Overseas: Some Downsides of Playing in Europe

Just as he did a few months ago at the time of his blockbuster trade to New Jersey, Nets star point guard Deron Williams has been dominating NBA headlines of late, once again with the prospect of a change in location. But beyond the already laborious task of shifting from the West coast to the East, Williams will now be skipping across the pond to Turkey, where he’s signed a contract with Besiktas of the Turkish Basketball League.

Besiktas is based in Istanbul, as are three of the league’s sixteen teams, and I think it’s safe to say that D-Will will have no trouble noticing the differences between his new home and New Jersey, or Utah for that matter.

Istanbul is one of the world’s most picturesque and captivating cities, owner of a history that has made it a part of four of the world’s major empires. It is an international tourist destination, drawing in lovers of architecture, of history, of art. Jersey is none of these things. As far as European basketball destinations go, Turkey may be one of the best countries to play in. The competition is solid, the fans knowledgeable, and the country stunningly beautiful.

There are worse places for Deron to play.

The crime.

For instance, he might have chosen to play in St Petersburg, or Moscow. The history of these Russian cities put them in a different cultural league than New Jersey or Utah, but they have their problems. Maybe the elevated crime rates in these Russian cities could serve as a deterrent to NBA players shipping in from the states.

St. Petersburg in particular has had serious problems with race related violence in the recent past, resulting in the death of several foreign students. While I’m sure that Deron would be able to navigate outside Russia’s more crime-ridden neighbourhoods, these grim tales would likely play in the back of his mind.

The weather.

Or, if crime weren’t enough to keep Deron from playing in Russia, perhaps the weather would! Siberia is home to some very strong Russian League teams, including BC Enisey Krasnoyarsk, based in Krasnoyarsk. The average daily high in Krasnoyarsk doesn’t quite hit 7 degrees Celsius, and the city has felt temperatures below -50C.

On the other hand, the city is notably gorgeous, and was named Siberia’s most beautiful city by legendary author Anton Chekhov. I guess that one’s a toss up.

While some European markets may struggle to trump Jersey in categories like climate and crime, no matter where Deron plays, he’ll experience crowd enthusiasm on a different level from anything in his long basketball past. The supporters of Belgrade’s KK Partizan, for instance, can hardly be beat.

The crowd.

Sure, Jazz fans know their basketball, and they’ve stuck with their team through long, frustrating periods of being on the championship cusp, but their fervour has never and will never match the spastic passion rumbling through Partizan’s Pionir Hall. Taking cues from the city’s obscene enthusiasm for football, Partizan fans chant, jump, sing, scream, and fiercely push their squad to victory game after raucous game. Flares explode in the stands as the mania peaks, tossing their holders into spooky silhouettes, fandom inheriting sinister airs.

Accustomed as he surely is to the, umm, appropriateness of the Jazz crowd, as well as New Jersey’s utter indifference, even a fairly pedestrian display from the Partizan fans would produce an atmosphere unparalleled by any but the most epic NBA games.

To play for a big European club almost always means living in a culturally and historically relevant city, competing against truly world-class players on a nightly basis, and enjoying the support of some of the sport’s most loyal and enthusiastic fans. And even if crime or a crummy climate may slightly mar the appeal of certain cities, neither is likely to be significantly worse than in Newark, New Jersey.

So, Deron, the beauties of Istanbul aside, the best choice you’ve made this off-season may be simply getting out of Jersey.


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