Peculiarity of Turkish Basketball Clubs In Light of Bursaspor’s Historic Day

Bursaspor has made a lot of headlines following their success in EuroCup knock-out round, taking out favourites one at a time, away from home, facing big crowds as the underdogs. They’ve unexpectedly made their way to the 2022 EuroCup Final, to face Virtus Bologna tonight, where once again the crocodiles will be the underdogs, facing a team which has been a EuroCup title contender from day one of this season, and once again they’ll face a passionate crowd, hungry for a EuroLeague berth after so many years.

It is astonishing that the only reason Bursaspor hasn’t already secured a EuroLeague spot for the next season, is the fact that AS Monaco made the EuroLeague play-offs this season. Since, as the 20-21 EuroCup champion, AS Monaco qualified to EuroLeague via EuroCup, only the 21-22 EuroCup champion will qualify to EuroLeague next season. If this wasn’t the case, like it wasn’t in the previous season, both EuroCup finalists would already have granted their EuroLeague participation.

A lot of commentary and analyses have been made on Bursaspor’s basketball in the knock-out stage. And I might hope onto that train myself, after the final, irrespective of the result. But this piece only aims to capture how Bursaspor’s success is more valuable for Turkish basketball than if most other Turkish clubs had achieved this, and inform about the make-up of Turkish basketball clubs to do so. Therefore, every Turkish basketball fan is already informed about everything that is in this piece, but I suspect none of it is exactly known to the basketball world out of Turkey and inside the sphere of basketball discourse of every language but Turkish.

Enter Müessese

Bursaspor’s basketball branch was only recently founded before the 14-15 season. Bursaspor though, is a multi-sport club whose foundation goes back to 1963, with the formation of the football club. Bursa is the fourth biggest city in Turkey by population, with 3.1 million people residing in the entire Bursa province. The reason behind most Turkish football clubs outside of the three biggest cities having the naming formula of “[city name] + spor”, is because these Anatolian football clubs were founded with multiple smaller football clubs in their cities merging together to create one big city club. It would be an astute observation on your part to make at this point, that Turkish basketball top flight only has two of these names amongst its 16 clubs. That number is 11 out of 20 for the football top flight. How come? That juxtaposition is, in a way, the subject of this piece and greatly relates to the state of Turkish basketball. Let’s delve into it.

The 16 current clubs in BSL, basketball’s top flight, present a spectrum of different club structures. Beşiktaş, Bursaspor, Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray, Gaziantep, Karşıyaka and Yalovaspor are member-owned, multi-sport clubs. 5 of these 7 clubs made the play-offs this season. Yalovaspor has been relegated to second division. Two of the significant TBL clubs, from the second division, are also member-owned multi-sport clubs, Samsunspor and Konyaspor. Most of the TBL clubs though, are municipality clubs. That is, sports clubs that local municipalities directly own, fund and operate. BSL also has a few clubs of this sort, like the last placed & relegated Afyon Belediye and Merkezefendi Denizli Basket which closely managed to fend off relegation to TBL.

However, if we want to understand the make-up of Turkish basketball clubs and Turkish basketball history, we need to examine what we call the müessese clubs. The most successful Turkish club ever, Anadolu Efes, although in the purposes of this statement more fittingly Efes Pilsen, but also several other prominent clubs like Tofaş (which is also based in Bursa), Darüşşafaka, Türk Telekom, as well as the now-defunct but historically very successful clubs like Banvit, Ülkerspor and Eczacıbaşı are & were müessese clubs. They could be described as commercial basketball clubs, company clubs and so on. You see, Efes is a beer brand, probably better-known to have their sort of commercial identity than others who also have it, in basketball spheres outside of Turkey because of their history of European success. Tofaş is a Bursa-based automaker that manufactures Stellantis car brands for the Turkish market. Darüşşafaka is a private institution older than the Republic of Turkey itself, which famously provides orphan children with opportunities of education. Türk Telekom is, as you can tell from its name, is a largely state-owned telecommunications company, in the vein of Telekom Srbija and Deutsche Telekom. Banvit is a food company mostly known for feed manufacturing and producing broiler chickens. Ülker is a big chocolate, sweets and confectionery manufacturer. Eczacıbaşı is a large corporation that operates in several areas but most notably pharmaceuticals. How does all this even really matter though, what is such information exactly doing in a basketball blog? Well, perhaps the better question would be why and how such a wide portfolio of beer companies, car manufacturers, education institutes and broiler chicken producers were and are doing in basketball?

Before we proceed with the unusual existence of müessese clubs in Turkish basketball, we are better off searching for equivalents in other countries. Frankly there are absolutely no equivalents of müessese clubs, that I know of at least, in majority of significant basketball nations like Spain, Greece, Serbia, Lithuania, Italy, Slovenia, Montenegro, Israel, France. Besides the now-inoperative Croatian club Cedevita Zagreb (eerily similar to Ülkerspor: A club owned and founded by a food/beverage company, goes defunct after a short but successful lifetime by merging with a big community club, essentially just becomes a big-time sponsor for the community club, but still operates its youth academy for a few years after the merger) only some German clubs could paint even a semblance of equivalence. Most notable examples being Brose Bamberg and Alba Berlin. Bamberg is owned by Brose, an automaker. Berlin is owned by Alba, the recycling company. Alba Berlin especially, constitutes the best foreign example of a müessese club, since the club was essentially founded by the company, instead of being purchased by the company some years into its existence.

First of all, as we have turned to Germany in searching some equivalency, it is worth noting that neither the Turkish müessese clubs, nor all the company-owned German basketball clubs are similar to member-owned football clubs like Bayer Leverkusen (or Bayer Leverkusen’s basketball branch too for that matter), PSV Eindhoven, etc. These sorts of football clubs were founded by the workers of companies like Bayer and Philips, rather than being founded by the companies themselves.

Secondly, an important difference between Turkish müessese clubs and clubs like Brose Bamberg and Alba Berlin the way I see it, is that these sorts of German basketball clubs represent their cities in a way that müessese clubs have not chosen to do. Indeed, I am not talking about the amount of support these Turkish clubs get from their cities, that’s to come later, but the mere fact that Turkish müessese clubs have never really opted to brand and attach themselves to their cities the way sort-of-equivalent German clubs have done. As you can see, none of the müessese clubs ever beared the name of their cities the way equivalent German clubs do. Almost all of them had their clubs logos signifying their companies instead of any sort of reference to the cities. If I have to visualise Alba AG, the recycling company, shutting down their basketball investment like Benetton did in Treviso, I would also immediately visualise the club continuing on with an ownership re-organisation and probably changing their name to Berlin Albatrosse. When it comes to Turkish müessese clubs though, I can’t envision even such an effort for almost all of them. More on that later.

The Makings

In a way, the presence of müessese clubs could be explained with the absence of organic sports/basketball clubs. As established already, barely half of the top flight BSL clubs, if that, are “organic” clubs and only three or four at most, are as such out of the 16 second division teams of TBL. Istanbul’s famous, and infamous I suppose, big 3, have always been in basketball. Galatasaray founded its men’s basketball branch in 1911, only six years after the foundation of the football club. To my knowledge, it is the first basketball club to be formed in Turkey, at least amongst the active ones. Fenerbahçe’s basketball club was founded two years later in 1913, which again corresponds to the 6 years after the foundation of their football club. These two basketball clubs are therefore older than the Republic of Turkey itself. Beşiktaş’s basketball beginnings came 30 years later than the foundation of their multi-sport club, with Beşiktaş first forming a basketball team in 1933.

To be precise, the big 3 cannot be just deemed the big 3 of football, even though that’s where their domination is most pronounced. They are the big three in and because of excessive media coverage and public attention as well, both to my chagrin. They are also, most notably, the big three of the entirety of the sports scene in Turkey as well. Mind you, they cannot be hailed as the big three of any other particular sport but football, because even in sports where two of them are dominant, the third isn’t quite up there unlike in football. But taking a snapshot of the total sports scene would reveal this to be the overall picture.

Nevertheless, these three clubs have received and even continue to retroactively receive criticism for not properly investing in basketball. But they still were always there in the league, along with Karşıyaka from İzmir. Karşıyaka, crucially, is a de facto member of İzmir’s own big three of multi-sport clubs. İzmir is the third biggest city in the country, and it has its own big three of multi-sport clubs in Altay, Göztepe and Karşıyaka. The former two however, do not currently have basketball operations, unlike Karşıyaka and Istanbul’s big three. In fact, Altay used to be a multi-sport club but now solely operates in football. Perhaps now, you are starting the get a hold of this aforementioned absence of sports clubs in basketball to be filled up by müessese clubs. With that said, Karşıyaka’s significance to Turkish basketball cannot be overlooked. Not only they won a league title in 86-87, eliminating İTÜ, Efes and Galatasaray in the play-offs, which was four years before Fenerbahçe even won its first league championship; but Karşıyaka became Turkish champions once again in 14-15, eliminating Željko Obradović’s Fenerbahçe 1-3 in the semi-finals despite home court disadvantage, and then taking out Dušan Ivković’s Anadolu Efes 1-4 in the finals with home court disadvantage again. It is notable that Fener finished fourth in EuroLeague that season and Efes was eliminated by the eventual champs Real Madrid in a 3-1 series in the quarter-finals.

The Awakenings

I haven’t lived through those times and I’m not a basketball historian to talk of the historical developments in question here, but it seems like Paşabahçe was perhaps the first müessese club to be founded. Then there is İTÜ, which is different from all the others because it stands for Istanbul Technical University, which is a public university, thus there is not a commercial business behind or related to İTÜ that could be promoted. But arguably it wasn’t until Eczacıbaşı’s presence came about that müessese clubs started to be such a phenomenon in basketball. Anadolu Efes, or Efes Pilsen at the time, was founded in 1976 directly following Eczacıbaşı’s first top flight championship. Tofaş was founded two years before that. Both Tofaş and Efes undoubtedly made their marks in basketball.

3 April 1997 is widely known as “black thursday” in Turkish basketball. That same night, Tofaş was hosting Aris in Bursa in the final of Korac Cup and Efes was hosting ASVEL in the deciding leg of EuroLeague quarter-finals. Korac Cup had a home-and-away final format, looking at the total point difference to determine its champion. Indeed, Efes had won Korac Cup the previous year by beating Olimpia Milano this way, quite famously so in Turkey and becoming the first Turkish sport club to win any European competition. The following season Efes was competing in EuroLeague this time and had home court advantage over ASVEL. They won the first leg in Istanbul 87-71, losing 70-80 in France in the best-of-3 series format. Then they bottled the deciding leg in front of home crowd, 57-62, and missed their first ever EuroLeague Final Four ticket. Tofaş’s advantage was even bigger. They had somehow beaten Aris 66-77 in the first leg in Thessaloniki. All they had to do was to lose to Aris by less than 11 points or win the second leg in front of home crowd, to lift the trophy. They lost 70-88 to Aris in Bursa.

Recently, a while before EuroCup’s knock-out round kicked off, I had a conversation with a Bursaspor supporter. I had seen this person attending Bursaspor’s EuroCup regular season match vs Promitheas Patras, screaming his love of Bursa and passion for Bursaspor from the stands. Of course, he was a Bursaspor supporter in football as well. But, just to refresh your recollection, the club’s basketball branch was only founded in 2014 and they first promoted to BSL in 2019. Meaning, their first ever season in BSL was as recent as to be interrupted by the global pandemic. He told me he’s not that into basketball actually, because he had quit on basketball when Tofaş lost the Korac Cup in the final, in Bursa, 25 years ago, in that fashion. Then his wife played a role in the foundation of Bursaspor’s basketball branch and he got back into it. You see, he wasn’t into basketball particularly but he was attending that Korac Cup Final in 1997 like he was attending Bursaspor’s regular season affair vs Promitheas on some random tuesday evening in February. Of course, anyone who supports a club instantly knows what he’s talking about and is familiar with the strange and unique sorrowfulness of the few most memorable losses. We don’t incite or cause those, but we take part in them nevertheless. Those kinds of losses are the most powerful building blocks of a supporter’s relationship to their club and most impactful events in building their reaction to the wins. The relevant part to this piece though, is a reversal to the question I stated & implied earlier. Why Tofaş, the company, is in basketball and why they are the only prominent club in Bursa (at that time of course) basketball fans can go see and connect to? This question, and its various different forms from earlier, is admittedly sort of a red herring. The base level answers to that come fairly obvious once you have just a tiny ounce of context. The actual question should be what’s the impact müessese clubs have on Turkish basketball, coming to existence by filling up a certain void? Hopefully to be answered by the end of this piece, as a result of its entirety.

The Cornerstones

If Eczacıbaşı’s success kick-started this large impact of müessese clubs, Efes’s subsequent success turned it into an absolute phenomenon. Aydın Örs was promoted to the head coaching position of Efes’s senior team in 1992, previously coaching in Efes’s youth academy. Efes won the league title that season despite a rocky regular season which they finished a distant fourth, experiencing a mid-season coaching change which saw Örs assume the head coaching position. This ended the club’s eight year championship drought. They defended their league title the season after. During which, they were knocked out of EuroLeague qualifiers by the French champion Élan Béarnais Pau-Orthez and therefore began their European adventure in the 2nd tier European Cup. They made it to the final in Turin there, losing 48-50 to… Aris, in the final. At the time this was easily the biggest achievement in Turkish basketball history, and the events of this final is still subject to conversations in Turkey to this day. The season after, Efes three-peated in the Turkish League and lost to Barcelona in the deciding leg of EuroLeague quarter-finals after topping their group. So all this was even before the most famous and most impactful 95-96 Korac Cup championship, when Efes first took out Fortitudo Bologna in the semi-finals and then beat Olimpia Milano to win the first European trophy any Turkish sports club ever touched their hands on. Milano would have to beat Fortitudo in the finals to become Italian champions that season, in one of the strongest championships in European basketball at the time. If there is one müessese club which outgrown itself and become something else, it is Efes.

2016 – Aydın Örs (left) and Efes chairman Tuncay Özilhan (right) at the celebration of Efes honouring its legendary coach with his banner going to the rafters

 

You must see the appeal behind that. It wasn’t only that Efes marketed their beer brand by enlarging their trophy cabinet and featuring in high profile matches. Or it wasn’t only that they did all that while also benefiting to write off some expenses on the behalf of the company through their basketball investments. More importantly Efes was the first müessese club that managed to, just all of the sudden, even beyond their control, give a bunch of different reasons for masses to get behind their team. People at large, getting behind, emotionally investing in, supporting a team of a club owned and created by a beer brand for the beer brand. And then Ülkerspor, Banvit, Türk Telekom were all founded in 1990s. Efes had pulled off something so outrageous, even their closest competitor in the Turkish beer market, Tuborg, felt compelled to open a basketball club in 1993 following Efes’s showing in the European Cup and its impact in the Turkish sports scene.

Ülkerspor was Efes’s toughest competitor on the parquet floor. But Banvit was the only other example of having a widely organic supporter base. Banvit was based in Bandırma, a town in the city of Balıkesir. While Efes was defying Istanbul’s big three from their home turf, Banvit was doing the opposite. Banvit gathered the support of this town, as a result of focusing on this one small area. Not even Tofaş connected to the people of Bursa the way Banvit was connected to Bandırma, Bursa after all, is a major city. In 2017 Banvit, the company, was sold to a foreign ownership group, namely the Brazilian company BRF and Qatar Investment Authority. Two years later Banvit’s new foreign owners didn’t see any reason to spare millions for basketball anymore. The basketball people of the club were determined to continue with new branding. So with a new name sponsor and new branding, the club continued on as usual during the 19-20 season. It all lasted for that season only, the club was folded in 2020. There is some obvious bad timing in their case also. But it is remarkable that basketball had become integral to the town of Bandırma to a degree that they would try to succeed after Banvit, the company, pulled away. After all, that’s the difference of müessese clubs. They are companies, the basketball club is owned by the company and it is created for the company. So when the company erases the club out of existence, what is even there to succeed with? Müessese clubs differ from another basketball club which is owned by a company or the German clubs referenced in an attempt to find equivalences, in this way. Remarkably, Bandırma wanted to succeed Banvit even though the moment they withdrew from basketball, there wasn’t anything to succeed with.

Their efforts didn’t last beyond that one covid19-interrupted season, but four names who played for Bandırma in that season stand out: Alperen Şengün, Şehmus Hazer, Furkan Haltalı and Emir Kabaca. After their club was folded, all four players since then went onto play for Beşiktaş, Galatasaray and Fenerbahçe. They played for Bandırma because they were the product of Banvit’s renowned youth academy. Alperen Şengün was born and discovered by Banvit in Giresun, a northeastern Anatolian city on the coast of Black Sea. Şehmus Hazer was born in Batman (not pronounced like that, but might as well raise an eyebrow anyway) which is in southeastern Turkey. Furkan Haltalı, two seasons later still a teenager by the way, was born in Konya, a large central Anatolian city. And Emir Kabaca was born in İzmir. The significance of Banvit’s academy was not only their productivity or quality, but it was also they concentrated on finding kids who had talent in Anatolian cities, who might have gone unnoticed if not for Banvit’s youth scouting and never reach their potential and perhaps even never becoming professionals. Because, no matter how many müessese clubs are filling up the void left by a relative lack of communal basketball clubs or multi-sport clubs, most of them are based in Istanbul as their businesses require and even the ones that aren’t, are based in other major cities.

At this point, we are left with a picture. The picture of Beşiktaş, Bursaspor, Efes, Fenerbahçe, Galatasaray, Gaziantep and Karşıyaka having their own supporter base as the clubs that are and will be in BSL the following season, Konyaspor or Samsunspor to join them in case they come out victorious from the upcoming TBL play-offs. Darüşşafaka deserves its own standing, their basketball branch was founded in 1951, which makes them the oldest müessese club that is still active, to my knowledge. Darüşşafaka also has its supporters. I personally know multiple Daçka fans, who travel to support the team in away matches. The only reason I exclude them is unfortunately their support base is not large enough in a way that allowed Efes to transcend the müessese identity. Or, more provokingly, their support base is not as large as it would be if they were instead a basketball club based on an identity of regional community. That, we can’t say about Efes’s support base. I hope it’s not an error of my basketball centric life that I think by this point in time, when the name Efes is invoked, basketball is the first recollected identity or image, preceding their beers. I can’t be sure of that considering my perceptional bias, but it’s certain Efes, the basketball club, transcended Efes, the beer company, in many ways. That isn’t to say the ongoing presence of the basketball club is no longer benefiting the company commercially.

Not counting İTÜ, since as a public university they didn’t have a commercial business to promote, the first BSL championship won by a müessese club was Eczacıbaşı’s 75-76 title. In the 16 top flight seasons between Eczacı’s first title and right before Aydın Örs era started for Efes, 11 titles were won by two müessese clubs based in Istanbul, Eczacıbaşı and Efes. 5 were won by three other clubs, Galatasaray, Karşıyaka and Fenerbahçe. In the 15 top flight seasons since Aydın Örs’s first league title in 91-92, up to 2006 when Ülkerspor went defunct in a merger with Fenerbahçe, all 15 championships were won by müessese clubs, with Efes winning nine of them, Ülker four of them and Tofaş two of them. This was an impact of Aydın Örs’s Efes on Turkish basketball, the influence of inadvertently making müessese clubs an absolute phenomenon for different businesses left and right. They all founded basketball clubs in 1990s, upon how beloved Efes came to be in the Örs era, none really succeeded in repeating that.

The Dichotomy

Harun Erdenay, who is nicknamed Pegasus after the mythical creature, as one of the best Turkish players of all time, played only one season in his entire career for any club that has an encompassing support base. He came to Fenerbahçe in 1993 and played the 93-94 season there. Ülkerspor was founded in 1993, following Efes’s European Cup showing that season, similarly how Efes was founded following Eczacıbaşı’s first BSL title in 1976. Thus the linkage of the three most prominent müessese clubs influencing one another. Ülkerspor was knocked out 1-3 by Efes in the 1994 BSL Finals, in their inaugural season at the top flight. That off-season they went ahead and bought Harun Erdenay away from Fenerbahçe and Pegasus would go on to play the next nine seasons of his career with Ülker, until he was 35 years old.

The first season with Erdenay playing for them, Ülker would interrupt Efes’s championship dominance and win their first ever league title. Örs’s Efes would win 5 league titles in 6 years, with only that 94-95 Ülker championship coming in-between. In the end, most of Erdenay’s prime is covered by his Ülker seasons, playing for a club that not only failed to be beloved like Efes, but also failed to capture a bit of the resonance Tofaş and Banvit managed, despite all of Ülkerspor’s achievements.

This sort of a trend is not to be observed only during the initial seasons of Ülkerspor, but relating to their last ever season also. Ömer Onan who was promoted to Efes’s senior squad after passing through their academy, was signed by Fenerbahçe in 2004. Onan was more of a defensive specialist for Efes, getting 404 minutes total in 26 BSL appearances for the club in his last season there. After moving to Fenerbahçe, he had 999 minutes under his belt in that 04-05 season, across 31 BSL appearances. He found a bigger role in the lesser squad of Fenerbahçe and his offensive game blossomed. And then after that one Fener season, Ülker signed him following his two-way display at Fener, and indeed Onan became an integral part of 05-06 Ülker which put a stop to Efes’s streak of championships, failing to win a 5th consecutive league title in 2006 play-offs. This was not only Ülker’s last league title, it was also their last season. They went defunct in a merger with Fenerbahçe in that off-season. Onan would go onto play for Fenerbahçe for 8 more seasons after the merger and get his number retired by the club. In light of that, there is some substance to the aforementioned criticism Istanbul’s big three received. They were there, having competitive seasons most of the time, but all this was a result of them not investing that much to basketball. That is not to say because they didn’t invest so much that müessese clubs came to existence. But because they didn’t, this outlined dominance of the müessese clubs throughout the 90s all the way to mid-noughties persisted.

On that note, a fitting banner by Fenerbahçe supporters, at the bottom:

The banner, one of its bottom corners not visible on the image, reads Bu Sene Efes-Ülker Finali Oynanmayacak which can be directly translated as “This year Efes-Ülker Finals won’t be played”, but I think more adequately captured in English as something like “[It] won’t be Efes-Ülker Finals this year”. Either way, you get it. This banner was revealed in a Efes – Fenerbahçe match during the regular season of 04-05. This is the away stand of Fenerbahçe in that Efes meeting, although both clubs used the same venue at the time, as both Sinan Erdem Dome and Ülker Arena were yet to exist. And context is important, right? After Tofaş’s 99-00 championship, league finals witnessed four straight Efes – Ülker series, with Ülker winning in 2001 and Efes winning the 2002, 2003 and 2004 series. Efes was looking to win their fourth straight championship and they topped the regular season with a dominant 24-2 record, Ülker following them behind with a 21-5 record. All 12 other clubs barely had a positive point differential, if that, with Beşiktaş coming in third with a 17-9 record and Fenerbahçe, Karşıyaka and Efes’s rival in the beer market but not so much on the parquet floor, Tuborg, following up with 16-10 records each. The regular season meeting when Fenerbahçe supporters unveiled that snarky banner? Efes thrashed Fener 94-62.

In an ironic way, the banner turned out to be prophetic. Beşiktaş eliminated Ülker 2-1 in the semi-finals, thanks in part to Khalid El-Amin’s memorable buzzer beating winner. Efes beat that Beşiktaş side 3-1 in the finals to win its fourth consecutive title. That said, the following season saw another Efes – Ülker finals series and overall six straight seasons of these clubs winning the league, a streak only halted by Ülker’s merger with Fenerbahçe.

On the one hand, there is still retroactive criticism, coming from all perspectives, of Istanbul’s big three not investing an awful lot to basketball, especially during that period of time. On the other, there were always rumours that Ülker would merge with and sponsor Fenerbahçe, Efes would merge with Beşiktaş and Türk Telekom would merge with and sponsor Galatasaray. There were also a number of people who wanted to see these kinds of mergers happen, because even to this day, a lot of people believe substantial basketball investment could only be done with immense financial backing of sponsors. It would be wrong to say this belief is restricted to Turkey. I’ve even seen Efes characterised as a club which has a main sponsor of a beer brand, by foreigners of course, not realising there is not a club to sponsor and the club is founded & owned by the beer company for the brand itself. This feeling also captures how a lot of people felt about the müessese clubs in general. Indeed, Fenerbahçe supporters were not the only ones to come up with a brazen way to deal with the sheer dominance of müessese clubs from early 90s to mid-00s. See the Galatasaray crowd performing a famous chant during 2013 Finals, at which Galatasaray ended a 23 year league championship drought, by beating Banvit, a müessese club in the finals series.

A good translation doesn’t even matter here, just know that Cimbombom is a nickname of sorts for Galatasaray and there it goes: “Let’s make history in basketball this year / Let’s not leave the trophies to the corporations / Neither Efes, nor Ülker, neither Telekom / Come on Cimbombom you’re the champion”. It’s an older chant than 2013 obviously, especially with Ülker revoked, but the 2013 league finals fit this old chant perfectly in more than one way. Although, the chant wasn’t out of use at the time regardless. My favourite recorded instance of that chant though, was when Galatasaray supporters used it in jest the first time Galatasaray hosted Fenerbahçe after the latter’s merger with Ülker, right before tip-off:

The Interregnum

With vast majority of müessese clubs naturally failing to achieve a stable support base behind them, and having presented the differing takes on their existence, this reading could take a fully pejorative turn towards these clubs now. Then it’s the perfect instant to remind a few things. First of all, if the basketball scene was filled up by organic clubs like in other countries, instead of a limited number of them as I’ve established again and again, these corporations could only sponsor the organic clubs at most and Turkish basketball lexicon would have no such term as a müessese club. Then, the investment of these clubs allow certain players to stay and play in the scope of European club basketball. If not for them, those players might have been playing in different continents altogether. Thus, these clubs contribute to wider club basketball environment that way. Forget about Efes-level investment, they are in a unique situation. Let’s take Bahçeşehir Koleji, founded in 2017, by the private schools of the same name. They might have won FIBA Europe Cup in front of solid attendance recently but they have no fanbase whatsoever. Still, they signed Langston Hall, from Crvena Zvezda after he didn’t have a good season there, they signed Tarik Black even though he was rumoured with multiple EuroLeague clubs, they kept Sam Dekker in BSL following his spell in Telekom and they signed Jamar Smith, one of the more prominent EuroCup players, right after his 20-21 showing that made him voted to be EuroCup season MVP, aiding UNICS Kazan with EuroLeague qualification. If they were to vanish, there isn’t a club to replace their level of investment, so all these players would likely be playing in Asia or Americas somewhere. This effect might be little with one club, but considering how prevalent müessese clubs are, it makes out to be quite the impact on the player market when you think about all of them.

And lastly, their youth academies. The older clubs especially, nurture and develop young players, whom we watch when they become pros. The more academies, the better it is for the production of players. Already touched on a bit about how Banvit differentiated itself in this area. But if we were to examine most notable Turkish players of all time, a good majority of them are & were products of müessese club academies. So I’d love to do a count and recall all the names, but there are just too many. It’d be easier to think of the most notable Turkish players ever and recall the names in the minority who were not developed by the academies of müessese clubs. In fact, there are even a few examples with foreign players. Most notably with Ülkerspor’s academy scouting Zaza Pachulia in Georgia and bringing him to their club at a young age.

My biggest, perhaps only, gripe with müessese clubs is how much their presence causes concentration on Istanbul. Right now 7 of the 16 top flight clubs are Istanbul clubs. Two seasons ago it was 8 of 16. So nearly or exactly half of the top flight clubs coming from one city, with only four of them able to boast a wide support base. This is a historical trend, if we go back to the first season upon the expansion to 16 teams, 8 of the 16 clubs were Istanbul clubs in the 05-06 season also. Turkish football might be in its most overtly political period for some time now, and this has increased the number of Istanbul clubs in football’s top flight, and yet 6 of 20 clubs there, are Istanbul clubs still. Most of the time it has been just three clubs from Istanbul though in the football top flight, for instance the 05-06 season had 3 Istanbul clubs out of 18 (16,7%) when basketball’s top flight still had that 8 of 16 ratio at 50%.

Football’s top flight has been almost always fully consisted of multi-sport or communal football clubs. There are two important results with the juxtaposition at hand here, which might be the essence of this piece. One, thus it is not just that Turkey happens to be one of these countries where basketball is second only to football in popularity but nevertheless still dominated by football’s sheer dominance in following, attention and popularity. It is also, because of the make-up of clubs in these two sports and the situation in their top divisions, football is way more widespread geographically. Whereas basketball is restricted to a few cities and overconcentrated on Istanbul. A lot of significant cities never get to witness quality basketball, bond with a club, and so forth, like they are able to do in football. Even in the capital, the only option to witness quality basketball is through Türk Telekom. And it is obscene to expect supporters of Ankara-based football clubs to get behind the basketball club of the state-owned telecommunications company, or non-affiliated basketball viewers in Ankara to bond with that club. Honestly Telekom has always gotten more support than I could imagine, even by some Ankaragücü ultras, but all that has to be an indication of how much potential is wasted in the capital. Even if there were to be an organic, basketball-only Ankara club, based on what Telekom has gotten, basketball in Ankara would be through the roof. Instead it is always severely hindered there because of this entire situation with the make-up of clubs. Then, even in İzmir, Karşıyaka covers their own territory but the majority of the city is similarly left open and thus its potential wasted and hindered basketball-wise. Because really, Karşıyaka covers the territory of 350k people, but if you’re from elsewhere in İzmir, you can’t support them. So we don’t quite have the third biggest city covered in basketball either. This brings us to the top, as mentioned there, Bursa is the fourth biggest city. Tofaş was its prominent club for 40 years uninterrupted, until Bursaspor burst onto the scene in 2014.

My previous piece on the blog had a very different subject but there was this quote towards the end:

However it is obvious this would utterly ruin all the other significant, historically important and communally relevant basketball clubs and therefore as a basketball fan it is not something I can ever support.

Mere months after Bursaspor was founded, this was their crowd in the third division of the Turkish basketball ladder:

With the causae per se and contributions of the müessese clubs established, it can be wholeheartedly said at this point; that would never happen with them. I don’t want to be dismissive of Tofaş’s support base, they gathered Bursa’s basketball following around them. To do so, they lost two finals series in 1978 and 1991, won the national cup in 1993, brought Rashard Griffith to Europe, made that infamous Korac Cup run in Griffith’s second season in Bursa, in the following off-season added Jure Zdovc and discovered Marc Jackson & kick-started his career as Griffith’s replacement when Maccabi Tel Aviv signed Griffith. Then, most notably, Tofaş made a back-to-back league and cup double in Turkey, with Griffith returning to Tofaş, adding Slaven Rimac from Cibona and kicking off his career outside of Croatia, signing David Rivers who was not even two years removed from being a wrecking ball in the 1997 EuroLeague Final Four and receiving the Final Four MVP badge, and even featuring talented domestic youth with Serkan Erdoğan and Mehmet Okur playing plenty for those 98-99 and 99-00 Tofaş teams that put a stop to Efes-Ülker duopoly and won all four league and cup titles in these two seasons. All Bursaspor had to do was start up the basketball club and compete in the third division.

I am aware, some people refer to this as “football fandom” and similar remarks. Couldn’t be more wrong. There are indeed a lot of people who are only interested in football and no other sport, or at least not basketball. Those people are so detached from basketball, they’ll never attend a basketball match. People who attend basketball matches, no matter the frequency, but like football better, are interested in football more and so forth, are not the football fandom. They are there for their clubs. You don’t see the actual football-only fandom of Bursaspor or any other club, in basketball halls. You are not a basketball fan only when it is your most favourite sport, and hopefully this statement has substance to it coming from my mout… well, my fingers.

Another, the very fact that basketball leaves a whole lot on the table outside of Istanbul, doesn’t only negatively affect the widespreadness of basketball in the country as the second most popular sport, but also holds back its sheer level of popularity too. Being widespread doesn’t necessarily have to affect the accumulated level of overall popularity. An entity might have the same amount of popularity overall in different situations, like being very widespread across regions or being concentrated in fewer areas. But in this sort of a dynamic, it does matter. And if Turkish basketball wasn’t so Istanbul-oriented, which it is, even relative to Turkish standards where a lot of things in life are already Istanbul-oriented; the general popularity of basketball would be higher too. That would cause ripple effects on the wider world of basketball, with the basketball consumer market in Turkey being even bigger and production of players & coaches from the country likely experiencing a qualitative leap as a result of a preceding leap in quantity. Of course, within less quantifiable effects, especially on a personal basis, even more dramatic effects would occur.

The issue of overconcentration on Istanbul is something the outgoing EuroLeague chairman Jordi Bertomeu had observed, as stated in an interview he gave before the 2017 Final Four. At the end of the interview, the interviewer talks about a recent basketball boom in Istanbul, quite praisingly: “Hopefully it’s a great Final Four. Istanbul… Really, basketball has exploded in the last few years. It’s obvious by the numbers. Tickets sold and the [TV] ratings are very good.”

And instead of following with the praise, hopefulness and glamour behind this perspective on basketball in Istanbul, Bertomeu chose to respond to it as a bit of a problematic situation:

But this is another point. So, one of the challenges is that, basketball is mostly in Istanbul. And one of the things that we need to also fix… to spread. Because you have four teams from Istanbul, from the market point of view, it’s difficult. So it would be good for basketball in Turkey to have a more spread [popularity/following].

Then they touched a bit on Karşıyaka’s 15-16 EuroLeague season, which had come as a result of their aforementioned 14-15 BSL championship.

Bursaspor’s EuroCup success exceedingly matters, outside of the context of their performance inside the four lines, in consideration of all this. Their basketball club is so new, they are even yet to play a full season in the top division without any crowd capacity restrictions along the way. They had a peculiar season, with a sharp turn since the new year, resulting in not hosting even one elimination round through their EuroCup journey. And yet, their supporters welcomed and greeted the team bus coming back to Bursa from Belgrade, celebrating their shocking victory coming in front of 19k Partizan supporters. And then they took out another favourite, this time in Ljubljana in front of 12500 Olimpija supporters. John Holland’s half-time interview from that quarter-final clearly resonated.

They finally got a comfortable win at Andorra. And thousands greeted the team bus returning to Bursa once again, confidently celebrating and awaiting another improbable away win in Bologna for the ultimate glory. Bursaspor’s European success and its impact in the city is for all to see. Its impact on basketball however, should materialise more gradually, but shouldn’t be glossed over. In 09-10, Bursaspor, in football, famously became only the second Anatolian club to win the Süper Lig. Only the fifth club overall, in Süper Lig’s 52 year history at the time. That was… quite improbable. However, from my perspective, a similarly improbable achievement isn’t this EuroCup run, even if possibly concludes in glory with another giant-killing improbable away win in Bologna. Bursaspor supporters are hyped, thinking of and searching pathways to EuroLeague next season, even if they lose the final. But not even that, I think in this case, considering the background and make-up of Turkish basketball clubs, the most seminally improbable achievement rather, would be the club taking its stable place along with Efes, Beşiktaş, Galatasaray, Fenerbahçe and Karşıyaka as another much needed Turkish basketball club with its own idea of where and how they want to be in basketball much like all these other clubs have their own differing perspectives, its own intrinsic connections to its support base, and its own performative identity formation. You only need to attend a match in the home arenas of these established clubs, to absorb all their randomly come about, but very different relations, self-orientation, identities and ambitions being repeated, internalised and practised. It is a beautiful thing, even if not all-appealing for everyone. As repeated ad nauseam in this piece, Turkish basketball clubs affected one another with groundbreaking impact, but mostly on the side of corporations diving into basketball investment. Hopefully, Bursaspor’s unique path will have a similar impact, just in a totally different direction.