“We are on the map and we will stay on the map”, said Tal Brody in 1977, turning the sentence into one of the most famous expressions in Israel. Brody said this after Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team’s victory over CSKA Moscow at the European Champions’ Cup, which Israel won for the first time that year. While Israeli soccer continues to search for its success on the international stage, Israeli basketball is a completely different story, owing primarily to Maccabi Tel Aviv, which became, in many aspects, the national team. Basketball started to be played in Israel officially only in 1954 and over the years has developed more competitively. Israeli basketball’s origins were much more modest than where it is today: there are about 200 different leagues for children, adults and women of all ages, with more than 2000 registered teams with more than 30,000 active players.
Basketball in Israel
Out of the eight groups that founded the league, just four remain: Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Tel Aviv, Hapoel Holon and Maccabi Haifa, and some have gained domestic and international success over the years. Maccabi Tel Aviv has been the leading basketball team in the last several decades. Since the team was founded in 1932, it has won the Intercontinental Cup, 51 national championships, 42 national cups and 6 European cups, which have transformed it into one of the most successful teams on the continent. Hapoel Jerusalem, which in recent years has been challenging Maccabi Tel Aviv, won the Euro Cup in 2004 after beating Real Madrid. The women’s teams have also been a success, Elitzur Ramla winning the Euro Cup for women in 2012.
While the teams themselves gain success in the league, the success of Israel’s national basketball team is more modest, although since 1948, the year in which the state was founded, it has participated in 28 European championships. Until today, the national team has won two gold and one silver medal in the Asian championship games and one silver medal in the European basketball championship. As of July 2015, the Israeli national team is ranked in 38th place in the world by the International Basketball Federation (FIBA). Like Israel’s national soccer team, the national basketball team also plays in European rather than Asian games, to which Israel is supposed to belong.
As of the 2014/2015 basketball season, Israel is on the global basketball map, not because of its basketball teams or national team, but because of one man, the Cleveland Cavaliers coach from the NBA league – David Blatt. Blatt is the first Israeli coach to train a U.S. NBA team, which ended this year as the NBA runner-up. Before he arrived in the USA, he had many successes as the coach of Maccabi Tel Aviv where he won championships, the Euro League Cup and other cups. In 2006, he started to train the Russian national team, which he led to a historic win in the European basketball championship held in 2007, and a bronze medal in the London Olympics in 2012. In 2014, Blatt was nominated and won the Euro League’s coach of the year title