Lived many years in Turkey and he left a mark in the league within the three seasons he played for Fenerbahce. Gave no respite to his opponents. He became the beloved one of Fenerbahce fans with his fighter spirit, character and friendly attitude. Wearing the Fenerbahce jersey between 1989-1992 and getting his name among the legends, Larry Richard, is the next guest of Baran Arslan and Erdi Tiran from “Salon Tribünü” crew. (Translated by Osman Talha Sümer)
• Mr. Richard, first of all, welcome. We as “Salon Tribünü” crew thank you for accepting our interview request. You were born in 1965 in California. How was your childhood? How did you decide to play basketball?
My childhood was good. I had good hardworking parents who made sure that we went to school, maintain good grades and that we did not get into trouble. Both of my parents were from Mississippi but, I was born in Los Angeles, California, where I lived with all of the kids loved to play sports. We played American football, and basketball were two of our favourite sports. I had a basketball court at my house, so me and all of my friends would come to my house to play.
• You spent your college years at Texas Christian University from 1985 to 1987, but you could not find what you expected from there. Yiğiter Uluğ stated an interesting story in his article in 2003. According to him many basketball directors/scouts from Europe were looking for a suitable player for their team at the event held in the garden of Loyola Marymount University. Players, who would like to attend, were asked to pay $150, but you did not have enough money. Fortunately, your close friend Pete Williams, who was going to sign with Fenerbahçe at that event, helped you to pay the necessary amount of money. Thanks to Pete Williams, you were able to sign with Eczacıbaşı at the event. We would like to hear this story from your point of view, as well.
I played at Texas Christian University for two years. Both of my years that I played there our team was good. I played and started every game. My coaches there, only wanted me to rebound and to play defense, which I did very well. I played good there, but I knew I could get a lot better. Our offense was to get the ball to the guards, and to let them shoot. I mostly scored if was open, and I would shoot the ball from the outside and of course rebound. At that time, me and Pete were already close friends. We would work out together in the summer time. At that time, Pete was playing for the Denver Nuggets. So, after my last year at TCU, we met again in the summer and began working out. I was not picked in the NBA Draft, so Pete suggested that we play in the NBA Summer League. I did not have the money to play, and I did not want to ask my mother and father for the money, so Pete said that he would pay for me. I was really surprised because I am not a person that likes to borrow money from anyone. I promised that I would pay the money back to him and I did. We played on the same team at the NBA summer league. In the first game, Pete killed everyone. Block shots, dunk over everyone, and rebounds… So, after the game the coach and manager from Fenerbahçe wanted to speak with Pete. It was Dodo (Doğan Hakyemez), Coach Rıza Erverdi, Halil Abi (Halil Dağlı) etc. and they were interested in bringing him to Turkey. Pete said to me, “Hey they have your name on the list of the players that they are interested in under mine”. Pete was thinking that at that time, there were two Americans on each team but there was only one.
One week later, Nur Gencer was at the summer league with Nuri Tan. He was the manager for Eczacıbaşı. He liked the way I played but he was not sure if I was good enough to play in Turkey. He was afraid because I did not have any experience and because the team was very young. He took a big chance on me, and for that I am forever grateful. I know I was going to try my best once I got to Turkey.
• You won a Turkish League Championship in two years with Eczacıbaşı. You were one of the best foreigners of Turkish League. In the next year, Fenerbahce created a strong roster and you moved to Fenerbahce. How was the story behind your move to Fenerbahce? What was your expectation from our club?
We were lucky enough to win two championships in a row while at Eczacı. Pete went to that other team 🙂 I do not want to say the name (Talking about Galatasaray). Eczacıbaşı… We really had the chance to be great. If we could have had another American and really develop the team, we could have had great success in Europe. But at that time, the expectations for Turkish teams in Europe was not that good. and most teams only wanted to have success in the Turkish League.
I went to Fener. To be honest, our team was not expected to be very good. They had lost Pete Williams who was a great player and very famous to the fans. They loved him. Yes, there were other teams in Turkey who wanted me, but the fans and the challenge to play for the biggest team in Turkey was hard to pass up. So, I took a big chance to. play for Fener.
• Fenerbahce finished the regular season at the top of the league, but we failed in the semi-final. On the other hand, we won the Presidential Cup first time in our history. How was the season for you and the team?
As I said, we were not expected to be very good. The team lost Pete and Erman Kunter, who were two great players. However, one thing that everyone forgot is that although we did not have the talent that Erman and Pete had, we did have a lot of heart and toughness. We liked each other very much and we all wanted to win. We were not champions my first year but, we won the Presidential Cup. The next year we added Hüsnü and Levent, and again we had so much fun. Everyone said that we could not win with them because there was not enough basketballs for everyone. But we were a team and we played together. It was great to be champions at Fener.
• In the 1990-1991 season, you were one of the biggest shareholders in winning Fenerbahce’s first league and fourth Turkish championship. You were not feeling great until two days left to the last game of the final series in Antalya, but with the effort of doctors you were able to play in the final game. What does that game and championship mean for you?
The fans were amazing. Something that I will never forget. It was not easy to be champions. It was a long season and there is a lot of stress when you are expected to be champions. We did it thought. It was a great team effort, and we had a great young coach in Çetin Yılmaz and Dodo as out manager. To be the first player from Fener to ever be champions is very special to me.
• You played together with players such as Ali Limoncuoğlu (Aliço), Levent Topsakal, Hüsnü Çakırgil, Can Sonat and İbrahim Kutluay for three seasons in Fenerbahçe. Who was your favourite player to play with? How was your relationship with your team-mates and coach Çetin Yılmaz?
I loved all of my teammates. I was close with all of them. Aliço, Baba Necdet (Necdet Ronabar), Can Sonat, Levent, Hüsnü, Ferhat Oktay, Hakan Artış, Serdar Susmuş, Fatih Özal, Güray Kanan, İbo (İbrahim Kutluay)… Great great times!
• In addition to being an outstanding center for the history of Turkish basketball, you are also famous for your free throws with one hand. What was the reason for you to adopt this unique style?
So, when I went to play at Fenerbahce, I had to change my position. At Eczacıbaşı I was more of a forward. I would drive to the basket, shoot from the outside some, and score from the inside. When I went to Fener, I was only a center. I was not very strong at that time, because I never had to play center like that. So, I started to lift weights all the time. Five days a week so I could be strong enough to play defense, and to score as a center. After a while, I started to have problems with my shoulder. Then I started shooting free throws differently than I had before. I went to Efes Pilsen and it got worse. I had a few surgeries on my shoulder but, it could not be fixed. So, I just gave up on basketball. I had a great career and I met so many new friends, it was all worth it.
• As a colourful personality, you strongly engaged with our country in the years that you spent in Turkey. You learned Turkish language, you went to the football matches, and even started to support Rizespor. How did this interest and love begin?
Yes, I started supporting Rizespor. I was always interested in Black Sea region because I had read and saw pictures to Rize. And then I began to watch some of their football matches especially when it was against the other big teams. I always pulled for the smaller teams, and Rize was my favourite. I used to know some of the players’ names from the team, but I am old now and I have forgotten their names. Still “en buyuk Rize” 🙂 (“Rize is the greatest”)
• You have crossed paths with Pete Williams, your close friend, many times, but unfortunately, due to the foreign player limitation, you could not play together in the same team. Did it remain as an urge in you? What do you think you could do if you had the chance to play together?
Pete and I were happy to be in the country together. He is my brother. Yesterday we met for lunch. We still talk about so many things. It would have been great to play with each other on the same team.
• During your Turkey career almost all basketball games in İstanbul were played at the Sports and Exhibition Center (Spor ve Sergi Sarayı). This hall, which is currently used as a congress center, has a special place in the hearts of Turkish fans, even though it is not large and glamorous. As a foreign player, how was the atmosphere you experienced there and the support of Fenerbahçe fans?
To play at that hall was great. The fact that all of the teams from Istanbul played there was great. I could watch several games and the interaction with the fans and players was a great thing to see. Sometimes we build these great huge gyms. They are beautiful to look at etc. but, it is not the same as the Sports and Exhibition Center. I used to sit there and watch the players and I would examine how I would play defense against them and how I would score against them.
• As an American, who spent many years in Turkey, what can you tell us about your experience with Fenerbahce, Turkish people’s interest in you and our country? How is your current relationship with Turkey? Have you had the opportunity to visit Turkey recently?
First of all, playing and living in Turkey was an honour and is something that I will never ever forget. The people there, treated me so well. I always think about so many people, the fans, my teammates, friends and even some of my neighbours. The country and the history and the kindness of the people made it even better. I learned so much and I am so glad that I had the opportunity to play there.
I did come to Turkey in 2019. Pete and I came together. It was a great experience. I am hoping to come back again in a year or so after the Coronavirus gets better.