Post-championship Holon Dreams of Prosperity, Tourism

Holon celebrated all weekend after the city's basketball team crushed arch-rivals Maccabi Tel Aviv on Thursday. The city, with a population of 190,000, exploded with pride over the defeat of Tel Aviv, the imperial giant next door whose team had walked off with the championship for 15 consecutive years.

"Say 'Holon is on the map and will stay there,'" fans of the new state champion urged basketball legend Tal Brody after the dramatic finish, a paraphrase of his statement after Tel Aviv's historic win in the 1977 European championship.

Now Holon residents hope the championship will turn their town into an economic, tourism and entertainment hub.

The celebrations, which began with a spontaneous gathering in Peres Park, continued with a procession down Sokolow Street on Friday afternoon.

"Miki Dorsman is king of the universe," a teen in a Holon cafe says, referring to Hapoel Holon's owner and coach. A group of teens are talking about the seminal game, analyzing every step of it. After they finish rehashing the "tremendous" game, they move on to broader municipal issues. Nobody dares to challenge Tel Aviv's central role, but all agree that this important victory must be maximized.

"When Michael Jordan moved to play in Washington, it brought tens of millions of dollars to the local economy - salaries, restaurants around the stadium, publicity," says Herzl Maar, a commercial ads director of 30. "Here, too, it can be an economic springboard for more jobs, like more coaches for youth teams," he says.

Holon was founded in 1940. Until recently, it was seen as a Tel Aviv sleeper town. However, under Mayor Moti Sasson, who was elected in 1993, it has established itself as "children's city," boasting children's museums, a library, the Mediatheque youth theater and a shopping mall. "Story gardens" and theme parks, with sculptural representations of classical children's stories, have been set up throughout the city.

However, Sasson has been censured for not better supporting the city's basketball team. Now he must change his attitude, for Holon must also become Israel's basketball city, many say. After all, next year the team will play in the European ULEB Cup. Sasson's first task is to improve the team's home court.

"If they build a larger, proper court, and fans of large European groups come here, it would boost the town's economy and businesses," says cafe owner Shuki Cohen, 32.

"If we get tourists, more entertainment places will open, like pubs and clubs," says his father, Yossi Cohen. "Currently we have no tourism, not a single hotel. It depends on the city leaders - they must make the most of having the state champion. Europe hasn't heard of Holon. Entrepreneurs invest in hotels and tourism in Tel Aviv, Netanya and Herzliya. Investors love success, so Holon can use this opportunity to develop its tourism infrastructure," he says.

Much depends on maintaining the achievement, says Oded Wiesel, 31, a businessman who works in Tel Aviv.

"If we take the championship three years in a row, it will have significant implications," he says. "Sports add a lot of color to the city. It brings the media, sponsors and large companies, and improves its image. It can also lead to economic momentum."

"On the other hand, Holon is not a peripheral town. We feel like Tel Avivians, we're only a moment away from there. The only difference is that we pay lower rent and have parking spaces," he says.