There was Julius "Dr. J" Erving, the former ABA and NBA star sitting courtside Thursday evening flaunting his yellow Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball cap, as the elite team of Israel’s professional league met Hapoel Holon in the championship game before 11,000 screaming fans in Nokia Arena. It was very "PC" of Erving to wear that cap, as Maccabi Tel Aviv is considered to be the "Yankees" of roundball, having won local and EuroLeague championships over a period of decades.
However, in recent years, Maccabi has also become a microcosm of Israeli society. The rich owners of Maccabi have tended to flaunt the teams’ "can’t touch me" status, spending far more than anyone in the local league, smashing opponents at will before crowds that usually include the creme de la creme of Israeli society. At Maccabi Tel Aviv games, the league actually allows one of the team’s senior owners to sit on the bench, pace the sidelines and scream at officials at will. If the team played in the NBA, Commissioner Stern would ban the owner and fine the team heavily. But not in Israel, as Maccabi Tel Aviv basically controls the league’s agenda.
Last year, a strong Hapoel Jerusalem team came within seconds of beating Maccabi Tel Aviv in the finals, only to lose on a last second miracle basket. The owners of Maccabi Tel Aviv refused to understand that the league was changing, as better players were being brought in from abroad.
Last year, Hapoel Holon, a blue collar team from a lower middle class city adjacent to Tel Aviv found a way to graduate from the country’s minor leagues to the premier league, where the big boys like Maccabi Tel Aviv played. Holon played in a bandbox arena in front of maybe 2,000 rabid fans. The owner and coach, Micky Dorsman found investors who pumped enough money into the team in order to pay for some ex-NCAA college stars who weren’t good enough for the
NBA. The payroll was less than half of Maccabi Tel Aviv, yet Holon kept on beating Tel Aviv and almost everyone else during the course of its 1st season in the big leagues.
Maccabi Tel Aviv, which somehow made it to the EuroLeague championship game in Spain was outclassed by a well-coached team of ex-NBAers and European stars who wore the colors of Moscow’s CKSA squad. Maccabi’s owners still thought that their high-priced squad would still smash opponents within Israel and walk away with the local championship once more. The coach, management and players refused to understand that the "lunch pail" squads such as Hapoel Holon were motivated by Maccabi’s snobbism. It was time for the well-coached blue-collar squads (the "people’s team") to teach the rich boys a lesson.
On Thursday evening, Hapoel Holon stayed with Maccabi Tel Aviv during the length of the entire game. No matter what Maccabi Tel Aviv tried, Hapoel Holon was able to adjust and respond. Two tiny Israeli backcourt players meshed with three African-American players to
create havoc for Tel Aviv. And then, with 6 seconds remaining on the clock a Hapoel Holon player found himself wide open on his way to the basket. Maccabi Tel Aviv’s dominance had succumbed to an heretofore unknown team that displayed more class, more motivation, more
"chutzpah", than anything Maccabi could muster. For once, the snobs had to bow to their blue-collar neighbors in Holon.
Maccabi Tel Aviv is considered a NATIONAL team, and as such is considered a "light unto other nations," especially when it plays in Europe and New York. It needs to return to the days of Tal Brody, the American star who "pioneered" the fighting spirit of Maccabi Tel Aviv, before it became a toy for the business establishment and a microcosm of what Israeli society has become.
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