 2004. Despite getting the NBA interest, I really wanted to stay here. I told Gunnar Wobke, if he can pay me 100,000 more I will stay, but he was unable. Money wise the NBA was the best decision, but team wise Frankfurt would have been the best decision.
It is a great feeling to be back. It has been a great party. Everybody here has a story to tell and good to see basketball come together. My most fondest moment with the Skyliners was being able to stay in the league in 2013 winning on the last game day at home against Ludwigsburg. That game was unbelievably emotional for me. I will never forget it. Obviously the 2009-2011 seasons were a lot of fun, because we were so successful.
It is great being part of this event. I was just talking to Matt Mcquaid and reliving my game against Frankfurt where I got fouled at the end and won the game with free throws. For me playing against Frankfurt was always like playing against a rival team, because every game was like a hard nosed dog fight. It is great to be on the other side now. I remember playing against Marius Nolte and against Bernd Kruel when he was with Hagen.
It is great to be here. I have a lot of enjoyment being part of this history. I thought that we already had a great team in 2001 with Stefan Koch. Then it was a great time with Herbert. The nicest part of my career was winning the title in 2004. I made long lasting friendships here and am happy to see everyone. I am happy to see Mario Kasun. The last time that I saw him was in 2005 at the European championships in Belgrade. It was also nice to see Juka Matinen. The toughest player that I remember playing against was a guy by the name of Rashad Griffin. He was a real nightmare. We did beat him and Bologna in the Euroleague though. Another tough player was this 221cm player for Lukoil. It seemed like he could stand and dunk. I had no chance against him. Jovo Stanojevic was also a difficult opponent. It is a shame that Pascal Roller wasn´t here. We talk on the phone sometimes and we meet when he is in Munich. He was the identity figure of thee Skyliners. I also missed Marcus Goree. Chris Williams is probably the best Skyliner player ever. I was shocked when I heard of his death.
I have been in Germany now 20 years. I played in Frankfurt in 2001. It is good that I could come back and see so many people. I was really like seeing family here. I enjoyed seeing Robert Maras. It is interesting talking with people and seeing where they are today. I remember when I was here, I saw the passing of the torch at the point guard position. In Pascal roller´s first year, Kai Nurnberger was still the number one, but in Pascal´s second year it was his turn and he would become the point guard for the next 10 years. Pascal developed very well in my time here. Playing for the Skyliners was very important for my career. I was able to play Euroleague and play at the highest level for an organization on the rise. It was my first big break