By Henry Abbott
It's one of the ballsiest basketball offenses imaginable.
A player is suspended for five games for fighting. His team will really miss him. So they hatch a cunning plan, and on a road trip where they hope nobody will notice the difference they slip him onto the court in a teammate's uniform.
If you saw this on some TV drama you'd say "That is so totally fake. Nobody would try that. They'd get caught, for one thing. And most coaches and players just wouldn't go along with that kind of craziness."
But it really happened!
And, in one of the weirder turns of events, the team that did it was the exact same Turkish team that was just in the media (including TrueHoop) after playing a game that ended in a brawl.
Galatasaray Café Crown is the team. The (now fired) coach is Okan Çevik. The player is Cemal Nalga.
The coach says that the team had experienced several injuries, so they knowingly sent Nalga out there in his teammates uniform for a couple of exhibition games in Germany against Deutsche Bank Skyliner and EnBW Ludwigsburg. The player says he was just following orders.
Even though the entire coaching staff has been sacked, the team remains at risk of being fined and demoted from Turkey's top league.
The amazing thing is that the fraud almost worked. Even though the guy is hard to miss with both a big beard and a big build (watch the video), he was only detected, according to a report, after a rival team noticed suspiciously good statistics for Tufan Ersöz, the player whose jersey Nalga was wearing.
One little postscript: As Galatasaray and its players face whatever humiliation is coming their way -- a decision is expected early next week -- one of the players who will endure that hard luck punishment is Darius Washington, who is a decent player best-known for missing the free throws that could have won the Conference USA tournament and secured an NCAA tournament bid for Memphis.
UPDATE: Frequent TrueHoop contributor Coleman Collins plays in Germany. I asked him about this incident, and whether he would wear a teammate's uniform at his coach's direction. His response:
I think in a situation like this, as a player you pretty much have to do what you're told. You don't want to do anything to harm your relationship with your coach, especially because the job situations are significantly more tenuous overseas.
The fine policies are a lot more vague and you could easily imagine someone being fined for not doing what they're told to do. Also, the average player doesn't deal directly with the league office when they get suspended; they depend on the coaching staff and management to act as an arbiter on their behalf and also to keep them apprised of what they have to do to stay eligible to play.
If a coach tells you to do something, you assume that they're correct. 99% of the time they take care of things.
This seems pretty ridiculous though, and unnecessary, especially because the games were preseason exhibitions that didn't count for anything. The only reason I can think of is that the coach wanted to avoid getting beaten badly at home. I know for a fact that the games took place in Turkey at a preseason tournament, though I'm not sure if it was Galatasaray's home tournament. If it was, then the coach probably didn't want to start the preseason getting embarrassed at home by foreign teams, which (even in the preseason) would have put his job security at risk. It still seems like a ridiculous risk to take though.
It's also a sign of the times. It would be absolutely unthinkable in an American league, because of the extensiveness of the coverage, but without a lot of information being shared between countries overseas, teams that play each other in preseason exhibitions only have vague ideas of who they're playing against, unless the players are famous Euroleague-type players.
The fact that it was discovered (albeit two months after it happened) is a good thing, and the fact that it is being taken seriously is even better. The European leagues have an undeserved (in my opinion) reputation for being somewhat unprofessional at times, and when things like this happen it makes everyone look bad.