Coach K’s teams have a knack for getting in situations where, if victorious, everyone in the stadium will hate them.
In April, his Blue Devils faced off against Indianapolis hometown heroes Butler in Indy’s Lucas Oil Stadium. 90% of the stadium was rooting for Butler, and probably 95% of the nation joined in (hey, Duke hate produces great ratings). I was at the game. The collective groan when Gordon Hayward‘s shot clanged off the rim was cavernous and sad.
We can apply the same principle to the United States-Turkey game tomorrow in Istanbul, the host nation’s largest city. But multiply it by a factor of ten thousand.
I mean, Turkey has history. Istanbul used to be Constantinople, seat of the Eastern Roman Empire. And their culture has welcomed roundball wholeheartedly. They’ve got serious baggage with another traditional European hoops power, Greece, among other rivals. I’d even venture that basketball is becoming their national sports pastime, replacing soccer much the way football is replacing baseball in the U.S. Even if Turkey’s national basketball prowess is rooted in a 70’s American TV series, they’re nothing to screw around with.
In tomorrow’s gold medal game, the U.S. teams finds itself in a familiar position, but not in a familiar locale. Everyone knows that Europeans take their sports a little more seriously than Americans do. As Pete Thamel of the New York Times tweeted earlier today, there is no atmosphere in American athletics that will compare to tomorrow’s exhibition of national pride in Turkey. In Istanbul’s Sinan Erdem Dom, in the streets, in distant cities of this very large country—there will be riots, fights, hospitalizations, win or lose.
After the national title win over Butler, I ran around the stadium screaming Duke cheers and waving my shirt in the air. American fans in Istanbul, be advised. Don’t do that. If the reaction to Turkey’s dramatic win over Serbia in today’s semi-final is any indication, you’ll want to get out fast, preferably in an armored car.
USA fans watching from anywhere but Turkey will cheer on The Durantula and Co. as they face off with a seasoned squad led by Hedo Turkoglu. The Turks also featured Carlos Boozer’s new Chicago Bulls teammate Omer Asik, who will be an excellent NBA center.
I won’t be surprised by any result tomorrow—a blowout by either team is completely possible, depending on who’s more psyched out by the undoubtedly insane game atmosphere. It’s youth and talent vs. experience and home country advantage. It should be a great game.
Let’s go, America.