It just might be that in retrospect, this past week could be the turning point for Hapoel Tel Aviv - but in the wrong direction. The fan-owned club that started off the season with a buzz is now in deep crisis - you have to wonder if they'll get out of it.
It's not just the loss to cellar-dwelling Maccabi Ashdod. It's also the departure of Jeff Allen, the second foreign player to end the season earlier than expected due to injuries. And if you remember that Ramon Moore was released by mutual agreement, Hapoel's foreign aid department is depleted.
Another major factor was the punishment at the Basketball Association's disciplinary committee. The decision to require Hapoel to play one home game away from it's Rishon Letzion home is reasonable, as is the ruling that the first three rows of the club's home arena will be closed. But the NIS 30,000 fine is almost a deathblow to the cash-strapped team.
Hapoel now has only two mediocre foreign players, a bunch of inexperienced Israelis and several veterans who are losing their touch. Matan Naor suffered a nightmare against Ashdod, and Jonathan Skojlbrand was in dire form long before the high-profile clash with Maccabi Tel Aviv's Avi Pnini. And it seems other teams have Hapoel figured out, understanding that it has no shooting option from outside the paint and simply crowds the paint, making every hard-earned hoop a cause for celebration.
Now the fan representatives have to make an awkward decision. On Web forums, fans have called for a halt to the club's philanthropic activities - supporting the community and youth club teams - in favor of finding the cash for a player or two to stop the freefall.
On the one hand, this is obviously a mistake; these activities make all the difference between Hapoel and the other clubs in the league. Halting the philanthropic activities would represent a loss of the fan-owned ideology.
On the other hand, not finding the cash might result in relegation. These next few sentences might sound dramatic, but they reflect the harsh reality: If the club is relegated, this might mean the end of Hapoel Tel Aviv.
Relegation to the Leumit League might dampen the fans' enthusiasm and almost messianic faith. The club might disappear, this time forever. The decisions of the next few weeks might save Hapoel - or lead to its demise.
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