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Cablegate: Nba and Starkey Foundation's Slam Dunk in Istanbul


DE RUEHIT #0914/01 2841030
R 111030Z OCT 07





E.O. 12958: N/A



1. Summary: In the midst of a tense period in U.S.-Turkish
relations, there is good news on the sports front, as the NBA's
Minnesota Timberwolves spent the first week of October in Istanbul
practicing people-to-people diplomacy at its best. While the
headline event was an exhibition game with Turkey's premier league
Efes Pilsen team, accompanying NBA officials, including Commissioner
David Stern, made a major effort on the PR front by refurbishing
basketball courts and fitting 2000 children with hearing aids,
courtesy of the Minnesota-based Starkey Hearing Aid Foundation.

2. Consul General Wiener spoke at an Iftar dinner in honor of the
visit, highlighting for an audience of three hundred the spirit of
American philanthropy and the mission's support for cooperation
between American and Turkish NGOs. Although the Timberwolves ended
up the victors on October 6 in a down-to-the wire game with Efes
Pilsen, prevailing 84-81, the real winners were disadvantaged
Turkish youth. The continuing popularity of basketball in Turkey
and the success of the summer youth basketball camps sponsored by
State's Youth Empowerment Program (YEP) and ConGen Istanbul offer
bright possibilities for continuing cooperation in sports diplomacy,
civil society cooperation and people-to-people outreach even when
dark clouds appear on the political horizon. End Summary.

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3. The Minnesota Timberwolves took Istanbul by storm the first week
of October. In association with "NBA's 2007 Europe Live" program of
exhibition games throughout Europe, the "T'wolves" suited up for a
friendly exhibition with leading Turkish professional club "Efes
Pilsen." Basketball is wildly popular in Turkey, and the
10,500-seat arena where the game was held was nearly sold out.
Numerous political and business leaders including State Minister for
Sports Murat Baseskioglu and Prime Ministerial advisor Egemen Bagis,
had raced from an Iftar dinner in honor of the Prime Minister to
attend the game. The NBA used the visit to promote its community
outreach initiatives, entitled "NBA Cares," partnering with the
(American) Starkey Hearing Foundation to fit 2000 hearing aids for
hearing-disabled disadvantaged youth during the week they were in
Istanbul. The NBA also sponsored the refurbishing of a basketball
court in partnership with Adidas at an "Education Park" run by a
local NGO and dedicated a brand new court at a "Learn and Play
Center," with additional funding by Turkish Zorlu Holdings.
Timberwolves current players and retired NBA greats also attended
some of these events.

4. ConGen Wiener spoke at a 300-person gala Iftar hosted by
Starkey's Turkey chapter for representatives of civil society,
business and government. The CG - a native of Minnesota - noted the
way sports has provided opportunities in America for people of all
backgrounds to cross racial, socioeconomic, gender and religions
lines to build communities and teach good sportsmanship. She
highlighted that the U.S. spirit of volunteerism, philanthropy and
charitable giving are key to the American way of life. She also
noted the ongoing U.S. support for Turkey's flourishing NGO sector
and the importance of the NBA and Starkey Foundation's donations
during Ramazan, a time known for charitable outreach.

5. No anti-American spirit was apparent during the actual exhibition
game, just a lot of loud cheering by enthusiastic Efes Pilsen fans,
who rooted their team on to a superb effort against the visitors,
forcing the Timberwolves to play all out down the stretch as a 4th
quarter rally barely failed, resulting in a nail-biting loss for the
home team, 84-81. Hundreds of children attending the game courtesy
of the Starkey Foundation waved U.S., Turkish and Canadian flags
(representatives from Starkey's Canadian arm were also there).
Retired NBA greats Dr. J (Julius Irving), Clyde Drexler and B.J.
Armstrong received a prolonged, roaring, standing ovation from the
crowd. The importance of this event to the NBA was evident by the
presence of NBA Commissioner David Stern. The NBA is keenly aware
of basketball's popularity throughout Turkey and the consumer
potential of its growing middle class, and opened its first ever
European NBA-Adidas "Concept Store" on Istanbul's famous walking
street, Istiklal Caddesi.

6. Another crowd pleaser was the NBA's quarter and halftime
entertainment. The league went all out to promote itself in Turkey,
and the entertainment was a highlight for many. Drawing on a small
army of performers and backstage support, supplemented with
elaborate props, the shows featured amazing acrobats who, propelled
by trampolines, dunked basketballs while coming out of somersaults;
NBA cheerleaders; and audience participation contests, mostly
related to basketball, with the exception of the bed-making contest
between two women from the crowd. (The taller woman won.)

7. The T'Wolves visit was widely covered in the press, although
mostly from a sports and high-society angle. The game was broadcast
live and the gala received extensive coverage. The Efes Pilsen
coach was quoted after the match extolling the game and the good

sportsmanship that prevailed. NBA and Starkey's humanitarian efforts
were given limited mention in connection with the other events.
(Apparently the charter flight that brought the team to Istanbul
showed "Midnight Express", the Oliver Stone film widely considered
anti-Turkish because of its depiction of harsh conditions in Turkish
prisons in the 70s. This was reported in the press. There didn't
appear to be any follow-on problems, however, and ConGen alerted NBA
reps to the sensitivity of the issue soon after their arrival.)

8. Following on the success of YEP, Embassy and Congen support of
the Turkish Basketball Federation and University of Delaware summer
camps this year, the NBA and Timberwolves sojourn in Turkey is
another reminder of the place that basketball holds in the hearts of
Turks and of its value in demonstrating a positive side of American
culture. Basketball has enormous potential for further public
diplomacy outreach activities in Turkey. Our experience with the TBF
camps in Erzincan and Usak reminded us of the values that can be
shared in the context of excellent basketball mentoring by
well-chosen American coaches. We see the YEP events as models for
future events, and hope that the YEP basketball programs will be
continued and expanded in Turkey. Wiener

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