‘White Shadow’ Ken Howard Remembered Courtside in Turkey

Courtesy of SAG-AFTRA; Ahmet Tokyay/Courtesy of Turkish Basketball Federation
Ken Howard with Harley / Turkish player Cedi Osman in action

Leaders of Turkish basketball heralded the impact of Howard and ‘The White Shadow,’ and a commentator proposed naming an arena after the late actor.

Joining Hollywood notables and union activists in remembering the life of actor and SAG-AFTRA president Ken Howard, who died last week, was a group from an ocean away: Turkish basketball officials, players and even a commentator, Mehmet Demirkol — who proposed on the country’s equivalent of ESPN that an arena be named in Howard’s honor.

Referencing Howard’s 1970’s TV role as the coach of an inner city basketball team, Demirkol added on NTV Sports that “Ken Howard and The White Shadow's contribution to Turkish basketball was at least equal to that of Aydan Siyavus,” naming a legendary real-life Turkish coach who shepherded teams to numerous championships.

The backstory behind the praise? Foreign syndication. The CBS show aired in Turkey from 1980-82 and it had an outsized impact, as the New York Times and Boston Globe reported several years ago and as current officials and others told The Hollywood Reporter in the wake of Howard’s passing.

“It was one of the most important things to happen to basketball in Turkey,” said former national team player and current Turkish Basketball Federation official Necati Güler in a statement to THR. “It was far more than a television series. There was one television station, TRT, in black and white. There was Dallas and there was The White Shadow.”

Said Harun Erdenay, former national team captain and current Federation president, “I was about 13 when the show was on TV, and the number of children who wanted to play basketball grew exponentially. The White Shadow helped spark [popular interest in the sport]”  so successfully, Erdenay added, that Turkey has won medals at EuroBasket and the FIBA World Cup and is aiming to send men’s and women’s teams to the Olympics this year.

The country has also sent players to the U.S. The Federation’s current CEO is Hidayet Türkoğlu, a former Turkish national team captain who played in the NBA with the LA Clippers, Orlando Magic, Phoenix Suns and Toronto Raptors.

The White Shadow tackled a lot of challenging issues in American society, and showed the difference a coach, and basketball more generally, can make in young people’s lives,” Türkoğlu said. “The lessons about life you learn on the basketball court don’t recognize borders, and I think that’s one of the reasons the show was so popular in Turkey.”

But storylines and rebounds weren’t the show’s only hook: there was also something special that Howard brought to the character of the coach, Ken Reeves.

“Not only did people like and start to play basketball, a lot of people liked the vision of the coach, and tried to express that over here,” said Sinan Güler, the current captain of Turkey's Men's National Team (and Necati Güler’s son).

Or as Necati Güler said, “That smile of his [Coach Reeves’], even when he was angry, will always stay with us. May Ken Howard rest in peace.”

Email: jh@jhandel.com