Istanbul clubs: Galatasaray, where it all began

Mar 02, 2017 by Andy West, Print
Istanbul clubs: Galatasaray, where it all began

The history of organized basketball in Istanbul begins with Galatasaray, and more specifically, with an inspirational teacher born in Liverpool, England in 1886, five years before the sport was invented. Ahmet Robenson moved to Istanbul at an early age and attended the famous Galatasaray High School, where he graduated to become a physical education teacher.

Located less than a kilometer from Istanbul's iconic Taksim Square and a short walk from the teeming waters of the Bosphorus, Galatasaray High School is one of the oldest and most prestigious learning establishments in all of Turkey. Founded in 1481, Galatasary provided an education for many of the country's most important cultural and political leaders.

When a group of the school's students decided to form Galatasaray Sports Club in October 1905, Robenson was the right man in the right place at the right time. His enthusiasm for all sports and his position as a PE teacher put him in the perfect position to take advantage of the new opportunities offered by his employers. As well as teaching, in his spare time Robenson also represented the new club's football team, taking a starring role as goalkeeper when Galatasaray won the Istanbul title for the very first time in 1909. That milestone launched the club on a path that has seen it remain consistently among the most successful teams in Europe.

In his role as a teacher, Robenson was a keen proponent of all forms of physical education. He is credited with bringing tennis, hockey and the boy scouting movement to Turkey.

It was in 1911 that he decided to use his PE classes to introduce his students to a new sport from America: basketball. It is believed that only a few games of basketball had been played in Turkey before then, but Robenson's determination and organizational skills soon resulted in the sport rapidly growing in popularity, with Galatasaray naturally at the fore.

In 1925, Robenson took over from one of the club's founders, Ali Sami Yen, to become the fifth president of Galatasaray Sports Club. A few years later, the basketball section of the club was formally opened, concluding the process that Robenson had personally begun back in 1911. Success was instant as the basketball team won three consecutive Istanbul League titles between 1933 and 1936.

There was no looking back, and Galatasaray continued to shine when the Turkish national championship was staged for the first time in 1946, finishing the inaugural season as runner-up to Beykozspor and then winning the championship in each of the next four seasons. A new national competition was launched in 1966, and once again the club wasted little time in making its mark by claiming the title three years later.

More recently, Galatasaray returned to the European forefront in 2008 when it advanced to the ULEB Cup semifinal and is currently playing in the Turkish Airlines EuroLeague for the fourth year in the last six seasons. In 2012-13, Galatasaray won the Turkish League for the first time since the turn of the century.

The club's most recent success was arguably its greatest triumph yet, with veteran captain Sinan Guler holding aloft Galatasaray's first-ever continental trophy following victory in the 2015-16 EuroCup final against SIG Strasbourg. That secured a place for one of Europe's historic clubs in the first season of a new era for EuroLeague basketball.

That new era's first season includes four teams from Istanbul, where a champion will be crowned at the Final Four in May, but only one can say it was the birthplace of basketball in Turkey: Galatasaray.