I’d like to start with two things – a thank you note to the author of the post – Çağrı, as well as humming a little Happy Birthday tune to my Turkish friend, who celebrated his birthday yesterday! You can join in too!
by Çağrı Turhan / @cagriturhan
In 2000, Turkey probably had the best league of Europe with the competition level from bottom to top, also with players such as Rivers, Griffith, Kutluay, Turkoglu, Mulaomerovic, Handlogten, Stefanov, Pashoutine, Praskevicius, Erdenay and more. Then, the economic crisis hit the whole country. Division I clubs have been heavily effected as a consequence of mainly depending on the sponsors. Next year, only Efes Pilsen and Ulker which are also giant companies of the country had big budgeted rosters, following season, number of TBL teams went down to 12. Efes and Ulker were easily dominating the league like Olympiakos-Panathinakos and Zalgiris Kaunas-Lietuvos Rytas does at the moment. In the summer of 2003, Khalid El-Amin came to the bosphorus city, shuffled the cards of the game for the next two years and further. His name was exciting considering he played in the NBA thanks to his NCAA career at UConn where he won the national championship with Rip Hamilton.
It’s not easy to describe Besiktas in a few words but its position and fan base is similar to AEK, at least both are founded in Istanbul. In an extremely football dominant country, basketball section of the club did not get much attention naturally but the rebel identity of the club provided a good starting point to destroy the dynasty of the company based clubs. In its very small gym, opponents were under a lot of pressure and it was difficult to overcome BJK for any team there. (Maccabi Tel-Aviv visited Istanbul only to play a friendly game with Besiktas to make their players get used to play under difficult atmospheres. Well, the ironic thing, Maccabi met only 50 people instead of a hot packed gym.) Khalid El-Amin who gets the main support from another legendary player of the club Larry Ayuso, was carrying a team consisting of mostly low-mediocre level talent players in 2003-04 season. Besiktas that had a budget less than 1M USD which is nowhere near Efes and Ulker, was daring these two for the title. They lost to Ulker by 1 point at both regular season games with a lot of easy mistakes at the last minutes. But, they beat Efes twice, which was a great team that was so close to reaching Final-Four, deserved to meet the Maccabi at Euroleague final in Tel-Aviv much more than Fortitudo Bologna did that season. Besiktas finished the season losing to Ulker at playoff semi finals by losing two of three games. El-Amin was simply sensational, indefensible, both as a scorer and play maker. He’s clearly not the most disciplined player on and off the court but he was making impossible things real inside those 28 meters. He was phenomenon for the fans, he was called to the stands as Pascal El-Amin (inspired by footballer Pascal Nouma who is basically the god in the eyes of Besiktas supporters). After every free throw he made, fans were cheering “Amiiiiiiiinnn” (Amen). Even his name was debated seriously for the national team due to his popularity.
Next season, Ayuso left but addition of Ratko Varda who provides a better inside-outside game and moving to new, a bit bigger gym helped the team. This time regular season, brought two Ulker wins(one of them with 26 points 4th Q performance by El-Amin) but two close Efes losses. El-Amin was showing how a great point guard he is by making everyone play better but also scoring whenever necessary once again. This time at the semi final, Besiktas started the series with a 1-0 lead. In the final seconds of the first game El-Amin made a stupid foul to Ilyasova to allow two easy points while it’s all 71. Then he made up for his mistake in an amazing way.
I am still very angry to the management of my university for placing a shitty final exam on the time of that game but I was screaming among 50 people at the computer lab just after getting a text message about what happened at the game. Then I told it to people who ask me what happened, few people joined me for singing there right after. Why I was so happy? Because, it was simply a breakthrough moment for the club, even for Turkish basketball a little bit. This time we won the series 3-1 while El-Amin was the nightmare of the Ulker. For a club who has failed several times at making the last touch, going the last inch when it comes to sportive achievements mainly in football especially, that was like breaking the wall finally. Moreover, considering the budget of the team, it was more brave heart or David vs. Goliath story than last year’s Partizan reaching Final-Four. In the final, he kept playing the same way against Efes but losing the close games and the club management’s decision of putting Varda out of the squad because of a disciplinary action on the court prevented the chmapionship. He left Besiktas at the end of the season since he was offered more then double of BJK could give him after back to back TBL MVP achievements. But, he had already brought hope and belief to the district of Besiktas. There’s a phrase about Besiktas about those failures about the last step: “There’s always a doubt wherever Besiktas’ name exists.” Well, he had beaten that beast at least for a while.
After his Ukraine days, he returned to Turkey with Turk Telekom jersey. I was sad to see him playing for another colours but I was also lucky to be in the same city. I had even missed seeing his half dozen naughty kids running on the court during the half times. He was playing good again but his team was extremely bad coached for such a talented roster. His coach didn’t benefit his play making abilities often, mostly used him as a scorer. The most logical theory I read on the internet about why his coach succeeded not to be fired for such a long time was the possibility of him having sex tapes of the board members. Apart from daggering Besiktas at 2008 playoff semis at his second season and helping capital city team reaching the finals plus winning the Turkish Cup, I witnessed one of the greatest performances ever thanks to him. On 8th January of 2008, in the middle of final exams period of the hardest semester of my B.S education which is basically consuming my life energy then, I went to see Turk Telekom-Joventut ULEB Cup game despite Ankara’s Russian type freaking cold weather. Main reason was Ricky Rubio of course, but the main actor role had been stolen by our plump butterfly from Minnesota. Rubio played fantastic but, Khalid handed Joventut-also winner of Copa del Rey- their only loss through out the tournament. He scored all his 33 points in the second half while destroying the Catalans. I will never forget how Barton and Lavina looked each other in desperation right in front of me after one his baskets, of course not to forget Rubio getting angry while El-Amin was kicking his team’s ass as he was sitting on the bench due to his foul trouble at the last quarter.
He had brought hope to Besiktas fans just like Saras does for Lithuania national team. His latest masterpiece against a Euroleague contender at one of the toughest arenas of the continent, reminded me his buzzer beater against Ulker. It was almost same point where he released the ball while I felt it was coming as he was dribbling at those seconds. What can I say, it was a very nice present for me as I was starting my birthday. Khalid El-Amin still means a lot of things on the coast of the Bosphorus at the beautiful Besiktas district of Istanbul.