Ersan Ilyasova does what needs to be done, and that’s why the 76ers love him. A 6-foot-10 “stretch-4,” Ilyasova, 31, has the size, talent and experience to guard any position on the court, and he has a particular gift for taking charges. He leads the NBA in charges taken over the last two seasons.
He can play power forward, small forward or even center, which he did for the Sixers in the playoffs.
A “stretch-4″ is a big player who can shoot from long range, and they are coveted in today’s NBA, where the three-pointer is king. Ilyasova is so coveted that he has made almost $50 million in the NBA but has started only about 60 percent of the time.
The Milwaukee Bucks picked him in the second round of the draft in 2005 as a 19-year-old Turkish pro but stashed him in the NBA Developmental League his first season then used him sparingly his second season. So he bolted for Spain for two seasons before returning to the Bucks, where he spent the next six seasons.
He has played for six teams in the last four seasons, including twice for the Sixers, who acquired him in a trade early in the 2016-17 season, traded him later that season then acquired him again in a trade at the end of February.
Ilyasova helped the Sixers win 16 games in a row to end the season, make the playoffs for the first time in six years and win a series. He’s a free agent, but they would love to have him back. During his end-of-season interview, he said he’d love to return. “Any player wouldn’t want to leave this moment,” he said. “I want to be a part of it.”
This playoff run supplied the one missing element, he said. “Experience. Everybody gained something and knows what to expect next year,” he said.
You’re slim (235 pounds), but your teammates say you like to eat. Which country has the best food? Which U.S. city?
Obviously Turkey has the best food. But I played for Barcelona for two years, and the Spanish food was unbelievable, especially in Barcelona. The United States? It depends on what you’re looking for. If it’s seafood, it’s Boston. If you’re looking for steak, it’s the Texas cities. There’s not much for restaurants in Milwaukee.
You’re from Turkey. Do you like turkey? If so, in what form?
Yes, I like turkey. I’ll say I like roasted turkey best. Not the deli turkey.
Why do you still live in Milwaukee? Most NBA players say they don’t like that town. Your wife, Julia, is from Belarus. Is there a Belarusian enclave there, a Turkish enclave?
I was in Milwaukee for eight years. We bought a house there, and my two daughters started going to school there and still do. My wife’s parents live there now, too. Me, now, just kind of bouncing around in the league. I never wanted to move them. I just fly back and forth.
It’s not like we have a lot of Turkish or Russians there. Her parents have gotten comfortable there, and they help us out, take care of the kids when we’re away.
I think it’s the best thing I ever did, not moving them from their schools. It would have been tough for them, especially the last two years. It’s easy for me to change from one hotel to a different hotel. That’s just part of the job. But in the summertime we go to our house in Juno Beach, Fla.
You have several nicknames, one of which recalls Darryl Dawkins, who was known as Chocolate Thunder and who used to break backboards when he dunked.
When I was in Milwaukee, I was called Turkish Thunder. So, yeah, I like that one best. Any of them is fine with me, but that one lets you know where I’m from, and I got used to it.
I don’t know who Darryl Dawkins is. I’ve never broken a backboard.
Your English is excellent. Was it this good when you were a 19-year-old rookie?
I had no English when I came. All I knew was, “hi” and “hello,” the simplest things. That’s why it was hard to communicate with the players and coaches. The toughest was in the locker room. I don’t know what you call what those guys were saying, but it wasn’t English.
Last season, 113 international players from 41 countries began the NBA season, both records. There were 82 internationals from 28 countries when you were a rookie, part of an explosion in that era. It must be cool to be part of that growth.
It is. When you look at the NBA, it’s a global game right now. It’s not just that European players are coming to play. Some of them have dominated the league. You’ve got [Dirk] Nowitski and guys like that. European players always bring something to the game right away.
You’ve changed teams mid-season five times. Do you ever unpack?
Actually, when I’m on the road with my team I always bring extra stuff with me. My wife does a really good job. … She’ll pack me up and move me. She’ll find me a place, or us, for a couple of months or whatever. She’s a professional, too.