If you asked any NBA player, the weight of expectations can be overwhelming some days. Of course, there’s the fan base and the organization that you play for on a night-to-night basis. But, that’s also only scratching the surface. There are expectations from your coaches, your teammates, your friends and family, the league and so much more on top of that. Typing it all out puts into an even clearer perspective how daunting being a professional athlete can be.
If you factor that, on top of being an international star like Cleveland Cavaliers forward Cedi Osman, then it’s a position not many are willing to undertake. For those who aren’t aware, Osman hails from the Republic of Türkiye and is only one of four Turkish players currently playing in the NBA. With that said, not only are there the things mentioned before being carried by Osman, but he also plays additional roles as an international ambassador for his team, the game of basketball as well as his home country. Understandably, some would shy away from such responsibilities. But, when it comes to players like Osman, it’s a role he relishes and something that pushes him to be his best each and every time the Cavaliers take the hardwood.
“We understand how important it is to him,” said Cavaliers head coach J.B. Bickerstaff to Right Down Euclid. “We’ve had conversations with our guys about why they play the game of basketball and why they go out there each and every night and compete. Cedi’s answer was that he knows how many young men are at home in Turkey, watching him as an inspiration. He carries that burden with him every day and he wants to be that inspiration for those kids.
“We know how important it is to set an example for an entire country and to make it in the greatest league on the planet with the greatest players on the planet. He carries that with him and it means a lot to him.”
Osman embracing and thriving in his role as an ambassador for both the Cavaliers organization and the Republic of Türkiye has opened up opportunities off the court as well. On Sunday evening, prior to Cleveland hosting the Los Angeles Clippers, the Cavaliers hosted several key Turkish figures from all over the globe to celebrate Turkish Heritage Night. Some of the more prominent guests included Hasan Murat Mercan, the Turkish ambassador to the United States, as well as Gökhan Coşkun, the Executive Director of Yunus Emre Institute-USA, and Fatih Eroğlu, GM of Turkish Airlines Midwest.
Turkish Heritage Night was a collaborative effort between the Cavaliers and Coşkun in order to best honor and celebrate both Turkish heritage as well as Cleveland acting as an international conduit between the United States and the Republic of Türkiye. Prior to the game, there was a reception where authentic Turkish food was served to everyone in attendance. Soon after, a traditional Turkish dance took place on the floor to set the theme of the night into motion and when Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse opened to fans attending Sunday’s game, they were given an opportunity to win a free trip to the Republic of Türkiye and experience more of the culture they were just getting a taste of that evening.
For many, it very well could’ve been the first time they’ve experienced Turkish culture. For others, it may have been the first time they’ve experienced Cleveland or even Cavaliers basketball. But, for Hasan Murat Mercan, it was a return to a city he once called home and an opportunity to share his love for both Cleveland as well as his Turkish heritage. From 1989 to 1992, Mercan was an assistant professor in the department of Quantitative Business Analysis at Cleveland State University. While his time was brief, Mercan shared that Cleveland was and always will be in his heart because his daughter was born here.
Even after he moved on from Cleveland, Mercan continued to follow the highs and lows of the Cavaliers, the Browns and the Guardians. Funnily enough, the first time he had ever seen the Cavaliers in person was in 1991 when Cleveland hosted Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. The Bulls defeated the Cavaliers that game 110-95, with Jordan dropping 32 points. Now that he was back 32 years later, Mercan joked that the Cavaliers better defeat the Clippers that evening. Thankfully, for Mercan’s sake, Cleveland was able to do exactly that. But, the fact that he was back in Cleveland and around the Cavaliers once again wasn’t lost on Mercan either. To him, it was a special moment, especially with a Turkish star like Osman on Cleveland’s roster.
“Players being able to play in the NBA by itself is a big, extremely important thing for my country,” said Mercan to Right Down Euclid. “Turkish people already follow the NBA, even though many of the games are so early in the morning. But, when a Turkish player is playing, it becomes even more important.
“Cedi is very famous in my country because he’s, of course, an NBA player. Being an NBA player is quite important for some who think basketball is an American-only game. So, because Cedi is an NBA player, he has millions of supporters and followers who follow the Cavs more than any other basketball team just because Cedi is playing. Deep in your heart when you see your fellow countryman playing and playing well, you really feel it. I can’t fully express my feelings but seeing him playing makes me and so many other Turkish people feel better.”
Mercan had an opportunity to connect with Osman prior to the game and in turn, Osman had a career-best night against Los Angeles. Osman led the Cavaliers in scoring with 29 points in nearly 22 minutes of action off of the bench. The Turkish forward also further climbed the ranks in the franchise’s history, passing Daniel Gibson for sixth place all-time in three-pointers made and is now within striking distance of J.R. Smith for entering the top five overall. Osman shared with Right Down Euclid after the game that he isn’t that obsessed over chasing the three-point record. But, the fact that he was able to make that history possible on a night when his culture was being celebrated certainly made it special for him.
“I’m really happy that it happened tonight,” said Osman to Right Down Euclid. “This is a special night so it definitely had a big meaning for me.”
But, when Osman was asked by Right Down Euclid about his impact as a global ambassador for his home country, the Cavaliers and even the game of basketball, he lit up even more.
“It’s really important to me,” said Osman. “I have my own academy back in Türkiye with over 1000 kids so that’s something that’s always on my mind. I know that they’re watching, they’re following and that’s why I have the responsibility to be an example when I’m on the court. It’s really important to be a good inspiration to those young kids.”
Again, there are countless individuals who would shy away from the opportunities Osman faces every day. Thankfully, Osman isn’t one of those people and is thriving as a global ambassador for the Republic of Türkiye, the Cavaliers organization and especially the game of basketball itself. When looking at cases like Osman or even Anderon Varejao, who rejoined the Cavaliers as a global ambassador and player development coach, it becomes clear the game of basketball is much bigger than just the United States. It’s arguably the second-biggest sport in the world, only behind soccer, and the fact that organizations like the Cavaliers and players like Osman are spearheading the movement, it only encourages positive growth for everyone on the global stage.
Evan Dammarell is a sports journalist covering all things Cleveland right off the shores of Lake Erie. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. You can also email him at [email protected] He can also be found three to five times weekly on Locked On Cavs, a part of the Locked On Podcast Network.
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