The Sixth Man (cont.)
In the eyes of Magic forward Hedo Turkoglu. His dream was to become the first Turkish player to reach the NBA. That dream was fulfilled 11 years ago, when he was drafted in the first round by the Sacramento Kings. He could not have imagined the better dream that would follow him back home to Turkey last summer.
Turkoglu, now 31, was the national star of last summer's FIBA World Championship held in his country. He led his Turks to victories in their first eight games, including a Hoosiers-esque 83-82 semifinal win over Serbia in which Turkoglu fumbled the ball before feeding it to Kerem Tunceri for the winning drive with a half-second remaining. He will never forget that feeling.
"This is your business, you make money from NBA and you're doing what you love to do," he said in the Magic locker room after a recent game. "Over there it's all emotions, and you go there and play for your country, for the jersey, for the people, and you want to do more and more and you try to do your best. That's the best memory that I will have in my basketball career."
Turkoglu grew up as the Maradona of Turkish basketball. He was a public figure at a young age, vested with unprecedented hope and potential. At 18, he was playing for the Turkish national team. In the summer after his NBA debut, he was helping lead Turkey to a surprising silver medal at the European Championship in Istanbul. He was named the NBA's Most Improved Player in 2007-08, and the following year, as a 6-10 point-forward, he created mismatches that helped drive Orlando to the NBA Finals.
The original idea was for him to leave Turkey and become a basketball star abroad. Never could he have guessed that he was meant to do his most important work back home. His Turkish team -- known as "The 12 Giant Men" -- had never experienced such support.
"The fans, the whole country are so into it, they were all focused and just enjoying being together," he said. "We knew -- especially the old guys -- we would never see this opportunity again, so we just try to do our best with it. Wherever we go they supported us, they were behind us. It was really special -- you literally don't feel that from here [in the U.S.]. But as a member of it, wearing that jersey, seeing those people cheer for you, it makes you speechless."
The 81-64 loss to the U.S. in the gold-medal game was an understandable failure that did not diminish their grand success.
"I was hoping always that we can become one of the strong countries throughout the world and throughout Europe, to be able to challenge good countries like [the former] Yugoslavia, Italy, Lithuania," he said. "We were hoping to be on the same level with them."
The momentum of the summer has carried Turkoglu into this NBA season. He said he is in the best shape of his career, in part because of his preparation for the Worlds. In December, he was traded by the Suns back to the Magic, with whom he hopes to return to the NBA Finals. Even now, he feels the support of his fans back home ringing out like a seashell's echo. He knows they're watching him, and so he plays for them as well as for the Magic fans in Orlando.
"It's eight hours' difference," he said of the change in time zones that force Turkish fans to rise early to watch his games with the Magic, "and they're still going to get up and support us."
Two superlatives. Below are the All-Stars from each conference as selected by the fans and coaches. Together, they are averaging 20 points and earning $13.6 million each.
|2011 All-Star Averages|
|*All stats are through Feb. 3.|
Next is a list of the 12 most expensive players this season. They are averaging 14.8 points at an average salary of $18.7 million. This is the kind of list the owners will note as they demand shorter guaranteed contracts from the players in the next CBA. To which the players can respond: No one forced you to give us that money.
|Most Expensive Players This Season|
|*All stats are through Feb. 3.|
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