Maccabi Tel Aviv’s European basketball victory set off a national outpouring of joy in Israel on Monday that went far beyond the boundaries of sports.
Maccabi’s dream season culminated Sunday with an overtime victory over Real Madrid in the Euroleague basketball final in Milan.
Thousands of fans clad in Maccabi yellow filled Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square overnight Monday, with many jumping into its landmark fountain. Celebrations erupted in other cities as well, with TV and radio stations airing special broadcasts.
According to initial ratings figures, about a third of the country watched Sunday’s game live on TV, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres. Both men called head coach David Blatt after the game to offer congratulations.
“You were an example of determination. The whole team fought like lions and won,” Peres told Blatt.
The team has dominated Israeli basketball for decades and has grown into a European powerhouse, winning five titles. But in recent years, its aura has begun to fade.
Last year, it lost the Israeli title for the third time in six years — after having lost it only once in the previous 39 — and entered the European championship as a huge underdog.
The team that won back-to-back European titles in 2004-05 featured future NBA players like Anthony Parker, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Maceo Baston. Later, homegrown talents Omri Casspi and Gal Mekel also migrated to the NBA.
In contrast, this year’s team was devoid of big stars. It needed a dramatic win on the road to even make it to the Final Four and its victories over heavily favoured CSKA Moscow in the semifinals and Real Madrid in the final were sparked by the outstanding play of its bench.
“No one believed in us,” Maccabi captain Guy Pnini said. “It is hard to fathom and this will take a long time to sink in.” ✿
(Source: Associated Press)