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Rick Pitino criticizes Greek fans for smoking at games

Rick Pitino

In this Friday, Jan. 4, 2019 file photo, Panathinaikos coach Rick Pitino reacts during a Euroleague basketball match between Panathinaikos and Olympiakos in Piraeus near Athens. Pitino criticized fans for smoking and lighting flares during games, describing them as “extremely self-centered and selfish.” (AP Photo/Petros Giannakouris, File)


ATHENS, Greece — Panathinaikos coach Rick Pitino has criticized fans of the Greek club for smoking and lighting flares during games, saying they are showing a lack of respect for the players.

“It’s extremely self-centered and selfish of people,’' Pitino said late Wednesday after Panathinaikos beat Peristeri, 91-68, in the Greek league semifinals. He described the atmosphere at the game as “awful.’'

“I smoke cigars on a golf course, but there’s nobody else around. But you’re in an arena, and 10,000 are smoking and the players are choking. So, sooner or later, you’ve got to say: ‘Hey, man, we’re at an athletic event and I’m going to discipline myself and we’ll wait until halftime. And I’m going to go out and blow my brains out with cigarettes.’ That’s your option. But not when there are athletes and there are little kids who want to come to the game. ... But they don’t care about young people and the athletes who are breathing it in.”

Pitino, 66, the former Knicks and Celtics coach who took over at Panathinaikos last December after leaving the University of Louisville, has frequently praised fans for their passionate support of the Athens club. But he has also been frustrated by violence and bad behavior at games.

“I think all this stuff with shooting flares -- somebody is going to get burned and somebody is going to get hurt -- to me, I think it’s nonsense,’' the former Kentucky and Boston Celtics coach said. “I think the fans should pay attention to the team’s players and try to get them to play better.’'

Greece and Bulgaria have the highest rates of smoking in the European Union, with the proportion of daily smokers at 27 percent in both countries, according to the EU statistics agency Eurostat. Greek laws banning smoking in enclosed public places are poorly enforced.

In February, a top EU health official criticized Greece’s deputy health minister for regularly smoking inside the ministry building.