MACCABI TEL AVIV, BASKETBALL AND SPORTS IN ISRAEL
This week in Israel, we are celebrating the May 18th victory of our fabulous Maccabi Tel Aviv Euro-League Basketball champions, and it feels great, especially after all the anti-semitism that has been exhibited. However, nothing can mar the victory of the underdogs, who came from behind, and beat the Euro’s Best Teams. Team Maccabi Tel Aviv, also known as Maccabi Electra, named for its sponsorship, won its 6th Euroleague Basketball championship after overcoming PBC Moscow and Real Madrid Baloncesto in the final four in Milan. They defeated Real Madrid 98 to 86 in overtime. They came in as the underdog and were not expected to get into the final four games, let alone win the championship. Their stats for performance were extremely dismal in comparison to the other teams such as Emporio Armani Milan and CSKA Moscow. Coach Blatt of Maccabi Electra said, if he had seen his team’s percentage figures before the game, he would have thrown in the towel. The Team secured its place in the final four with a stunning 86 to 66 victory over Emporio Armani Milan and then in the semi-finals against heavily-favored CSKA Moscow, they came from behind with a last-second score to win the game, in spite of the fact that Moscow had been up by 15 points. This victory feels like “Emancipation through Muscle” which is also the title of a book by Michael Brenner and Gideon Reuveni about Jews and Sports.
Team Maccabi Tel Aviv has won six European Championships, One Adriatic Championships, 50 Israeli Championships, 41 Israeli Cups, and five league cups. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maccabi_Tel_Aviv_B.C. It was the first Israeli team to enter the European Cup for Champions in 1958. It was the only Israeli team to play in a Cup Winners Final and to win the Championship cup on six occasions. Team Maccabi Tel Aviv is the second most successful club in European history, and one of the most successful teams of the past decade in the European league, having won three titles and reached the finals five times in that period. Its players are among the elite of Europe’s basketball players.
Maccabi Tel Aviv is part of The Israeli Basketball Super League called Ligat HaAl (meaning Super league) in Hebrew. The League was founded in 1954 even though Club Maccabi Tel Aviv was started in the mid 1930’s as part of the Maccabi Tel Aviv Sports Club founded in 1906. It is the top tier of league basketball competition in Israel and is made up of the top 12 clubs in Israel. The twelve teams are from the following towns and cities in Israel: Netanya, Herzilya, Eilat, Gilboa Galil, Holon, Jerusalem, Nes Ziona, Ashdod, Haifa, Rishon LeZion and two in Tel Aviv. Maccabi Tel Aviv has won the majority of the championships since the League’s inception. The league is well known throughout Europe, due to its great success in the major European competitions including Euroleague.
The Israeli Super League has exported many of its players to the NBA. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maccabi_Tel_Aviv_B.C. In 2009, Omri Casspi became the first Israeli-born NBA player with the Sacramento Kings and now plays with the Houston Rockets. Prior to that, 3 other Israeli players had been drafted to the New York Knicks. Six other Israelis from the Super League have, as recent as 2013, signed up with the NBA. The first basketball game between an NBA team and a Euro team was held in 1978 in Tel Aviv. Maccabi Tel Aviv beat the defending NBA champion Washington Bullets 98 to 97. During the 1980’s and early 1990’s, NBA teams such as the Phoenix Suns, the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Orlando Magic and the LA Lakers came to Israel and played the Israeli League stars. Maccabi has played a record of 18 times against NBA teams and became the first European team to win on the NBA home turf, when it beat Toronto, 105 to 103, in 2005. This was the very first victory for any European or Israeli team over an NBA team on its home court.
Wikipedia tells the tale of the dramatic 1977 European Championship held at the apex of The Cold War when the Soviet Union was boycotting Israel. In the first round of the Euro Cup basketball championships, Maccabi Tel Aviv defeated Madrid 94 to 85. In the second round, it beat Brno, Czechoslovakia for the first time, 91 to 76. Then for the ultimate in intrigue, they were pitted against the powerhouse CSKA Moscow…..THE RED ARMY. The Soviet team had won the four prior titles and had been undefeated those four years. Six of the players had played on the Soviet team that defeated America in the Olympics. The Communists were well known for using sports to glorify what they billed as their Supremacy over the West.
The Soviet Union had broken off diplomatic relations with Israel a decade earlier and had politically and militarily backed Israel’s Arab enemies. For political reasons, Moscow refused to play in Tel Aviv and they refused to grant the Israelis Visas to come to Moscow. In the end, Maccabi Tel Aviv’s ”home game” was played in the small, neutral town of Virton, Belgium. The game took place in an emotionally charged atmosphere and it was of enormous symbolic value for both Maccabi Tel Aviv fans as well as Israeli’s who ordinarily had little interest in basketball. The game pitted the Capitalist West against the Communist East and Israel against the country that was supplying its enemies with weapons. This game matched the country of Israel with its mere 4 million inhabitants, against the Soviets with their 290 million people. The newspaper, Maariv billed the February 17, 1977 game as “the fight between David and Goliath.” Most of the Israeli public watched the game, staying glued to their TV sets until the very end, when the Israelis emerged victorious with a 91 to 79 upset.
The feeling among Israelis was not only that Moscow had been defeated but that a small victory had been achieved against the mighty Soviet Union. This victory put Israel’s Basketball team and sports ON THE WORLD MAP. This game has been recognized as a key event in the forging of Israel’s national identity and decades later, it is being replayed on Israeli television.
Sports in Israel, like everywhere else in the world, are an important part of the national culture. In Israel, sports are enjoyed both for leisure and competition. Leisure sports in Israel include the following: swimming, canoeing, boating, tennis, martial arts, golf, gymnastics, figure skating, softball, windsurfing, wrestling and others. On a competitive level the range of athletic activities includes the following major sports: soccer, basketball, swimming, tennis, track and field and marathons. The minor sports competition includes: American football, boxing, canoeing, cricket, fencing, figure skating, golf, gymnastics, handball, ice hockey, lacrosse, martial arts, motorsport, netball, rugby, softball, windsurfing, and wrestling. Israel has won seven medals in the Olympics; in Judo, canoeing and windsurfing. An Israeli grand master won the 2009 Chess World Cup.
Most people do not equate Jews with sports ability. In fact to some, it’s a laughing matter. However, since the rebirth of our Jewish State, and the repeated success of our team Maccabi Tel Aviv, we have disproven the notion that Jews are inept at sports. Our athletes and teams have enjoyed increased success and have made a name for themselves of which Maccabi Tel Aviv is one example. This fact of our emergence into the successful realm of sports is a source of intense pride for the State of Israel and for Jews around the world. This is one more way we build up the Pride of our Nation in our Historic Homeland and another way we Make G-ds name Great for His name rests on every Jew.
Keep up the Great Play Team Maccabi Tel Aviv and May G-d grant you continued success in all your endeavors.
With Blessings of Love and Light, Ariella Bracha
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