Is Ersan Ilyasova Actually… Ersan Ilyasova?

January 26 2010: Milwaukee Bucks forward Ersan Ilyasova #7 during an NBA game between the Milwaukee Bucks and the Dallas Mavericks at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, TX Dallas defeated Milwaukee 108-107
Albert Pena/Icon SMI/Icon Sport Media via Getty Images

Milwaukee Bucks power forward Ersan Ilyasova may well be on his way to his first NBA Finals with the Bucks topping the current standings. However, the Turkish hooper’s unique journey to the league is shrouded in mystery. 

Ilyasova’s Turkish records claim that he was born in 1987 in Istanbul, making him 33. However, in 2003 a curious report came out of the Turkish news site Hurriyet Daily News. Allegedly, Ilyasova isn’t Turkish, wasn’t born in 1987, and isn’t even named Ersan!

According to Fanatik, a Turkish sports media outlet, an 18-year-old named Arsen Ilyasov entered Turkey from Uzbekistan in 2002. He had an Uzbek passport and claimed Uzbek citizenship. Oddly, neither countries’ governments ever heard from Ilyasov again.

A month after “Ilyasov” entered Turkey, a Turkish man named Semsettin Bulut claimed that he forgot to register his son’s birth 15 years prior. Without much questioning, the Turkish government registered his son, coincidentally named Ersan Ilyasova. They listed Ilyasova at 15 years old, making him three years Ilyasov’s junior.

Ilyasova in the NBA

The next 18 years saw Ersan Ilyasova go on to carve out a pro basketball career that progressed all the way into the NBA. Ilyasova’s rise into basketball stardom started in the youth ranks of  Yesilyurt and Ulkerspor. However, if Ilyasova was lying about his true identity, he would have been a grown man playing with teenagers. 

Upon learning of the case, the UBF (Uzbek Basketball Federation) filed a complaint and claimed Ilyasova as one of their own. FIBA quelled the complaint citing a lack of records of Arsen Ilyasov. FIBA seemingly rolled over the fact that Ilyasov had disappeared a month before Ilyasova registered in Turkey.

Many say that the whole incident was merely a coincidence, but Ilyasov’s change of identity would serve a real purpose. Ilyasova isn’t of Turkish ancestry. He is openly a Crimean Tartar, an ethnic group that originated in southern Russia/northern Ukraine. The Tartars used to be under the communist grip of the USSR. Consequently, Josef Stalin attempted to persecute and relocate any he could find.

Ilyasova’s family may have been a part of the persecuted and exiled to Uzbekistan. If this were the case, Ilyasova’s migration to Turkey was to escape the racism and poverty that remained even after the USSR fell.

In the end, we will probably never solve the curious case of Ersan Ilyasova’s true identity. Whether he is truly Ersan Ilyasova, born in 1987 Turkey, or Arsen Ilyasov, an Uzbek immigrant born in 1984, may never be known.

What we do know is that he has put together a terrific NBA career thus far. He may further his accomplishments if the Bucks go on to win in the NBA Finals.