By Jayme Monsanto, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO – The 2008/2009 season was a period speckled with bad luck and worse timing for the Flamengo basketball team. The team suffered delayed salaries, financial instability, and difficulties in finding a good venue to host important matches. In spite of their troubles, Flamengo managed to claim three important titles, marking a surprise outcome of a rather rocky season.
Flamengo’s started their campaign last December with the state championship win against Cabo Frio, despite a one-month delay in the players’ salaries. This was the fourth consecutive time Flamengo claimed the state title. In March, as the delay in salaries reached the four-month mark, the team won the South-American League for the first time, the most important title in its collection. Flamengo defeated home team Quimsa in Argentina by 98-96 in a dramatic and disputed final match.
Flamengo’s latest conquest was this Sunday. The team claimed the Novo Basquete Brasil (NBB) title after winning the tiebreaker match of a best-of-five series against the Brasília team. NBB is the national championship, in which the country’s fifteen best basketball teams play each other for the national title. The competition, which started in January, saw Flamengo play 39 matches before claiming the title.
Flamengo’s campaign in the competition was virtually flawless. The team qualified for the playoffs in first position, with 26 victories and 2 losses.
The playoffs consisted of three best-of-five series: quarterfinals, semifinals and the final. In the quarterfinals, Flamengo beat Pinheiros (a team based in São Paulo) and in the semifinals defeated Joinville (based in Santa Catarina). Both series were won by three straight matches.
In the final, however, things were a little more complicated. Flamengo’s opponent was Brasília, who had also conducted a great campaign in the NBB competition. At the end of the fourth match, the score was tied 2-2. The championship would only be settled in the fifth match, which was held on Sunday, June 28th.
The tiebreaker game happened at the HSBC Arena, in Barra da Tijuca, and more than 15,000 people packed the venue to support the Carioca team. The match started at 10AM, and the first minutes were very tense. By the second minute the referee had already expelled Flamengo’s Baby and Brasília’s Cipriano for starting a fight.
The referee’s call resulted in complains by the players and the match was paralyzed for ten minutes. After that, however, the players’ mood was lighter, but the competition was heated nonetheless. The first quarter was balanced and ended with Flamengo just two points ahead in the score at 19-17.
In the second quarter Flamengo was on form. At one point, the team was eleven points ahead, but at the end of the quarter Brasília reacted, narrowing the gap to a six-point difference. By halftime the score was 42-36. The third quarter was the most balanced of all, with each team scoring fifteen points.
By the beginning of the fourth quarter, the score was 57-51, and Flamengo tried to keep the ball in their hands as much as they could. As minutes passed, Flamengo remained ahead, and the title was every second nearer. The crowd started singing the team’s anthem and shouting support chants until the final whistle, and the match ended 76-68 to Flamengo.