BASKETBALL IN EUROPE
|'Money Man' Mehmet Okur announced his retirement from basketball on Wednesday, effective immediately|
Mehmet Okur, one of the most emblematic Turkish players of the last two decades, announced his retirement from basketball on Thursday.
A EuroBasket silver medallist and NBA champion, Okur had been riddled with back injuries throughout his career and had to recover from an Achilles tendon problem in 2011, amid other lingering injury woes.
The 33-year-old center had told Turkish media in June that he planned to leave the NBA and play again in Turkey, where he expected the shorter game schedule and much less travel involved would put considerably less strain strain on his battered body.
But this plan did not come into fruition as he did not sign with any club either before or after the start of the new season.
"I have played at the highest level in the best way I could as an athlete but especially because of successive injuries in the last three years, I now understand that in spite of all my efforts I cannot go back and be the old Mehmet Okur again," he told Turkish television network NTV.
"I started basketball career at 14 years of age and I bid farewell to it as a 33-year-old.
"I started late but I made up for it with perseverance, determination, and my desire to live a fulfilling basketball career, which had room for plenty of individual and team success.
"I played for Turkey when it earned its first medal in team sports at EuroBasket 2001, and I was the first Turkish player to win the NBA championship and play in an [NBA] All-Star game."
Okur was only 22 during his nation's finest hour in EuroBasket history.
He averaged 9.8 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game, the second best in the tournament, as Turkey edged out Germany in the semi-final and ultimately took silver after losing to an unbeatable Yugoslavia led by the likes of Predrag Stojakovic and Dejan Bodiroga.
In subsequent years, as charismatic scorer Ibrahim Kutluay was nearing the twilight of this career, Okur and Hedo Turkoglu, born within two months of each other, took over as the leaders of the national team.
|During the NBA lockout, Okur returned to Europe to play for Turk Telekom Ankara|
Okur led the team in scoring at the 2002 World Championship in Indianapolis and Eurobasket 2003 in Sweden. He last pulled on the Turkey red jersey at EuroBasket 2007 in Spain.
He was already an NBA champion and All-Star and had earned the nickname 'Money Man' in the US by that time, a tribute to his impressive ability to make the right decisions in the clutch during the most important games.
He won the coveted ring in 2004 in his second year with the Detroit Pistons, averaging 9.8 points per game.
The best period of his career across the Atlantic on an individual level were the seven years he spent at Utah Jazz, exploding for 18.0 points and 9.1 rebounds per game in the 2005/06 season.
He was traded to New Jersey following an injury-laden 2010/11 season and only managed to feature in 17 games in the lockout-affected 2011/2012 season. During the NBA lockout, Okur returned home to play for EuroChallenge team Turk Telekom.
"I would like to first thank my parents," Okur said on Thursday.
"Also the coaches, officials and team-mates who contributed to my basketball career and last but not least thank infinetely the Turkish people, who have supported me all this time.
"This has been an exciting adventure that lasted 19 years."