Israeli Basketball Is More Out of Order Now Than Ever

How did basketball teams think they could hold games before settling dispute with the players?

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Let's distinguish for a moment between the issues at the heart of the Super League basketball strike - the fate of the fifth foreign player - and between the scandalous way in which the crisis is being handled by the league leadership.

Since Saturday night's basketball games were canceled because of players' protests against the amount of non-Israeli players in the league, it has emerged that some of the basketball team owners, managers and chairmen are stunned by the very fact that players are making use of their right to launch a strike as a way of attaining their goals. They are incapable of understanding how it could be that players under contract do not show up for games. They presumably also do not understand how teachers strike from time to time, despite the contracts they've signed, and how doctors strike despite working in hospitals. Well, dear team management, here's the surprising news for you: Workers can strike only if they are already working somewhere!

Some of the management's obliviousness to social reality has prompted foolish action and subsequent humiliation. What exactly were these team heads thinking when they announced - with boundless confidence and determination – that they would be holding a round of games on Saturday night? What made them fail to realize that they have to reach an agreement with the players first and only then go back to playing? They can't do this out of order. How exactly did they think they could hold games without players?

I dream of an Israeli basketball league in which each team has three foreign players, which would render superfluous the problematic so-called Russian rule requiring at least two Israelis on the court at all times. True, there aren't enough good Israeli players at this moment, but it's the task of Israeli basketball and Israel's basketball teams to train them. If legions of mediocre Americans want minutes of playing time, they should go to the Finnish basketball league. Yes, it will be hard to succeed in Europe with so few non-Israeli players, but when is the last time a team other than Maccabi Tel Aviv did anything significant in Europe anyway? When Hapoel Jerusalem took the ULEB Cup in 2004, it was with Doron Sheffer, Ido Kozikaro, Erez Katz and three foreigners.

There are extenuating circumstances that separate the dream from reality, and it looks like there is no escaping the fourth foreign player. The teams insist on a fifth as if their fate hangs upon it, and Avner Kopel, the league chairman, has proposed a compromise: four players for two years, five players for two years.

Don't be surprised if that's the agreement the players and the teams will ultimately reach. The only thing left is to hope that the team management is collectively wise enough not to repeat its errors. Given the farce on Saturday night, though, relying on these leaders' judgment is not a safe bet.

An Israeli basketball game.Credit: Moran Maayan

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