It’s been two weeks since the Final Four illuminated the basketball scene and the city of Istanbul. Plenty of time to reflect on those four wonderful days I spent in a place that I consider magic, with its scent of Orient, the lure of a past that is always present, everywhere you look, everywhere you go. I first set foot in Istanbul in the spring of 1992. I was 27 years old and trying to make it in the world of basketball journalism. What better occasion to get acquainted with the upper echelon and try to make some connections with people “in the know” that the crowning moment of European basketball? And what a final we had, with Zele Obradovic brining home his first title thanks to a buzzer beater by Sasha Djordjevic that gave Partizan Belgrade the win against Joventut Badalona.
Getting a grip of the city the first time around was not easy. The language was a barrier hard to overcome, especially with taxi driver. We got lost on our way to Abdi Ipekci and barely made it to the game! But seeing the Bosphorus, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi, the Spice Market or the Grand Bazaar for the first time is an experience I will never forget.
Since then I’ve been to Istanbul over 25 times (and being an AC Milan supporter I will not mention the one when I came for the Champions League final…). Every time the sense of wonder remains the same. The difference is that now I know how to get around (better with the metro than with cabs since the traffic has gotten much worse in 25 years…). I have my favorite restaurant, Beyti in Florya (but Gelik is always a safe haven after a late game), a trusted spice seller that remembers me every time I come and knows I have a sweet tooth for Turkish Delight… Or my walk across the Galata Bridge that always leaves me wondering if 007 (Sean Connery, the of course) will come running chased down by some spy from Russia (with love, of course!).
And the basketball is always great. The atmosphere at Sinan Erdem Arena was unparalleled. Fener was amazing and I was very glad they won because a little slice of Italy also got to the top of the mountain, with Gigi Datome and Maurizio Gherardini. Every time before I leave for Istanbul I get asked by friends or co-workers: “Aren’t you scared of a terrorist attack?”. That is so silly. People, just watch the news: London, Paris, Brussells, Berlin, Nice, Manchester, Orlando, New York, Boston. Is any place safe? No, not anymore in my lifetime at least. So, please, just enjoy Istanbul. It’s as wonderful a city as they come
La Gazzetta dello Sport