I’ve definitely said it a million times – sports are exactly what Israel needs.
Well, not exactly what it needs, but let’s be honest, sports really know how to bring a city, country, or nation (of rather athletically challenged people) together in an instant.
Sunday night, Maccabi Electra Tel Aviv became the 2014 Turkish Euroleague basketball champions after a 98-86 victory over Real Madrid. It didn’t happen easily, as the champs needed a 25-point performance in overtime – of course, because nothing in Israel comes without stress, right?
It was a great win, and the just desserts for a Maccabi team who didn’t simply cruise to their 6th all-time Euroleague title over the 2013-14 season. Maccabi struggled over the course of the year, most recently in the semi-final game against CSKA Moscow when they won a very tough game by a single point to reach Sunday’s championship match.
Maybe that’s why so many people were glued to their TVs on Sunday (and two days prior for the semi-final) to cheer on Maccabi against Madrid. Maybe that’s why my Facebook timeline was flooded of cheers for the gold and blue Electra lineup, when another gold and blue team was playing simultaneously. Yup, I’m talking about the Indiana Pacers who were playing in game 1 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals against the Miami Heat, the two-time defending NBA champions.
But yet, in Israel it wasn’t LeBron James time, it was all about Alex Tyus, Tyrese Rice and Ricky Hickman leading the charge for Maccabi when it mattered most.
I’m not sure I’ve ever really seen so many people get behind an Israeli sports team like this. Maccabi Tel Aviv is Israel’s main sports export, competing perennially in the Euroleague and actually winning at it too (with the 2014 championship, Maccabi moves into a tie for second place all-time in Euroleague titles).
And that’s exactly what Israelis are hoping for. Israeli athletes can’t seem to get it done in the Olympics, and the national soccer team just barely missed out on the World Cup this year – it was time something positive happened for Israeli sports fans.
The thing is, it’s not just the titles, gold medals or trophies that have brought this sports-based unity in Israel right now. It’s the pride. Israel is a very proud nation – the sort of folks not willing to take crap from anybody no matter what the cost. A country made up of such tough people (even an Israel-sized country) leads to a heck of a lot of tension on a daily basis.
But there’s something about sports, and especially a championship, that helps to brush all that aside. Sports are not exactly a staple within Israeli culture, as there are usually more important things to focus on, like a little thing called war. Politics aside, Israelis may not be the sports-crazed people of North America or Europe, but everything else just seems to fall by the wayside when a team gets on a plane and comes back with a trophy.
And most of the time, it’s totally fine that Israel doesn’t care too much about sports. Right now, though, it’s as if Israel’s national colors have changed shade from blue and white to blue and yellow. President Peres wore a yellow tie, Prime Minister Netanyahu was watching the game, and Tel Aviv is awash in Maccabi’s colors.
Sometimes, sports really do matter to Israel, and it’s something I’d love to see way more often.
Israel could certainly benefit from a serious injection of sports into its culture. Just look around at what’s happening in Tel Aviv right now – partying in the streets, pride in the Blue and Yellow and a unity rarely seen outside of IDF Remembrance Day or Israel’s Independence Day.
Coming together over a sports event – even if it’s a losing effort – is undoubtedly preferred over remembering this nation’s hardships or the one national holiday we have each year. Considering sports are a 24/7/365 kinda deal, I’d say we should start heading down that road.
Why should the country be limited to rooting for one basketball club? With a little more effort this could become a time of year that many more Israelis look forward to. The way I see it, the celebration surrounding this Euroleague championship is sending a message loud and clear: Israel and its people are craving the fan experience taken for granted in the western world. Has anyone in the Tel Aviv area thought about politics over the past 48 hours? I doubt it.
As the NBA and NHL playoffs continue to dominate the news in North America, the Maccabi Tel Aviv Euroleague championship will be making waves in Israel for some time. If this country plays its cards right, this championship high will have a lasting impact on Israel that we can all benefit from.