Hapoel Holon takes on Besiktas in Basketball Champions League Play-In action on Wednesday night at 21:00 as the two squads will battle it out for a place in the Round of 16 Group Stage.
Maurizio Buscaglia’s team comes into the matchup with a full complement of players and will look to get back onto the winning track aft falling to Hapoel Eilat down by the Rea Sea earlier in the week. The Istanbul, Turkey based club will come in with a number of former NBA players littering their roster including Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, Isaiah Whitehead and Josh Reaves which is nothing new for Besiktas. The only question is will they be able to match that of one of the NBA’s greatest players ever in The Answer.
In fact, back in 2010, the Turkish team signed the number one overall pick in the 1996 NBA Draft, Allen Iverson (drafted by former Israeli league coach Brad Greenberg the then GM of the 76ers). The 11x NBA All-Star who featured for the Philadelphia 76ers, Detroit Pistons, Memphis Grizzlies and Denver Nuggets and won the 2001 MVP actually played the final 10 games (which was really 11, more on that later) of his illustrious career split between the Turkish league and the EuroCup in Istanbul for Besiktas who play at the 3,200 seat Akaltar Arena.
It had been reported in many outlets that Iverson was broke, and with no NBA team showing interest in his services, he had no choice but to look across the pond for work. That is when Besiktas came calling as Iverson’s agent Gary Moore made the “Shidduch” between the two sides in what was a 2 years deal worth $4 million.
However, Iverson’s time at Besiktas lasted only a couple of months until a leg injury sidelined him for good as the games on Turkish soil would be his last as a professional basketball player.
AI’s first game for the Black Eagles took place against Hemofarm Stada in EuroCup action at home in a packed arena. Iverson made his presence known from the get go in a game that saw visitors outscore Besiktas 31-22 in the final frame to pour cold water on the diminutive guard’s debut in which he scored 15 points going 3/4 from deep in 24 minutes of playing time. Following the game Mustafa Abdul-Hamid from Stada said that it was an honor to play against the legendary star.
The Georgetown Hoyas product then made his first foray into Germany when Besiktas took on BG Goettingen in game that was eventually struck from the record books. The Braunschweig based club slipped by Iverson and Besiktas 85-83 in game that saw the former Philadelphia 76ers star score 18 points.
The intrepid international basketball journalist Dave Hein who witnessed AI’s first game on German soil in packed house, had this to write about for Basketball in Europe, “On the one hand, there were signs reading things like: “We talkin’ about practice!” and “Yo A.I. This sure as hell ain’t practice!” And then there were dozens of fans running around with NBA no. 3 jerseys from Philadelphia, Denver, Detroit and Memphis and even no. 4 Team USA jerseys. Yeah, this was an Allen Iverson crowd.”
As for Iverson’s performance itself, the guard had the following to say, “My whole thing is to live up to my expectations. That’s all I want to do. Just make sure every game that I play – win or lose – the fans and the people in the city enjoy what they see and know that I’m going to come out and play as hard as I can and give everything I have to this team like I’ve done with everything I’ve been on in the NBA.”
Iverson also spoke about coming to play for Besiktas as the next step in his career and not necessarily to find a way back to the NBA, “No, [the NBA] is not a goal of mine. That’s a goal I have already accomplished. I already accomplished being an NBA basketball player. I’ve done a lot of things in that league that not too many people have had a chance to do and have the luxury to perform at that level. I’ve done a lot of things that I’m proud of in the NBA for the years that I was there.”
“I’ve accomplished so many things. And my heart is here now. This is what I want to do. Obviously this team gave me an opportunity and gave me a chance. And I think I would be letting them down if I was just focused on getting back to the NBA. My focus is on getting this team better and doing everything I can for this club. If I can have it my way I would finish my career right here.”
As to why the game was wiped out of history?
The Eurocup’s independent disciplinary judge ordered a full replay of the BG Goettingen vs. Besiktas JK Cola Turka game from the second week of the competition’s regular season. The judge ruled that the original game was invalid due to the failure of the game clock to stop at the end of 40 minutes, seconds before Gottingen made a shot that broke a tie between the teams. Besiktas immediately protested the result and formalized its protest within the allotted 48 hours for documentation to be presented.
Iverson’s next matchup was another home game, this time against local rival Fenerbahce in which he was held to just 2 points in 19 minutes in a game that ended in the visitors favor. Next up was Trabzonspor where he made an impact with 14 points which set him on his way in league play here he averaged 14.3 points in the seven domestic clashes.
One of the games of note was a loss at Tofas Bursa where Iverson scored 26 points but it was something else that stood out as Turkish scribe Ferhat Yeşiltaş fondly remembers, “While the game was going on, a sound bomb (a firework type thing) was thrown from the stands onto the court and I can’t forget the fear Iverson felt with that sound. All of a sudden, he had a “where did I come to” expression on his face.”
The best though was yet to come Yeşiltaş recalls from the EuroCup contest in France, “Beşiktaş had a match with Asvel at that time. Due to heavy snowfall, Asvel did not send the bus to take Beşiktaş from the hotel to the hall where the match will be played. The whole team went to the hall where the match was to be played by subway train. Iverson appeared right in front of you on the train. It was a shocking surprise for the people there.”
All in all Iverson’s EuroCup stats stood at 9.3 points in 3 games and in another interesting fact, he played ASVEL twice where former Maccabi Tel Aviv big man Andrija Zizic who was part of the 2014 Euroleague champion and the brother of current Yellow & Blue center Ante Zizic featured.
Iverson’s final game of his career was an 85-83 overtime loss at EFES Pilsen where he scored 17 points in 40 minutes of play back win January 8, 2011, almost 11 years to the day that the current version of Besiktas visits the Holy Land.
Following the game, the 2x NBA All-Star Game MVP received an injection to treat a calcium deposit in his calf by the world renowned surgeon Dr. James Andrews and would need 6-8 of rest to recover and was expected to make a full recovery. However, it wasn’t meant to be as Iverson never made a return to the court for Besiktas and hung up his sneakers for good.
As a postscript, the next NBA star to sign with Besiktas was Deron Williams during the 2011 NBA lockout and had his jersey retired by the club after playing in 7 league games and averaging 19.7 points and 6.4 assists. Williams also featured in the EuroChallenge after not getting out of the EuroCup qualifying round. He scored 50 points against none other than Goettingen.
Is Rondae Hollis-Jefferson the next NBA star to make his mark for Besiktas? Holon will need to make sure that they close him down along with the rest of his Turkish teammates to make sure he doesn’t land up in Besiktas lore for years to come.