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David Blatt and LeBron James: What a Difference a Year Makes

7 million fans watching their favorite Israeli basketball coach does not a totalitarian regime make

Rogel Alpher, who writes for Haaretz, and I (unbeknownst to him) have been driving each other crazy for two full National Basketball Association (NBA) seasons. Last year, when I was passionately rooting for David Blatt to coach the Cleveland Cavaliers to the NBA Championship, Alpher accused Blatt of conceited overstepping when the latter stated, “seven million people in Israel are getting up at 4 AM to support the Cleveland.” Alpher knew at least one who wasn’t — himself. How dare Blatt, a coach with more than 900 professional victories, make such a gross overstatement? How childish of Israelis to root for Cleveland just because Blatt was their favorite son? Alpher bluntly stated that he was for the Golden State Warriors, and that he shouldn’t have to feel that by doing so he was some kind of traitor.

Admittedly, it was hard to swallow and painful to watch how Cleveland’s star, LeBron James, treated Blatt as if he was no more than a shadow. A combination of a megalomaniac ego and unwillingness to give a coach from Europe a chance. James was overtly dismissive of Blatt in public, and, one can reasonably surmise, in the locker room. Despite Blatt’s excellent coaching, especially in improving the Cavalier’s defense, and probably because they were missing two key players, they lost the championship series, four games to two, to arguably the best team in NBA history. And, despite the Cavaliers being in first place mid-season this year, Blatt was fired, and LeBron James’ disgusting behavior towards Blatt was a big part of why.

Re-enter Alpher with the histrionic zeal characteristic of Haaretz columnists, especially of the left-wing variety. Commenting on the local reaction to Blatt’s firing, Alpher conjured up no less than fascism, Haaretz’ bon ton of the last few years. To blindly follow the crowd in identifying with Blatt was fascist. Alpher was happy that Blatt was fired, but I won’t call him a self-hating Jew. Incidentally, I didn’t hear Alpher criticize the Toronto Raptors players and coach who claimed that the whole country of Canada was behind them this season, as they went further into the playoffs than ever before.

The foolish, loose, throwing around of the term fascism, and its cousin apartheid, by the likes of Alpher and his fellow columnist Gideon Levy (excellent, but misguided, unbalanced writers) is rather like the pot calling the kettle black. Laws proposed in the Knesset to withdraw funding from the arts, according to political complexion require a loyalty oath for citizens and members of the Knesset require an identification badge for lobbyists receiving support from foreign governments, are taken as a sign that Israel is becoming fascist, whether or not they pass. Israel is an apartheid state, whether or not Arabs and Jews interact daily on buses, in stores, at theatres and in hospitals. Sheldon Adelson’s financing of Yisrael Hayom, distributed for free, is a clear step by Bibi Netanyahu to manipulate public opinion in the most demagogic fashion. Never mind that the paper is an innocuous, milquetoast light read that includes among its regular columnists Yossi Beilin (a closet fascist?). As a 30-year veteran subscriber/addict to Haaretz who reads Gideon Levy for the intellectual struggle, I am wont to say that Yisrael Hayom, distributed free, is, in Hebrew, “sinat chinam” (the gratuitious kind of hate that brought down the Second Temple) while Haaretz is “sinah betashloom” (hate for pay).

So Rogel, be aware that this year, as we enter the repeat match between Cleveland and Golden State for the NBA championship, I am with you in rooting for the latter. Not only are they a great team to watch (as they were last year even when I was against them), but LeBron James should only lose because he deserves it for the way he treated Blatt (who, by the way has continued to openly support the Cavs and predicted their ultimate victory). That’s out of loyalty to Blatt. If that makes me a fascist, so be it.

About the Author
David Chinitz is Professor of Health Policy and Management at the Braun School of Public Health, Hebrew University-Hadassah
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