Shimon Mizrahi, Is Maccabi Tel Aviv Still the Country's Team?

Shimon Mizrahi has been married to Maccabi Tel Aviv for 41 years. As chairman of the basketball club, he has claimed five European championships and 38 national championships. From his perspective, the team's recent loss to the Serbian club Partizan - which ousted Maccabi from the Final Four - was nothing more than a particular moment of weakness. Mizrahi has no intention of allowing a small flop in Belgrade to alter Maccabi's status as "the country's team."

Shimon Mizrahi, is Maccabi Tel Aviv still the country's team?

"Maccabi always was and always will be the national team. When I'm on the street, people tell me the same thing."

And still, Partizan made it to the Final Four at your expense - after defeating you in the series. How do you feel about this?

"I have a bad feeling. It feels like a missed opportunity. In my opinion, the missed opportunity came during the first game, in Tel Aviv. In the third game we played just as well as Partizan, but in the end Partizan won. The decision should not have been made in Belgrade, the matter should have been concluded in Tel Aviv. But we didn't manage to win in Israel after leading by 21 points."

How did the team lose its 21-point advantage in the first home game held between the two teams?

"In the last quarter, there were two factors. One was a certain weakness on our part. [Our players] thought there was an absolute victory. The other involved their players, like [Dusan] Kecman, who scored 29 points in that game - more points than he's scored in the past two or three games combined."

Is Partizan better than Maccabi?

"On a neutral court, out of 10 games against them, we would win seven or eight games."

Maccabi's budget is about $18 million, while Partizan's is about 1.5 million euros (just over $2 million). At one point, Maccabi coach Pini Gershon said that the budget is significant. After the second defeat, he said that it's of no significance. Is it significant or not?

"At this stage, I don't think that the budget is significant. Teams like Sopot from Poland and other teams reached this stage - and at this stage anyone who reaches the top eight is more or less equal. After we beat Real Madrid in Spain and transferred the home advantage to ourselves, the missed opportunity was far more painful."

What do you have to say about Partizan's fans? It's not every day that you see an audience jumping and cheering throughout the entire game.

"It's an unusual crowd. They conducted a special kind of recruitment [for those wanting to attend], with everything that entails. They provided their fans with special means and the audience cheered very nicely. Sometimes it went overboard - in the form of spitting and throwing objects and all that - but at the end of the day it's an amazing crowd. For anyone who thought the interest in European basketball has declined, this only proves that all the stadiums are overflowing this season. In Tel Aviv all the games were sold out - with 11,000 spectators. That only demonstrates how much interest there is in the Euroleague."

What do you have to say about the Partizan fans in Belgrade who spit at the Maccabi bench?

"The Maccabi management certainly wouldn't have allowed fans to spit or throw metal objects. I don't have to educate them on that. But that incident involved the Euroleague - and the Euroleague will use the sanctions at their disposal."

At one press conference, Pini Gershon said there is an unforgiving attitude toward Maccabi, perhaps because of its success.

"As far as that is concerned, I'm quite sure that there are many who are in fact forgiving toward Maccabi, and there are some who are motivated only by frustration and envy. That doesn't impress us at all."

And what about the type of Israelis on Maccabi? Many people say they don't have any Israelis with whom to identify.

"That's absolute nonsense. We have the best Israelis in the league. And there isn't a single Israeli you can point to who should be playing on Maccabi at the moment this season who isn't already on Maccabi. Our Israeli identity certainly exists and that's how it should be."