ISTANBUL -- It's not often that you get chills up your spine from being at a basketball game, especially when you've been to hundreds upon hundreds of them in your career. But tonight was one such night.
A crowd of 15,500 sang in unison, belting out the theme song of the Turkish national team -- "12 Giant Men" -- beginning at the end of the third quarter and continuing right on into the start of the fourth as the host team at the FIBA World Championship moved into the quarterfinals by handling France with ease, 95-77 behind 20 points from Hedo Turkoglu.
Their decibel level did not even drop when Nicolas Batum was opening the final period with consecutive dunks, for everyone knew they wouldn't matter in a game that was all but over just a couple minutes into the third quarter.
"I got the shivers," said guard Sinan Guler, who shot 8-for-10 from the field and scored 17 points in a game the Turks led by as many as 28. "Any time I hear the songs that they start singing I get excited, and I'm definitely one of the players that feed off that energy, and I know our team feeds off and plays a lot better with that energy that the fans give us.
"And 15,000 people put on a show for us, so we put on a show for them today."
Turkey was ahead 43-28 at halftime, and Turkoglu knocked down consecutive 3-pointers from opposite wings on Turkey's first two possessions of the second half to send the crowd into a frenzy. From there on out, it was more of a party than a game.
The "12 Giant Men" song was conceived prior to the 2001 EuroBasket in Turkey, and it has endured as the motto of the national team in the years since, with much of the promotional and marketing material related to this event having been built around that slogan.
Turkey is a country divided right now over a major national referendum on reforming the country's constitution taking place next Sunday, the day of the gold medal game. But the Turks inside Sinan Erdem Arena were a people in unison, staying to cheer and sing after the final buzzer as the players stayed on the court and saluted the fans for their support.
"In 2001 we got the silver medal, and off of that it carried on for nine more years with the interest in basketball increasing," said Guler, a 26-year-old who plays currently professionally for Efes Pilsen after spending his college career in the United States at Salt Lake Community College and Carroll College from 2002-06. "With this, the money that's being spent, the commercials, the players playing this well and the fans coming in, it's creating another great thing for basketball because right now we're pushed down by soccer, a lot. And I think if we get one medal out of this, it doesn't matter which one, I think it's going to create a great excitement around the whole people. And I want basketball to be the No. 1 sport in Turkey, but that's a tough thing to do."
The Turkish team moved on to the quarterfinals and will play Slovenia on Wednesday. The winner of that game will play the Spain-Serbia winner in the semifinals.
Play on the other side of the bracket in the round of 16 begins Monday, with the United States facing Angola (click here to read my preview) and Russia playing New Zealand. On Tuesday, the games are Lithuania-China and Argentina-Brazil.