For the first time in franchise history, the Oklahoma City Thunder is traveling abroad participating in the NBA Global Games, an exhibition tour of international cities.
The team currently is in Manchester, England, where it will play its second preseason game Tuesday against the Philadelphia 76ers. But the weeklong trip kicked off in Istanbul, Turkey, where the Thunder defeated Fenerbahce Ulker 95-82 in its preseason debut Saturday.
Mary J. Calvey, an Oklahoma City resident, attended Saturday's game while in Istanbul representing the Rotary Club of Oklahoma City. Calvey chronicled her experiences over the weekend, providing an inside look at the atmosphere and excitement surrounding the Thunder's first-ever international contest.
As told to The Oklahoman:
After spending several days wandering the narrow streets of Old Town Istanbul in Sultanahmet, I hailed a sparse cab to take me to the Moçka region on the “European Side” to meet with my Kadiköy Rotary Club friends to drive to the Oklahoma City Thunder game at Ülker Arena on the Asian side. High school Latin taught me that “Gallia est divisa in partes tres” and the same is true of this Turkish City built on 7 (now maybe 17) hills spanning both sides of the Golden Horn and across the Bosporus into Asia.
The Fenerbahce basketball team was determined to live up to the reputation Turks cherish of being fierce warriors. Their modern arena sprang up in an area of new high-rises that was country 10 years ago. The upper tier filled up before the lower seats, perhaps because of the pricey tickets for the lower areas. There were a surprising number of Thunder T-shirts, hats and Kevin Durant jerseys decking out the kids in the crowd. The audience was basketball-savvy, erupting in loud OHH-OHHs when a fast break was going to lead to a dunk by either team.
The first half the Fener team took advantage of Thunder misses to shoot some rainbows, which drew admiring applause and cheers. On defense, it was hard to tell whether the Thunder was just cold or the defense was really scratching and clawing. But after Kendrick Perkins went out with what looked like a cut while rebounding, the referees called a few more fouls and the Thunder, on deliberate shooting, finally pulled ahead just before half.
After a halftime show featuring fantastically colored slam dunk trampoline artists, Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka energized the crowd with several enthusiastic dunks and blocked shots. Derek Fisher forcefully invited a Fener player to waltz rather than get a breakaway score, and the younger Thunder players demonstrated their quickness.
Reggie Jackson sliced though the defenders, and Stephen Adams showed us that he appears to have good, soft hands on several plays.
After the game, the crowd cheered enthusiastically for both teams and funneled out to the gray, windy late afternoon. My nephew and niece joined me at the game, and we didn't know where to get public transport or a taxi. So we shivered down the hill toward lots of traffic looking for anything heading in their direction. After about half a mile we found a taxi willing to take us to Kadiköy for dinner and fun playing with their almost 3-year-old son, reminiscing about the fierce driveway basketball games between the Calvey fathers and sons years ago.
Everywhere you go in Turkey, “where you from” comes right after “traffic is terrible”, a lament but also a thing of pride as Istanbul is growing faster than infrastructure can keep up. The arena was modern and comfortable, the basketball entertaining, but I reflected that the day before, my Rotary partners suggested we leave two hours early to get to the graduation ceremony for the Women's Literacy Project we were celebrating.
On the way to the game, we thought allowing two hours on a Saturday was plenty of time. But the bottlenecks that can't be avoided, the bridges across the Bosporus, the suddenly narrowing streets, and the manic driving that results from so many traffic delays, reinforced my belief that much more infrastructure, both roads and transport, are essential for this city entering the European and Asian commerce arena at such a pace. Thousands of ships go through the Bosporus from Asia to the Mediterranean and Europe every month. Millions of people visit Istanbul for tourism and trade and, this time, for basketball, the universal language of sport!