Serbia played Hungary in basketball. Serbia won. Other things happened. Emmet Ryan smoked and talked to people or sometimes he just listened. Rather than break down a result that everyone saw coming, BiE’s editor takes you through the experience instead
He would like to live in Ireland. That’s what the Syrian doctor told me. He works in Kuwait, as a cardiologist. Away from home and all that comes with being in Syria right now. The heat was hitting hard in Istanbul. With a high of 32 degrees (that’s 90 fahrenheit for US readers) forecast, the patio outside my hotel wasn’t all that forgiving. The heat was why I embraced the aircon of my room this morning rather than bothering with Latvia’s beatdown of Montenegro. The heat was getting to everyone.
On Saturday evening the temperature was much cooler but the patio was still pretty heated. Four students from Turkey, Egypt, Morocco, and Russia were debating pretty much all the world issues one debates as a student after midnight whether sober or drunk. The price of weed in Turkey was particularly irksome to one. Grander world affairs and personal matters jumped over and back between the group as I sat smoking in the cool night air. It was late getting to bed, laughing to sleep with Cyanide and Happiness videos.
Oh yes, the game.
They could have least got the flag right. The anthems see a spotlight over the national flag of the team in question, when it was time for Hungary’s the light shone on Italy’s instead. Much as Serbia expected to be moving on in short order to face Ettore Messina’s charges, it would have been nice to give Hungary their due. This side has done more than any Hungary team ever. Last week it got the nation’s first win at EuroBasket since 1969, then got the second a day later to reach this game.
A couple of Serbians outside borrowed my lighter before tip. They were relaxed and one rather impressively pulled a corset up over her jeans shorts although it did end up partially covering her Bogdan Bogdanovic t-shirt. A Fener style Bogdan tee with a light Serbia scarf to cheer on her side. The Serbians were surprisingly outnumbered by Hungarians in the arena, the latter embracing their brief moment in the sun.
It was brief. Hungary called a timeout in trouble within 3 minutes. They were down by double digits less than 2 minutes later. Serbia were winning, this was going easy.
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Küçükçekmece has one of the grimmer descriptions you’ll find on Wikipedia. A suburb of 761,000 people, it’s just another dot in this city of 20 million. It’s poor, like proper poor, and you can feel it walking the streets. The rep for crime seems harsh, this is mostly working class people just trying to get by in a spot that hasn’t seen much love from life. The airport up the road is the business along with the university, dependent on international students to bring some revenue into the area. Given the weed smoking student was upset at having to pay the equivalent of €3.75 for three joints, it’s safe to say its the fees rather than free spending and partying students that matter to the area.
Hungary mount a rally towards the end of the first quarter, as if to rouse Serbia and the crowd from what had seemed like a rudimentary opener. Serbia woke up and led 24-16 at the end of 10 minutes.
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The two sides exchanged a bucket each before Serbia called a timeout early in the second quarter.
The Red Foxes are great. They even had a new dance here today clearly meant for the Serbian fans. It’s easy to go ‘Yay dancers’ but like, wow, they are really good at their routines. I should know by now, I’ve been seeing the same handful rotated daily for a week and a half and I’m not bored yet. They get imported from Ukraine regularly by Darussafaka, a side owned by the giant Dogus group here in Turkey and coached by David Blatt. Despite reaching the playoffs in Euroleague last season, things could be hotter for the team as Dogus is now Fenerbahce’s sponsor and dialling back what its putting into Darussfaka.
The Red Foxes, they still come. The trips from Ukraine to Turkey to dance at basketball games. A dance troupe founded by Elena Rozhkova with the aim of being a Euro group as good if not better than any in the US. In 2010 their appearance at this arena for the FIBA World Championship became something of a political firestorm. Eventually, given how often they are in Turkey, dancing won.
Serbia were pawwing away at Hungary but this quarter was dragging. Hungary weren’t letting Serbia run away. Serbia weren’t letting Hungary get close. It was some clear cut stuff.
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The emoji cam didn’t really work with everyone. The days of the kiss cam being the extent of this kind of interaction are long gone. In Istanbul we’ve had the dance cam, bongo cam, hug cam, and emoji cam. Come to think of it, the kiss cam hasn’t been here. That actually seems progressive, that’s nice. The visual indicators to do a face like the emoji on screen didn’t seem to get through to the fans on the big screen either way, most seemed eager and only a few oblivious but the few actually pulled the face.
Bogdan at the line, the lead grows. At the half Serbia were up 48-41.
Yup, I have no idea whatsoever. It was just there. I mean, yes, Ryan Lochte is definitely from the USA. Why someone decided to scribble this on a bathroom stall in the Sinan Erdem Dome? Nope, not a clue. A former freelancer from my day got in touch at half time. As so many people have said, she asked me to stay safe here.
Safety hasn’t really been too much of a concern. It helps to be a huge guy who looks like a far harder target than he is but even without that it’s not been much of an issue. Turkey’s increased security is visible but appears far more about optics than impact. Every day I got the train from Kadıköy my bag would set the alarms off and, bar one time they looked at my laptop for less than a second, I got waved through every time without a search. Being a tourist, even a dishevelled one, probably helps.
Kadıköy certainly was a different vibe to this side of town. There people drank, restaurants were plentiful, and it was the type of spot you’d feel fine getting a kebab for less than €2 at 3am. This part of town, near the arean is quieter. The same goes for Küçükçekmece. The 3am kebab is harder to find but still fine. Getting a beer is unlikely and there aren’t many spots to dine. The different vibes add to the complexity of Istanbul. When a city has four times the population of your homeland, it’s hard to comprehend the spread of cultures within it.
Serbia ended this game as a contest early in the third, adding 10 points to their lead and taking the wind out of the crowd.
The mixed zones here have been quite a different flavour to any tournament I’ve been to before. In the group phase, being the lone English only speaker didn’t help but the only person it was a hindrance with was Kristaps Porzingis. That’s pretty normal, the biggest stars often like to stop only in their native tongues. Here, the players weren’t the issue, it was the heave.
The route here for the media goes as such. Arrive at ground level. Up a few flights. Get out. Enter the media tribune. Walk down most of the height you just scaled to your seat. Then, with 3 minutes to go in the game. Reverse course so you can get back down to the mixed zone. The same arena was more of a ground level to ground level to, yup, still ground level at the Euroleague Final Four.
Once you get there, finding journalists looking to speak English is fine but the speed at which you’ve got to operate is different to past experiences. Players hang for a while at one spot and then sprint. You’ve got to get their first or at worst second stop. By the third their press officers might well be dragging them off and heaven help you if there are two throngs of people speaking that player’s native tongue ahead of you. It’s a fight and you’ve just got to accept the breaks. Saturday broke bad early, mended nicely through the middle stretch, and finished great with a mic drop by Kostas Papanikolaou
That’s the type of moment where you just take a deep breath and know you can go home fine. K-Pap had stopped to say one thing in English. He said it. I was lucky. The job was done.
At the end of the third Serbia led 69-53.
The Hungary fans got a bit louder as the fourth opened with back to back threes by their guys. Sasa Djordjevic was going to be in a foul mood at the horn but he’d probably not be too mad. He’s been pretty calm all tournament no matter the result. The record he’s set as Serbia coach is impressive yet still unfulfilled. Silver behind the USA at the 2014 World Cup and silver again behind the same opponents in Rio last year. Sandwiched in between is the big one that Serbia felt they missed. The 2015 EuroBasket started with Serbia beating Spain and then rolling to 5-0 in the group phase before looking fine in the knockout rounds until they hit Lithuania. A loss in the semi-finals cost his side a title they looked capable of winning for the first time under the name of Serbia. There was no motivation on the floor in a loss to France for bronze.
He’s been through a stint at Panathinaikos along the way, enough to remind any coach of what absolute expectation of victory looks like. Working for the Greens is a tough gig. Here Djordjevic knows his side isn’t perfect nor is it favoured to win gold but he also knows it can get to the final and earn its shot at Spain. A poor display today isn’t the issue, making sure it doesn’t happen at the quarter finals is of greater import.
It was really calm afterwards. Boban Marjanovic stopped and said plenty. So did Bogdan. Ognjen Kuzmic spoke for less than 10 seconds in the press conference. Sasa Djordjevic wished he could have too but said what we expected. Serbia need to wake up for the full 40 and Italy might be the team to do it.
Hungary’s players embraced their fans. The tournament was over for them. The show rolls on.