Israel Goes Mad for Hoops Champions — But Few Israelis Make Cut

Black Americans Lead Maccabi Tel Aviv to Crown

Cheers to You: American Tyrese Rice wades through sea of rapturous supporters after Maccabi Tel Aviv won Europe’s basketball crown.
getty images
Cheers to You: American Tyrese Rice wades through sea of rapturous supporters after Maccabi Tel Aviv won Europe’s basketball crown.

By Nathan Jeffay

Published May 22, 2014, issue of May 30, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

The excitement was almost enough to kill Israel’s 90-year-old president.

Right after Tel Aviv’s top basketball team won Europe’s championship crown in Milan in a nail-biting 96–86 victory that went into overtime, President Shimon Peres told the team’s coach by phone, “I watched the whole game and nearly had a heart attack.”

“You are heroes and have brought incredible pride to the State of Israel,” Peres told the Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv team, lauding their May 18 Euroleague victory.

The team’s return to Israel the day after its win appeared to more than vindicate Peres’s assessment that something extraordinary had happened. Thousands of fans, many of them dressed in Maccabi’s shade of yellow, gathered in Rabin Square for an open-air party where the players were cheered on, and everyone sang along to “We Are the Champions.”

It was the same day that the speaker of the Knesset set the date for the presidential election. But it was difficult to find reference to this long-awaited announcement, as images of the victory and the celebrations dominated television stations and print media. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put other duties on hold to host the team. He told the coach and players: “You brought great honor to Israel. I tell you that it was uplifting for all Israelis. You set an example.”

For many Israelis, their country’s prominence in the international arena for a reason completely unrelated to diplomatic matters was a welcome change. The recognition of a positive, apolitical national accomplishment was music to their ears.

In an interview with the Forward, the star of the game, David Blu, who scored 14 points and grabbed four rebounds, emphasized the point evident everywhere in the air: This was no mere team victory, nor was it even just a sports victory. “We didn’t just represent an organization or a city, we represented a *people*,” he said, “the Israeli people.”

In the thrill of the brief moment, few dwelled on the fact that the 12-member team consisted of seven non-Jewish foreigners and only five Israeli citizens, including three *olim*, or immigrants. Soon enough, some said that the country was getting carried away over a victory that shouldn’t, in actual fact, invoke national pride. Their critique was bound up with the broader questions of national identity that Israelis face.

Amal Jamal, author of “The Arab Public Sphere in Israel: Media Space and Cultural Resistance,” said that the victory was an “irrelevance” to most Israeli-Arabs, who constitute 20% of the population. They prefer soccer to basketball and view Maccabi Tel Aviv as a Jewish team, Jamal said.

But post-game reflection was not limited to the Arab sector on the question of just what nation was basking in the aura of national pride.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • Novelist Sayed Kashua finds it hard to write about the heartbreak of Gaza from the plush confines of Debra Winger's Manhattan pad. Tough to argue with that, whichever side of the conflict you are on.
  • "I’ve never bought illegal drugs, but I imagine a small-time drug deal to feel a bit like buying hummus underground in Brooklyn."
  • We try to show things that get less exposed to the public here. We don’t look to document things that are nice or that people would like. We don’t try to show this place as a beautiful place.”
  • A new Gallup poll shows that only 25% of Americans under 35 support the war in #Gaza. Does this statistic worry you?
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.