EA Tournament Winner Headed to Vegas

By Johannes Berendt

Cologne, Germany, Oct. 9 -- On a sunny Monday afternoon in Cologne, the San Antonio Spurs edged the Houston Rockets in heartbreaking fashion to win the first European NBA Championship. What might sound like a distant vision on the court today became reality off the court and in front of an Xbox 360. EA pitted together the four national champions from Italy, France, Spain and Germany to determine the true master of the NBA Live video game series. The last man standing was 16-year-old Dini Iacoda from Rome, who saw off his French counterpart 41-38 in a highly-contested final.

Video game competition in Cologne.
Juergen Schwarz, NBAE/Getty Images

"It was absolutely incredible," said EA product manager Doug McConkey. "You could not have scripted the final better. I think it had everything that is great about the NBA, like tension and phenomenal skills."

Dini had chosen the Spurs, while 28-year-old Cedric Dunoyer went with the Houston Rockets. It was a hard-fought battle from the first whistle on. The Rockets raced to an early 14-10 lead and were still up by five points going into the break. "I studied the way my opponent played and I studied his defense," a delighted Dini revealed afterwards. "It was tough, but I always believed I could win." Dini and the Spurs staged a remarkable comeback in the second half when they held the Rockets to just 12 points. Yao Ming missed a couple of key shots from under the basket in the final minutes, whereas Tim Duncan displayed spectacular finishing skills by scoring six of his teamīs last eight points. And when a desperation 3-pointer from Tracy McGrady bounced off the rim, Dini had not only secured the European Championship but also won a trip to the next All-Star Game in Las Vegas.

It was a long way to climb the summit, though. As part of the NBA Basket Jam tour, EA Sports and the NBA staged special qualification rounds in each of the four countries. The national champions were then brought together in Cologne. A qualifying round, which helped the players to get used to the brand-new NBA Live 07 edition, determined the seeding for the knock-out stages. While Cedric (and the Rockets) handed Spanish champ Oscar Perez-Herrera Lopez (and the Sixers) a severe 38-14 beating, the second semi-final could have gone either way. Dirk Nowitzki beat the buzzer at the end of the third-quarter for countryman Florian Ruf whom Dini then outscored 17-7 in the final three minutes to steal the win. "I just lost my concentration," Florian stated.

Still, it was an unforgettable day for everyone involved. While the four champions were battling it out, almost the entire starting line-up of the Phoenix Suns stopped by to pay a visit. "I am pretty good at video games," Boris Diaw said after wishing compatriot Cedric luck. "My favorite player is Steve Nash." Raja Bell received some tutoring from Amare Stoudemire, while Shawn Marion almost had to drag Diaw away from the console for the quartet not to miss the bus.

So what does it take to be a champion? Dini has worked out 90 minutes every day. His favorite team is the Spurs, his favorite is player Manu Ginobili (who paid back the confidence by sinking some spectacular jumpers in the semi-final). Kobe Bryant is the best player in the game. His verdict? NBA Live 07 in much more realistic than its predecessors.

"For those of us who have a passion for the NBA and watch the league every day only wishing that one day we would be good enough to play in it but never will be, this is the nearest thing that they will ever get to it," added McConkey. "If you saw the final, it captured very accurately the tension and excitement you get with the NBA."