In this second piece of a two-part series, sportswriter/commentator Uygar Karaca again considers the EuroChallenge Championship Curse, with special reference to this year’s champions, Beşiktaş; unfortunately for the Eagles, Karaca feels a distressing amount of déjà vu…
In this article, I will try to answer the question as to whether Beşiktaş Milangaz fits into the framework of the “EuroChallenge Championship Curse.” Just to reminder for readers: A few days ago, I compiled a list of teams who won the FIBA EuroChallenge trophy and what happened to them thereafter. Many of these team’s fates were not very nice and unfortunately, one can fairly claim that Beşiktaş is walking a similar path.
First, let’s summarize the last five to six years of Beşiktaş basketball. The basketball sector of the club was founded as an offshoot of the famous “Black Eagles” football team. The hoops team’s best result in modern times was its unexpected appearance in the TBL finals at the end of 2004-05. The next year, Cola Turka came aboard as Beşiktaş basketball sponsor.
In the 2007-2008 season, president Yıldırım Demirören was perhaps bored and decided to find success with an expensive squad. The coach was again Ergin Ataman and players like Kaya Peker, Preston Schumpert, Sinan Güler, Sandro Nicevic, Predrag Drobnjak, Rick Apodaca and Christian Dalmau were hired – and this would be the true beginning of the budget problems that still effect the team today. In that season, Beşiktaş managed to reach the Eurocup Final Eight and lost against Galatasaray in overtime thanks to a Cüneyt Erden shot and lost against Turk Telekom in the TBL semifinals. There were rumors that the club did not manage to play well due to lack of payment to players.
In subsequent years, the headlines filling with the financial troubles of Beşiktaş did not cease. One article released in March 2010 revealed a revolt: Players complained of not receiving pay for three months and refused to join team in training.
In an open letter from the same season, captain Haluk Yıldırım spoke out on how his faithful and admirable teammates played on despite the financial difficulties – and the situation with Beşiktaş’ handball, volleyball and women’s basketball teams was even worse. It seems like there has always been money for the football team to bring players and some foreigners but not for domestic ones…
For the 2010-2011 season, Allen Iverson came to Beşiktaş despite all the problems and last summer, the partnership with Cola Turka ended; the club, with tons of debt, desperately searched for a new sponsor. Many companies stayed away from financial support perhaps because of suspicions that any benefits gained would be greater than costs, or maybe the inability to assess how the provided financial resources would be used was a factor. In the end, the crises ended when someone was found: Milangaz.
Milangaz is a liquid gas company within the Demirören Holding company network. What this meant was that the president himself, Yıldırım Demirören, was involved in the funding process of the basketball team. This was some dangerous: The financial report announced in Februay 2012 revealed that the club, as a whole, had net debts of around €300 million, with one-third owed to Demirören.
Luckily, before he left his post to become Turkish Football Federation president with a mission of saving football from the recent infamous match-fixing scandal, Demirören declared that he is ready to write off the money that the club owes him with one caveat: He’ll do so only if his successors can manage the same or, in other words, give money to the club as a gift. Of course, one must be truly rich to do so and it is therefore almost impossible for the clause to be fulfilled. In practical terms, the club still owes huge money to the former president.
One thing that grabs attention about Beşiktaş JK is the list of players who had monetary issues with the club before departing. In order to receive their due wages, many formally filing complaint with FIBA. FIBA employs a process called the “basketball arbitration tribunal” (BAT) in which a committee made up of lawyers and legal experts decides in salary disputes. Here you can find the BAT rulings since 2008 and by clicking, you can see how frequently the name Beşiktaş appears.
Indeed. Interesting to note that last such dispute was ruled on in just mid-March of this year, with Lithuanian women’s team player Iveta Salkauske to (finally) receive around €27,000 from the club – and the financial woes continue… – Ed.
Players including Sandro Nicevic, Ana Dabovic, Brian Dyke, Dubravka Dacic, Marque Perry, Sandra Mandir, Fyodor Likholitov, Iveta Salkauske and some agencies did not get their promised payments and called FIBA to intervene. Moreover, Yiğiter Uluğ of Turkish daily newspaper Radikal published an article in February 2012 detailing how the club obligated three of its players (Cüneyt Erden, Bekir Yarangüme and Serhat Çetin) to participate in three special training sessions a day between June 15 and August 15, 2011. On February 29 of this year, Erden talked to SalsaBasket about the incident: The reason for this cruelty was, according to the club, due to the relatively bad performance of the trio during the preceding season. The real reason was the fact that the club owed money to these three and did not want to pay it, therefore trying to force them to find new clubs and bypass the previous unpaid wages.
Nevertheless, nothing stopped Beşiktaş from giving it a go this season with a new sponsor and star-studded squad including Deron Williams.
The club eventually retired Williams’ number after 12 matches – and he even couldn’t help the team from elimination in the Eurocup qualifying campaign against Dexia Mons Hainault. It’s a shame that there was Canadian Solar Bologna competing with Beşiktaş for Kobe Bryant and a pity that the NBA lockout ended just after Lamar Odom had reported agreed to play for the Eagles. If not, maybe some more stars were to play in Akatlar Hall.
But who cares? The team already found a combination of famous names: Zoran Erceg, Adam Morrison, David Hawkins, Pops Mensah-Bonsu, Marcelus Kemp and Carlos Arroyo. Don’t forget Semih Erden, who played for Beşiktaş during the lockout.
Considering EuroChallenge 2011-12, one can fairly say “come on, those players can and should easily clinch the title.” Yes, Beşiktaş did it, but additionally beating Fenerbahçe Ülker, Galatasaray and Anadolu Efes in one season deserves praise. However, throughout the year, the team lacked consistency and the frequent injuries did not help. Losing Marcelus Kemp for nearly three months was the most prominent example, but Mensah-Bonsu, Çetin, Erden, Arroyo, Can Akın and Mehmet Yağmur all lost time to injury. More than once, Beşiktaş suited up a six-player rotation.
Losing against mid-level TBL teams such as Turk Telekom, Erdemir and even Hacettepe was surprising, and the team’s inconsistency was even reflected within games. Recall the EuroChallenge quarterfinal playoff game against Artland Dragons in which Beşiktaş had a 44-25 lead at halftime but allowed their rivals to cut the deficit to 55-50 by the fourth quarter. The final result was 77-63. This is what we saw in the final against Elan Chalon as well: The Eagles having exactly the same lead, followed by a scare and the eventual victory.
Despite all the problems, Ergin Ataman did well in keeping the team united: Beşiktaş beat Anadolu Efes in the Turkish Cup final and will play Fenerbahçe in the first stage of the league league playoffs.
Finally, the verdict. I do not expect Beşiktaş to walk a very different path as that of their predecessors. We must congratulate them as the first men’s senior club to win a European title after Efes Pilsen’s Korać Cup victory in 1996. However, as very well remembered, ‘97 Korać Cup finalists Tofas later added David Rivers and not only won back-to-back Turkish championships in ‘99 and 2000, but also played competitively in Euroleague. Unfortunately, Tofas ceased operation suddenly not long after those glory days. (They later returned to the TBL with a smaller budget.)
On the contrary, Beşiktaş is a great club with a lot of supporters and tradition, and therefore I don’t think they will disappear completely. I have to say that the number of BAT cases mentioned above shows a significant decrease in the last couple of years and triumphant coach Ataman admitted in a recent interview that, despite their undeniable presence, the money troubles are less severe and the team’s overall financial structure is much healthier than in the past. Beşiktaş is a very big and popular club; they may not end up like BG Gottingen, CB Girona or Maroussi BC.
On the other hand, don’t forget that the women’s section made headlines last autumn with the players departing due to lack of payment, followed by the coach after a series of bad results. Recently-elected president Fikret Orman went to Switzerland after clinching the cup in Debrecen to discuss the future presence of the club in UEFA competitions because the team could possibly be unable to get a financial license in the near future.
Of course, that doesn’t help when we want to look forward with hope and optimism … The future is still more black than white for the Eagles, and the euphoria created around EuroChallenge victory can pose a real threat for the future.
Uygar Karaca is a sportswriter and TV commentator from Istanbul who is enthusiastic about European basketball. Combining the game with history and analysis; nothing is more delicious for the former small forward who is interested in coaching. He has no favourite teams or players; he’s just looking for stories. Karaca earned MA and BA degrees in Economics, explaining his tendency to see the socioeconomic aspects of the game. However, the reasons why he watches 20- and 30-year-old games again and again, looking for old newspapers that write about basketball, are still unknown even to him. The only things he knows for certain about the game is that the Americans invented it and the Yugoslavians perfected it.