Turkish basketball club Besiktas signed former Philadelphia 76ers guard Allen Iverson to a two-year, $4 million contract earlier this month, partly because A.I. was no longer good enough to play in the NBA, but also because they saw him as the kind of American superstar who, based on sheer name recognition alone, patrons in Istanbul would show up to see play.
If Iverson's first week with the team is any indication, hoops fans in the cradle of civilization are more discerning than Beskitas management gives them credit for. Kate Fagan, covering Iverson's stint in Turkey adventure for The Philadelphia Inquirer, says it plainly:
Iverson is not a sensation here, but rather an exciting curiosity for small pockets of basketball fans, playing for a club that doesn't even compete in Euroleague, Europe's most prestigious.
The 76ers' former all-everything guard is broke - by all accounts except his own - and playing here in Istanbul for a number of reasons, none of which is to become an ambassador for Turkey's solid, but often overlooked, professional league.
Whatever Iverson's motives for coming to Turkey, they don't seem to bother the people paying his $2 million salary, nor does Fagan's withering assessment that, in a town of approximately 13 million, "thousands care that Iverson is here - maybe one in every few thousand." She explains further:
The folks working for Besiktas believe Iverson is happy, which makes them happy. They don't want to hear about the past, about poor performances and injuries and distractions and eventual implosion.
Even if you try to tell them, they just shrug, believing that this time is different, that Iverson is changing if not changed.
Iverson's Turkish journey is only a few weeks old, and those paying close attention, a slim percentage of this wonderful city, are charmed by all of Iverson's charming ways.
Considering Iverson's new club plays its games in 3,200 seat Akatlar Arena, that slim percentage could perhaps more accurately be described as anorexic.