Celtics reporter Gary Washburn, traveling with the Celtics in Europe, offers daily thoughts on the sights:
Feeling comfortable in Milan
The transition from Turkey to Italy is dramatic and it took several hours to sink in, but there is definitely a level of comfort in Milan as well as an aura and atmosphere that is irresistible. The Celtics arrived here at 5 Saturday morning and coach Doc Rivers gave the players the day off to tour the city. The players appeared more relaxed in Milan in comparison to Istanbul, hitting the famous Piazza del Duomo while some participated in an NBA Cares event.
The public reaction to their presence Saturday was only a precursor to the atmosphere Sunday at the Mediolanum Forum for the matchup against Emporio Armani Milano. Of the sellout crowd of 10,672 that filled the antiquated arena with no center court scoreboard, about half were Celtics fans, donning jerseys and sporting other memorabilia. Also, former Brockton resident and middleweight champion Marvelous Marvin Hagler arrived, bringing even more of a Hollywood flair to the occasion.
The Celtics were determined to win Sunday. They were quietly embarrassed by their loss to Fenerbahce Ulker Friday and the murmurs that the European game is catching up with the NBA. They dispelled that notion with their 105-75 victory and got a raucous reception from the fans afterward. They will spend part of Monday touring the city and then head home.
Milan has tons of shopping and touristy offerings that made a six-block-long street fair directly outside my hotel too good to pass up. Who doesn’t want an Italian-made or produced item? And in the midst of perfect weather, I proceeded to scour every vendor for those desired gifts — and even an item for myself. There wasn’t the aggression from the salesmen as in Istanbul’s Spice Market. Shopping here is supposed to be seamless and easy, and the two-hour adventure was a true pleasure. I experienced a large dose of Italy’s coolness, and enjoyed the feeling.
Basketball fans enthusiastic and polite
The Asian side of Istanbul was just as stunning as the European side, although it is less-publicized. The Ulker Sports Arena is state-of-the-art and comparable to some NBA venues, although they need more than one entrance to lower-bowl seating on each side. The locals wanted Friday night to be a showcase for their city, and it was. The fans were enthusiastic and polite, getting a kick out of NBA performers Red Panda, who flips bowls onto her head while riding a unicycle, and Lucky, the Celtics mascot who performed dunks off a trampoline at halftime.
The Celtics’ time in Istanbul went well, save the 97-91 loss to Fenerbahce Ulker. I’m not sure the NBA can pull off having a team in Europe because of the travel issues and time change, but it’s apparent that European basketball needs more exposure, and respect from the US. Fenerbahce Ulker had talent, good teamwork, and a couple of players who could produce on NBA teams but find it difficult to leave because of their lucrative contracts. It is a legitimate team and one that could win more than seven games in the NBA, the number of victories the Charlotte Bobcats recorded last season.
The Celtics, and I, now head to Milan, but not without reflecting on an extraordinary week in Turkey. Europe is much more than Paris, Rome, London, and Madrid. Istanbul is an international city that deserves recognition. As I wrote in an earlier postcard, I was unsure of what to expect, but I leave knowing there are parts of the world so different from America, yet also so appealing. I truly hope this is not the last time I visit.
Buzz building for Friday’s game
As the week progresses, you get accustomed to the culture and the lifestyle in Turkey. I get excited when I see an American movie on the hotel television, even though it’s in Azerbaijani and I have to try to remember what Danny Glover was saying to Joe Pesci in “Lethal Weapon II” so I can follow.
Soccer is the No. 1 sport in Turkey, and the television is filled with the dozens of games going on around Europe. A buzz is starting to generate for Friday’s Celtics matchup with Fenerbahce Ulker at the Ulker Sports Arena. The arena apparently is one of the best in the region, fitting for such an event.
The Celtics have practiced and stayed on the European side of Istanbul since arriving here, so the trip to the Asian side should be yet another experience on what has been an almost overwhelming trip.
Thursday afternoon was about kids, as the Celtics took part in an NBA Cares event. And what we all realized during the session is that kids, regardless of location or culture, are essentially the same. They wanted to get close to KG, Pierce, and Rondo; they wanted to impress them with their basketball skills; they wanted pictures and autographs.
After a few minutes, there wasn’t much of a language barrier, especially when Doc Rivers played a “Simon Says”-type clapping game that enthralled the kids, who were aged 8-16.
KG and Rondo organized layup lines, while Dionte Christmas, Jamar Smith, and Jeff Green conducted dribbling drills. And as a testament to how much the Turks are improving at basketball, a teenager shook Christmas with a shoulder fake while dribbling, drawing major ribbing from Christmas’s teammates.
The visit here is winding down. The Celtics leave after the game Friday night for Milan. It seems the Celtics, like me, are beginning to get the hang of life in Istanbul, and it has been a pleasant exploration.
Turkey making positive impression on the Celtics
The Celtics are being inviting and friendly with the media, understanding their responsibility to represent the NBA favorably, and I personally think the players do enjoy getting away from the United States on occasion.
Istanbul is such a large city (700 square miles) that many of the cab drivers seem to have no idea where the facilities are located. It’s interesting to hear the hotel concierges and cab drivers discuss directions in Turkish. You have no idea what they’re saying or whether you’ll arrive at your destination.
Wednesday’s journey took us through some parts of the city we hadn’t seen. It seems Istanbul is just a litter of downtown areas with large buildings — and even more under construction — with ancient structures and mosques blended in. The city appears to be never-ending, and we haven’t even traveled to the Asian side, where the Celtics will play Fenerbache Ulker Friday night.
By the way, if you think people in New York and Boston drive a little on the edge, the Turks are the Michael Jordans of risky drivers. Most of the automobiles here are compacts, and drivers weave in and out of traffic, taking turns cutting each other off or swerving in front of each other. They seem to thirst for the competition.
The weather has been ideal — mid 70s during the days and low 60s in the evenings. And there is a sense of anticipation for Friday’s game. It seems the Turkish understand the opportunity to display their culture to mainstream America and so far they have made a positive impression on the Celtics.
First impressions of Istanbul -- an impressive city
Istanbul is very metropolitan, very friendly for English speakers, and massive in size. There are 10 different tours available to those interested in exploring it. I took two of them and feel as if I didn’t even scratch the surface on what was a mysterious place to me before I arrived.
I was uncertain whether it would be similar to Paris, Rome, or London or perhaps similar to a city that was less exposed to Western culture. Istanbul offers the best of both worlds. You can eat pure Turkish cuisine or American fast food. The cab drivers will take the scenic route to your destination — similar to their Boston brethren — and there is a hip crowd of sneaker-wearing young people who nestle at the pier of the Bosphorus Strait in the evenings and then pour into the local bars and clubs.
Istanbul has that rare combination of New York flair with a history and culture that can be overwhelming. A visit to the Spice Market — an essentially endless flea market of frantic intensity filled with salesmen who can easily sniff out a tourist looking for souvenirs — was especially fascinating.
On one side of the city, you can experience the serenity of the various mosques, and on the other, amongst thousands of vigorous shoppers, bargain for a good price on pomegranate tea. Istanbul has various layers, and it would take much more than a few days to discover all of them, but for now, I feel completely satisfied and energized with what fraction I have discovered so far.