David Blatt In Exile

Confessions of a coach who left behind the NBA 'machine'—and That Guy (aka LeBron)—for the very un-American exceptionalism of life in Europe

By Amos Barshad

December 1, 2016

It's Thursday night in Istanbul, and David Blatt is making sure I get a meatball. We're upstairs at the Beetle Lounge, a bar tucked away above the Volkswagen Arena, where his basketball team, Darüşşafaka Doğuş, has just won in prime-time Euroleague action. Downstairs, in the arena proper, there's one bustling food stand serving up prepacked salads and instant coffee and no booze. Up here, the bar—embroiled in darkness and slashed with red racing stripes—is stacked.

Waiters in dress shirts and bowties carry trays of hors d'oeuvres and cutting boards topped with grapes and miscellaneous cheeses. Young women in all black offer Coach hearty congratulations for tonight's win and even heartier glasses of red wine. Throughout, Blatt banters with the easy swagger of the ex-jock that he is.

He welcomes a mixed-age crowd with crisply enunciated Turkish salutations: Iyi geceler! Geldiğin için teşekkürler! He greets a young lady: And who is this beautiful woman? Wolfing down a close-enough approximation of an American-style hot dog and waving over a bartender to get me an Efes beer, Coach plays the gracious host with an aura of enhanced positivity. As a new tray of carnivorous canapés goes floating past, he helpfully points it right out: "Meatballs!"

I believe I have seen Blatt smile more in the past 20 minutes than I did during his entire 581-day tenure as head coach of the reigning NBA champion Cleveland Cavaliers. It was a year-and-a-half of tumult and a high-profile experiment: He was the first Euroleague coach to jump directly into an NBA head coaching job. And it ended, in January of this year, with his curt firing.

The season before, he'd led injury-hit Cleveland to within two games of a title. At the time of his dismissal, the Cavs had the best record in the Eastern Conference. But a series of high-profile incidents had presented a counternarrative: simmering mutiny.

There were blown timeouts, unruly huddles, strange physical sideline interactions—all of it infinitely dissected in public. One night, during a tight playoff game against the Chicago Bulls, Blatt drew up a play for someone other than the greatest player in the world to take the last shot. And the greatest player in the world waved it off, and then told the world about it. It all added up to a powerful suggestion: that, no, Coach was not fully in control of his would-be championship team—that the team belonged to LeBron James.

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Blatt with James in January, one week before the Cavs severed ties. "Of course he didn't fire me," Blatt says. "I look back at my NBA experience now, as distance." (Getty Images)

By the end of the summer, Tyronn Lue, formerly Blatt's lieutenant, would lead the Cavs to that title in stirring fashion. We got to see our most gifted athlete as an underdog: Facing the ruthless efficiency of Golden State, LeBron became John McClane in Nakatomi Plaza. As sports drama, it was sublime. It also left Blatt the forgotten man in the most memorable NBA Finals of a generation.

At the time, Blatt was in Italy consulting for the Canadian national team. "Certainly, you feel a twinge," he tells me. "But look, I had a lot of people that I worked with on that team. I felt genuine happiness for them. I knew what we'd gone through to bring the team to that point, where they could compete on that level. There was genuine joy for the people I cared about."

Due to time differences, Blatt didn't watch the Finals live. "I was following it, but I wasn't watching," he says, "because I was asleep."

Before all that—before the NBA even had a chance to move on—Blatt quietly headed back to where he made his legacy. In May of this year, insiders say he signed a two-year deal worth upward of $4 million to coach Darüşşafaka Doğuş, here in Istanbul. And if his time in Cleveland was marked with an undercurrent of insurrection, his European return suggests its own throughline. Blatt won't say as much himself, but if all goes according to plan, the return becomes a wilful repudiation of the American perception of his long, success-riddled career.

For 20 years in Europe, and with victories across the continent and the Middle East—most famously, with Israel's Maccabi Tel Aviv—he'd been running championship teams. And no matter what had gone down in Cleveland last winter, he wasn't about to stop now. There were NBA assistant opportunities discussed, but Blatt was only focused on top openings in New York, Houston and Sacramento. "I was interviewing for head coaching jobs," Blatt would tell me later of his post-Cleveland days. "And if I wasn't gonna get one, I was gonna come back to Europe. I made that decision on day one."

Along with traditional powerhouses Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray, Blatt's Darüşşafaka (Dah-ROO-sha-sha-FAH-kah) is one of a whopping seven pro basketball programs in Istanbul. As of the 2013-2014 season, it was playing in a secondary division. But its new owner, Doğuş—a major Turkish holding company that owns everything from banks to TV channels to Günaydın Handmade Burger—is intent on cracking the upper echelons of European hoops.

Way before Cleveland, Blatt was famous. (In Israel, he starred in soap and headache pill commercials.) And overseas, his NBA sojourn has only burnished his credentials: Blatt's salary more than doubled since the last time he coached in Europe. After Fenerbahçe’s Željko Obradović—known by some as the "Serbian Wizard"—Blatt is now the highest-paid coach in Europe. For Darüşşafaka, hiring Blatt was a big play, an indication of the organization’s resolve. Still, as most everyone readily admits, there's a ways to go.

"I was interviewing for head coaching jobs, and if I wasn't gonna get one, I was gonna come back to Europe. I made that decision on day one."


"Fridays are full," Alp, Darüşşafaka's kindly PR man, explained to me as we took in the pre-meatball game, against Germany's Brose Bamberg. "Thursdays"—like tonight—"we have some problems with attendance." The evening's announced attendance at the Volkswagen is 3,000-plus but feels like a third of that.

It's a lovely room with a performance-space vibe, something like a very large black-box theater. (The front hall boasts an umbrella rack.) In the press area, one reporter surreptitiously watches the 1973 Soviet-made Nazi spy miniseries Seventeen Moments of Spring. In the corner, under a section of raised seats, cops in riot gear stand and watch the game intently, their plastic shields left aside in neat piles. They won't be seeing action tonight.

Still, with a minute to go, a petite marching band, its members clad in snazzy red jackets, jams away on snare drums and trumpets and cowbells near the Darüşşafaka bench. In a bold rejoinder to the traditions of the form, they are not so much marching as they are slouching. Behind them a section of diehards—17 or 18 intermittently moustachioed young men—stand up and fist-pump in unison. Singing, they raise their hands with preemptive triumph.

And so when Brad Wanamaker, Coach's new star, sticks a short jumper to give Darüşşafaka the lead with seconds to go, there is genuine jubilation. After the team holds on for one last defensive possession, swingman Will Clyburn sprints down the court, dribbling out the clock, and then tosses the ball high in the air.

It is the 11th game of the season.

At the postgame press conference, the news station microphones are surrounded by an array of a Doğuş-owned brand of bagged, stuffed croissants. It is the 78th anniversary of the death of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and Blatt cooly kicks off his remarks with a tribute to the founder of modern Turkey. "Our fans are growing," he adds with pride. "They are showing that they are few, but mighty."

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"He's really a superstar—like LeBron James when he comes out here," a veteran Euroleague reporter says of Blatt, who has coached for more than two decades overseas. (Courtesy of Darüşşafaka Doğuş)

Darüşşafaka was founded in 1863, under the Ottoman Empire, as a school for wayward orphans: It translates to "House of Affection." ("Meaning…affection...for the orphans," my man Alp says.) The school's sports division was founded in 1914, the year World War I broke out. And just like its various juniors clubs, the pro basketball team practices on the school grounds, where, in the bathrooms, viscous pink soap comes dispensed in water bottles with holes punched out of plastic caps. Out front, a kiosk called Mr. Shaker's Cafe does brisk business in Twix bars and pressed paninis. And everywhere, there are roving bands of children.

Wanamaker dribbles in circles around some of these shrieking, leaping youth. On the other side of the court, two kids ignore hoops altogether in favor of a cockeyed game of badminton. Finally, respectfully, the kids are shooed away, and Coach takes his team through fast-break drills.

"LeBron never comes up in conversation," Clyburn, the swingman, tells me when we chat at the school, a Mr. Shaker's cheese panini in one hand, his passport in the other. "Never comes up. Coach never mentioned it. And no one's ever asked. To be honest, I don't really care. I'm pretty sure people are curious, but we're in Istanbul. That's kind of all that matters right now."

"No, he doesn't speak much about that," Luke Harangody, the former Notre Dame standout and Darüşşafaka forward, concurs.

"I think he pretty much closed that chapter in his book," Wanamaker says. "He really doesn't talk too much about it. He's here working with us."

"LeBron never comes up in conversation. Never comes up. Coach never mentioned it. And no one's ever asked."

— WILL CLYBURN, Darüşşafaka swingman

Those three American ex-pats have all variously nibbled at the edges of the NBA. They seem aware that a quiet deflection is the preferred practice on this line of questioning. Thank God, then, for the Turks. When I ask backup guard Mehmet Yağmur if he's talked to Coach about his infamous past life, he answers with glee: "Not yet! But I want to ask him how it is. They talk about [Blatt] a lot—too much gossiping when he was there. I need to ask him about that!"

As Blatt reclines in his office—feet up on the wide table, hands behind his head—I try to ask him myself. He chooses his words carefully. He chooses, by his own admission, to project an aura of purposeful positivity. From the mosque behind the school, we hear the sound of the muezzin calling evening prayer.

After you were hired, you spoke about coming in cold in your various international stops: Italy, Turkey, Greece. You suggested Cleveland would be similar. Was it?

The NBA game is very different. The lifestyle is very, very different. And it takes time to get used to that. I don't think that initially I really realized how different it was. I was just thinking—basketball. Then—what I thought WASN'T different about basketball was ALSO pretty different.

It takes time to learn that and to be comfortable and to become credible. But that's OK. For me, that was a great learning experience. It didn't end the way that I wanted it to. But I've been up enough times in my life to where I can get knocked down and know well enough to get back up. I look back at my NBA experience now, as distance—as there becomes a LITTLE bit of distance, I try to look back at it fondly and positively. And that's a choice too. That's another choice you can make.

There were certain incidents in Cleveland that were really magnified and analyzed…

Yeah, I don't wanna go into too much of that. I will say that the media has its job and its information to either create or report on. They have their own set of agendas and motivations and responsibilities. And that's all part of this enormous machine that makes the NBA so interesting and so attractive for people to follow and for owners and companies and media outlets to support. So if you want to enjoy the fruits of all that, then you can and should expect that not everything will necessarily go, as you see fit! You just need to understand that you're a part of that machine.

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LeBron James talks to David Blatt at Quicken Loans Arena on April 5, 2015, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Getty Images)

How do you evaluate your own performance in Cleveland?

I wish that I had had the knowledge and the experience that I have now when I first came in. I think I could have done a much better job. I know I could have. And I probably could have handled everything a lot easier. But, I didn't! I went through what I went through. I know in my heart I could have done more. I could have done a better job. Although, I didn't do a BAD job.

Is there anything specific that you would have done diff—

There's a lot of things. A lot of things. Basketball things. Personal things. There’s a LOT of things I could have done if I had more experience. But, again, I didn't do too bad.

The Cavs made sure you got a championship ring. Has that arrived? Where are you keeping it?

I haven't received it, and it’s not really a big deal when I get it. It was never about the ring—it was about the way it was presented. [General manager] David [Griffin] called me and basically presented it as earned, not given. And you know—it's a better way to go out if you have to go out, right?

Before the Cleveland job, Steve Kerr had offered you an assistant position in Golden State. Do you think about how things would have been different if you had accepted?

I've thought about that, yeah. I've thought about it. But almost anyone in my situation would have done the same. But certainly, I've thought about that. If you could have guaranteed me that I could have worked together with Steve for a year or two and then I could have gotten the same job, I would have said—"Yes. Let's do it that way." You know what I mean?

But you're naturally competitive. You want to be on top.

Not only that. I had a chance to continue doing what I'd been doing for 20 years—being a head coach.

The other interesting thing is that when you were hired, Cleveland thought it was rebuilding. Then LeBron signed.

If someone were to offer me the same scenario—let me do a year or two without LeBron and then work my way into it…but what am I, crazy? I would have said no to having LeBRON JAMES right now?

What about your relationship with LeBron? What did people get right or wrong about that?

I don't think it's important. You know, I don't think it's important. I'll say this: I had the opportunity to coach the greatest player in the world. And there's not a lot of people that can say that.

By the time we're done talking, the sun has set. Out front of the Darüşşafaka school grounds, by the Mr. Shaker's, gray-haired men sit and talk and stir and sip impossibly tiny coffees. It seems they've been here a while, and they'll be here for a little while longer.

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David Blatt reacts during the Turkish Airlines Euroleague basketball match between Darüşşafaka Doğuş and Brose Bamberg at Volkswagen Arena on November 10, 2016, in Istanbul, Turkey. (Getty Images)

Born to a biochemist father and a teacher mother in 1959, David Michael Blatt grew up a diehard Boston Celtics fan in Framingham, Massachusetts. His parents split when he was eight; his father moved to the Netherlands. Blatt's two older sisters—both high school basketball players, and the reason Blatt got into the game—went with his dad.

At Framingham South High, he starred at point guard. Recruited at Princeton, he ran the school's famous proprietary offense under Pete Carril; at practice, he'd move through puffs of Coach Carril's cigar smoke. After one Ivy League game, an Israeli-American scout invited him to go play summer-league ball at Kibbutz Gan Shmuel, near Hadera. Blatt hadn't so much as heard the word "kibbutz" before.

But he went, and eventually, he stayed. For over a decade after Princeton, Blatt played in the Israeli pro leagues. When an Achilles injury ended his run, he transitioned into pro coaching, first as an assistant with Hapoel Galil Elyon and then all over Israel and Europe. In 2014, he pulled plucky, undergunned Maccabi to a Euroleague championship as shocking, on its own terms, as the Cavs' 2016 triumph. Along the way, he met a woman named Kinneret, had four kids, made a home. And he became a local legend. "I fell in love with it there," he says.

In between, Blatt watched as Scud missiles of the Gulf War rained over Israel from Baghdad and, coaching in the Galilee, got used to the Katyusha rockets fired by Hezbollah from neighboring Lebanon. During the actual games, anything was liable to fly onto the court: flares, batteries, Euro coins, cellphones. During a nadir in Israeli-Turkey relationships, Maccabi traveled to Istanbul under the protection of the Mossad, the famed elite Israeli intelligence unit. "The Mossad guys, they took their job seriously," Maccabi great David Blu says. "But then they were in the locker room with us, celebrating."

For one road game in Serbia, Blatt faced a singular coaching challenge: After a politically motivated killing outside the U.S. Embassy in Belgrade, the State Department issued a travel warning, and three of his American players refused to get on the plane. Coach's takeaway: "We lost the game! We were missing three of our starters!"

Blatt approaches the political intrigue sneaking into his sports career with a kind of shrugging nonchalance: "I've seen all kinds of events that have changed the faces of places." Then he adds, with a smile, "I didn't experience it coaching Treviso"—in the idyll of Northern Italy—"where the most exciting thing is if the cappuccino isn't made perfectly." There was that one Olimpia Milano fan, though, who ran on the court after a loss, shouting, Ebreo di merda! "Shitty Jew," Blatt translates. "That's not a light one!"

In July, two months after Blatt signed with Darüşşafaka, a breakaway faction of the Turkish army attempted to wrest control of the government from President Recep Erdogan. Coup-fighters forced newscasters to read pledges of allegiance live on air and flew F-16 fighter jets over the tourist hub of Taksim Square. Alp, my man from team PR, recalled to me how fearful he and his family were at the time, bunkered down in their home near Taksim: The windows of one neighbor's house shattered from a jet's sonic boom, and they sat and waited for theirs to do the same. The coup attempt was roughly and quickly put down; in the months since, Erdogan has continually consolidated executive powers.

Blatt outlines a play for his new star, Brad Wanamaker (No. 11), on a team full of American ex-pats having the time of their lives, despite turbulence in Turkey. (Courtesy of Darüşşafaka Doğuş)

Thinking of Blatt moving from the jocular nothingness of the Midwest and back into the tempest of the Middle East seemed, at first, telling: For all of the melodrama that had come with coaching LeBron James inside the "enormous machine" of the NBA, Cleveland was still America, and so it was still blanketed by the numbness of American stability. Leaving it behind, Blatt found himself again face-to-face with the pricklier, more existential crises with which he'd been surrounded for decades.

And then Donald Trump was elected president, and that famous American stability seemed a whole hell of a lot shakier. Stuck in famously nightmarish Istanbul traffic on the way from Atatürk Airport, my cabdriver smoked and delighted himself in the election results. "Trump Tower number one! Trump Tower number one," he chanted. "Clinton, down, down!" Seeing my less than enthused reaction, he play-acted calling in a tip to the chief and having me arrested. Wrists over the steering wheel, he made a clicking noise and let out a mighty, rasping laugh.

A life here in Europe, after all, does provide its own singular experiences—particularly a life in hoops. Wanamaker, originally from Philly and a one-time star at the University of Pittsburgh, told me lovingly of eye-opening trips to Milan, to Venice, to Pistoia. He called a charming boat trip down the Amalfi "the best thing I've done in my life." While playing in Germany, he watched his young son pick up the native tongue: "They go to the playground, and he's out there playing with his friends speaking nothing but German—when I see stuff like this, it's crazy."

Blatt and his family are decades into just that kind of rich, representatively multicultural European experience. Coaching in Europe also made Blatt rich, way before the NBA came calling. And his dispassionate realpolitik is one more peculiar gift that Europe has provided him. It is the knowledge that the world as you know it is always, always liable to slip out from under your feet.

"People ask me, 'Are you frightened here? Are you worried now,'" Blatt said to me, back in his office. "I've lived that life for 30-something odd years. You can't live in fear. That's my response."

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In 2014, after leading Maccabi Tel Aviv to the Euroleague title, Blatt held an emotional press conference. Speaking in his accented but nimble Hebrew, he announced his return to the U.S. "Since my childhood in Boston, following the Celtics, the NBA was my dream," he explained. "It's also the only challenge in which I haven't yet succeeded, that I haven't yet conquered." He shouted out beloved players, recounted cherished memories, smiled with knowing joy. "I want everyone to know that I'm leaving the home but not the family," he said. "My heart is heavy but full. I love you all."

While in Cleveland, Israeli hoops fans kept a close eye on their adopted son through the eight-hour time difference. A popular commercial for the sports channel featured Blatt rustling drowsy fans in the middle of the night: LeBron mechake! LeBron's waiting! "People were waking up at 2 a.m., 3 a.m., 4 a.m. in the morning to watch Cleveland, to see David coach," says Guy Goodes, Blatt's assistant coach at Maccabi. "It was one-country support." And when he was fired, the flip was switched. "It was funny—children saying, 'That's it, we don't wanna see any more Cleveland! We pissed off!'"

When Blatt officially returned to Israel this summer for a preseason Darüşşafaka-Maccabi matchup, "the game was sold out completely," says David "Dubi" Pick, a veteran Euroleague reporter based in Tel Aviv. "He's really a superstar—like LeBron James when he comes out here."

After years of covering him extensively, Pick developed a relationship with Blatt. But after Cleveland, Blatt never quite fully opened up to him—something the reporter never expected him to do. "If David was anything but a basketball coach, he'd probably run for president. He's a great politician. Every word that comes out of his mouth is calculated."

"You can't do anything without LeBron's blessing; it doesn't take Albert Einstein to figure that out."

— KEITH DAMBROT, LeBron's high school coach

Keith Dambrot, the head basketball coach at the University of Akron, coached James at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School, and the two are still close. I called him the other day on the road, to ask about working with the greatest player in the world. "You can't be afraid to coach him," Dambrot says, in a charming twang. "Like all great players, he wants to be coached. I still tell him the truth whenever I talk to him. I think that's what you do with people you care about: tell 'em the truth. And whenever he's had any slippage, I know he's got in his heart, and in his mind, goodness."

"You can't do anything without LeBron's blessing; it doesn't take Albert Einstein to figure that out," he says of Blatt's firing. "But LeBron's never said a negative thing to me about Coach Blatt. And that's the honest-to-God truth."

Back in the Darüşşafaka office, I'd poked and prodded Blatt about Cleveland until getting shut down. As a fan, I understood Blatt's decision to not risk one slip that might come back to doom him professionally. As a reporter on deadline, there were questions I had to ask. Once I'm back home in the U.S., Blatt gamely agrees to one more interview, this time over the phone.

Do you think LeBron James is coachable?

Hey, listen: How many championships has he won? Obviously, he's coachable. I can name you 30 NBA coaches right now that would love to have him.

Do you think LeBron James fired you?

I don't think that. Of course he didn't fire me. He's not the one to do that. That was the management decision.

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David Blatt celebrates with LeBron James and Kevin Love of the Cleveland Cavaliers during the first half against the Miami Heat at Quicken Loans Arena on October 30, 2015, in Cleveland, Ohio. (Getty Images)

Why do you prefer not speaking about working with LeBron in detail? Is it out of respect for your career? Out of respect for his?

Well, I think it's the media's idea and effort that it should be all about that. But it's not all about that for me. MY experience was not all about that.

You were on top of the Eastern Conference the day you lost your job. Do you remember how you were feeling about the direction of the team that day?

Look: I understand you're leading toward things, but that's in the past. I've chosen to leave it in the past. I try not to do too much thinking about that anymore. It is what it is, and it was what it was. I have a lot of memories and a lot of thoughts that are tucked away for me now. I've got other things to do. And that's what I've chosen.

When Blatt was hired in Cleveland, the team was a rebuilding project. In the offseason after his hiring, as chatter around James' return to the Cavs picked up, Blatt and the team's executives did not dare to say LeBron's name: They called him That Guy. Ultimately, Blatt coached for a season-and-a-half and took a team and a player—a team and a player he was never meant to have—to NBA records and the NBA Finals.

Circling back, I try again, one more time, and ask a stammering, jumbled version of the same basic question: You've said there were things you would have approached differently. Was one of them your relationship with That Guy?

Here, politely enough, as he did in Istanbul when I pushed, Blatt snaps again.

"Man," he says. "You're just not gonna leave this alone? We went one way down this thing, and you're just not leaving it alone."

Then, with an imperceptible shift, his tone again becomes calm and flat and even. "When I say I could have done a better job, that includes everything. I can't say that I did a bad job, because I didn't, you know? But I certainly believe I could have done more and done better. And for that I hold myself responsible. Not other people."

"He failed miserably with his relationship to LeBron James. But he did not fail as a coach. He did not fail on the basketball court."

— DAVID PICK, veteran Euroleague reporter

There's one uniquely American point of view, and it's a binary take on life: It is the idea that if you have not succeeded, utterly and completely, then you have failed. It's true: David Blatt used to coach the best player in the world, and now he's in Istanbul. But to call that a failure would be to misunderstand Blatt's career. It would be to misunderstand the past triumphs he has achieved and the future triumphs he still intends to grasp.

"He failed with his relationship with LeBron James, I agree to that," Pick, the Euroleague reporter, told me. "He failed miserably with his relationship to LeBron James. But he did not fail as a coach. He did not fail on the basketball court."

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Be! Be! Be! (Clap. Clap.) La! La! La! BESIKTAS! BESIKTAS!

It's Saturday night in Istanbul, and Darüşşafaka is across town, playing its in-city rival Beşiktaş J.K.—a perfect opportunity for 3,200 or so full-throated maniacs to pack full the BJK Akatlar Arena and sing their heads off. Peacefully, though: At the front entrance, fans are encouraged not to keep their chunky Lira coins as potential projectiles but instead to voluntarily deposit them into one clear glass box.

There are club anthems that sound like USSR ground-war march tunes, and elaborate chants. There are the potently shrill hand-in-mouth whistles: Taken in mass, they sound like the battle hymn of the killer bees. More than anything, there's a general dedication to creating cacophony: with foot stomps, with hand claps, by ripping loose metal lining and slamming it back into low-hanging steel beams—effectively, literally tearing the place apart. It is with utmost respect that I would describe these Beşiktaş fans as maximalist.

To watch the stoking of loyalists by Beşiktaş head coach Ufuk Sarıca—a handsome Turk in a Tarantino-esque black suit and tie—is enthralling. He'll leap to his feet and run at the refs fully knowing that, behind him, his five similarly suited assistants will leap and follow. It is a small crush of angry, sweaty, gesticulating men, arms windmilling, moving forward like a wave—a near-physical bulwark against calls not going your way. It is as preposterous as it is effective, and the refs are clearly cowed.

Serbian big man Vladimir Štimac is a very wide body that looks somewhat like if Arcade Fire's Win Butler had been raised a feral child in the wilds of the Šalinac forests. Right now, with putbacks and easy dunks, he is causing Darüşşafaka fits. And Blatt seems to experience pain at each of his new team's blown defensive rotations. Palms up, heart full, Coach looks to his assistants: "What are they doing?!"

The cresting tenor of the whistle-killer-bee shrieks makes the action feel all the more accelerated. And in this hothouse, the musk of ripe fans wafting, humans on top of chairs and one another, it feels like we could all spill onto the floor at any moment.

If the NBA is corporate perfection—complete, at times, with the sterility that perfection connotes—then European hoops is its wilder, woolier, semi-nuts cousin. The way basketball fans look back with fondness at the ABA? With its fistfights and its reckless freedom? That's happening, right now, right here, tonight in Europe. "Turkish people are so emotional," Darüşşafaka's Mehmet Yağmur had told me earlier. "They are looking at you like they want to kill you!"

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Brad Wanamaker (No. 11) dribbles past a Beşiktaş defender before during a game Darüşşafaka ended up losing. "You know what a home job is? You just saw one. To the Nth degree," David Blatt would go on to say about the game. (Courtesy of Darüşşafaka Doğuş)

The game seesaws back and forth. On a crucial possession, Wanamaker inbounds, and the rival Beşiktaş fans hang over him, shredding their throats. A piece of winter clothing comes flying out of the stands and bounces off his back; unidentified liquid comes splashing forward, too. Cooly, unfazed, he wipes the drops off the side of his face, looks at his hand, then inbounds the basketball.

A few possessions later, Wanamaker has the ball in his hands with Darüşşafaka down a point and 15 seconds left. Dribbling to his left, he pulls up for the win. The Beşiktaş fans surround him with another fever pitch—Be! Be! Be! La! La! La! BESIKTAS! BESIKTAS!—and soon enough, discarded bank-sponsor giveaway scarves pile up on the court.

Afterward, Blatt claps me on the back and says, "You know what a home job is? You just saw one. To the Nth degree." Soon enough, he would vent to his fellow coaches and get in some digs at the refs and would seem to feel all the better for it. A week later, Blatt and his team would host CSKA Moscow and hand the powerhouse its first defeat of the season across all competitions, proving that Darüşşafaka's aspirations of European exceptionalism may yet be legitimate.

But now, Wanamaker's long jumper has banged off the rim, and Coach is crushed. Softly shaking his head, he turns and paces down the sideline, away from the action, in stunned disbelief. He'll get over it, yes. For now, though, it is another loss, another cut, another sting.

It is the 12th game of the season, and David Blatt is right where he has chosen to be.

Correction: This story has been updated with the correct location for the Brose Bamberg basketball team.

Amos Barshad is a senior writer at The FADER. He's written for New York Magazine, the New York Times Magazine, GQ, XXL and the Arkansas Times. For four years, he was a staff writer for Grantland.

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