Basketball

Not Luzon This Time, but Still Infuriating

The postponement of Maccabi Haifa’s game against Jerusalem went unnoticed but was scandalous, amateurish and damaged the league.

Israeli sports journalists focused throughout the weekend on the usual suspects. Yes, the Israel Football Association and its chairman Avi Luzon were once again held responsible, together with Beitar Jerusalem’s owner Eli Tabib, for the strange conduct that eventually led to the postponement of Beitar’s soccer encounter with Bnei Sakhnin, which was eventually held on Tuesday and resulted in a 0-0 draw.

It’s all too easy to produce headlines when Luzon and Tabib are involved, since the public gets irritated merely at the mention of their names. Any headline including the catch words “shame” (or “scandal”) and IFA or Luzon or Tabib, will immediately attract attention and dozens of angry posts.

But hold on a minute. There was another game that was postponed due to “weather conditions” yet passed under the radar. Why is that? Because Israel Basketball Super League Administration top officials, chairman Shmuel Frenkel and general manager Edi Markus lack that journalistic sex appeal and cause less antagonism. Still, why in the world was the intriguing game between Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Jerusalem, two of the league’s best teams, postponed?

In fact, the game was due to be held on Sunday night, after the storm was over. Moreover, it wasn’t due to take place in besieged Jerusalem, but rather in liberated Haifa. Eventually it was postponed to Friday noon, a sort of black hole in terms of fans and TV viewers. Thus, the Basketball Administration relinquished the opportunity to hold the game at the best possible time in terms of the media and TV, sans competition from any other soccer, basketball or tennis games.

Even the “Green Monkeys,” Maccabi Haifa’s fan group, agreed to suspend their boycott and arrive en masse to support their team. Naturally, the game’s postponement led the Sports Channel to move it from an open channel to a pay channel. Par for the course.

So why was the game postponed? Hapoel Jerusalem said that it wasn’t prepared for the storm – despite knowing it was expected since last Monday – and was stuck in Jerusalem with closed roads, no court for practice, no electricity and no practice sessions during the weekend. That is, of course, Hapoel Jerusalem’s problem. The team could have travelled to the center on Thursday – in any case, half of its squad lives in the center – hold weekend practice sessions and show up in Haifa for the game on Sunday.

Still, the club remained in Jerusalem and its officials began to whine and release photos of players stuck in their cars on the road leading to the capital. Maccabi Haifa agreed to postpone the game. Why? Mostly due to general fatigue and Brian Randal’s injury; it sort of came at a right time for the club.

And why did the Basketball Administration agree? Because representatives of the two clubs are part of the directorate, and nobody really wants to pass a decision that would irritate one’s bosses.

Thus, the only losers were the fans and Israeli basketball, which missed a golden opportunity to grab headlines, attention and rating.

Hapoel Eilat’s coach decided not to reveal who he appreciates more – Afik Nissim or Yuval Naimi – and handed Nitzan Hanochi the opportunity to run the game against Nes Tziona on Sunday.

Hanochi deserves a few words: He isn’t the most exciting player in the league, he lacks star quality, and he does have flaws. Still, he is exactly the player any fan would love to have in his team. National team coach Arik Shivek preferred Hanochi to Moran Roth and Naimi at the EuroBasket because he knew he would enjoy a player with no ego, who would oblige to every request; Katash, too, was aware of Hanochi’s qualities and brought him to Eilat.

Hanochi is a wonderful example of a player who struggled and scratched his way to the national team and the elite of Israeli hoopsters. Eilat almost lost the game against Nes Tziona, but was lucky to have Hanochi, who ran the game (five assists), defended well (seven steals) and mainly irritated his opponents. Many players testify that Hanochi pinches rivals and has a repertoire of irritating moves. On Sunday he succeeded in a mission that evaded half the league – beating Nes Tziona while holding Meir Tapiro on four points, forcing turnovers, and causing the veteran player to lose his temper.

One is tempted to praise Raviv Limonad. Note his scoring this season: 19, 21, 21, 18, 19, 16, 15, 15, 16, 21. It’s been years since we witnessed an Israeli go-to guy. Limonad arrived at Hapoel Tel Aviv as a star, and is certainly living up to his reputation.

Still, with all due respect, Carlon Brown is Hapoel Tel Aviv’s main man this season, responsible for the team’s latest string of victories. In a squad that hardly shoots three-pointers and often freezes on court, Brown takes the game by the scruff of the neck when the going gets tough, and more often than not makes the right moves at the right time. Coach Erez Edelstein has often been slammed for choosing the wrong foreign players, but this time he was right on the money.

The unluckiest player in the league must be Zack Gordon. The Jewish American guard arrived in Israel last year as Moran Roth’s substitute at Hapoel Holon and failed miserably. Despite that, he got his chance this summer and joined Hapoel Jerusalem. After warming the bench and hardly receiving any minutes on court, he moved to Ashdod.

His first game in yellow was particularly infuriating. Gordon scored 25 points, including seven three-pointers, but his team squandered a 28-point lead and lost to Nes Tziona. The following day he was invited as a guest to Malha Arena, where he saw Jerusalem beat Maccabi Tel Aviv and go bananas. When the Jerusalem fans came to comfort him, he almost burst out in tears.

This week he had a decent game, scoring 11 points, with an efficiency rating of +16, but Ashdod lost again. Being Zack Gordon can be frustrating.

One must congratulate Maccabi Tel Aviv, who succeeded in almost losing an away game against a team that can hardly score. During the game in Netanya, one event truly symbolized Maccabi’s confusion and lack of coordination this season: Ben Altit and Jake Cohen had a head collision; one bled and needed stitches while the other was almost diagnosed as suffering brain concussion, ruling both of them out of the remainder of the game. Oh, and I forgot to mention: The collision occurred while both were on the substitute’s bench.

Sharon Bukov