The Last Word / Spinning Wheels

A strange optimism has overtaken Israeli basketball in recent weeks. The collapse of Hapoel Holon, the disappearance of basketball from the Galil and the not so encouraging performance of the national team made way for a new wave. Jeffrey Rosen, the owner of Maccabi Haifa, arrived to take up the mantle left behind by Miki Dorsman; Bnei Hasharon, Ironi Nahariya and Hapoel Jerusalem built attractive teams; and, in particular, Gilboa/Galil upset Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Winner Cup. At the end of the day, what will make this season good is a competitive league born of the weakness of the yellow giant.

And still, one can't ignore the traumatic events of the early summer, such as the national team's poor show. Rosen is far from being the next Dorsman, last year's owner/coach of Holon. Whereas Dorsman wanted to take his team as far as possible, Rosen may yet drop Haifa like a hot iron. Galil may have assembled a likable team in the Gilboa, but the anemic reaction to the abandonment of the north is a reminder of just how much the fan base of some teams has eroded. And, above all, the national team's performance made it clear just how dire the situation of the Israeli basketball player really is.

Despite the so-called Russian law, which requires that at least two Israeli players be on the court at any given time during league games, the foreigners remain the deciding factor for each team. It's not for nothing that the league's most seasoned executive, Bnei Hasharon's Eldad Aconis, signed Richard Roby, Shawn James and Haminn Quaintance, while at the same time adding the anonymous Israeli crew of Ori Ichaki, Ben Reis and Elad Hofman.

As such, given the dearth of Israelis, money and stability, local basketball's rickety plan of action relies almost completely on Maccabi's weakness. The past experience of Galil and Holon teaches us that it is a recipe for ecstasy that quickly dissipates. The only hope for continuity depends on having as many teams as possible with reasonably-sized budgets, who can constitute a fixed and not sporadic alternative to Maccabi.

Nahariya, Bnei Hasharon and Haifa may be able to prick the empire, but only Hapoel Jerusalem has enough fans and tradition to develop into a dynasty of its own. The club may be on the verge of a new era, indeed, with the arrival of a solid and fundamental coach in Guy Goodes and one of the most talented players Jerusalem has seen in years in Yuval Naimi, not to mention a decent mix of Israeli players and fairly good foreigners.

On the other hand, it's understood that any of the following - the plague of injuries, the overreliance on Timmy Bowers or the chronic tendency of Malha Stadium to choke - could undermine everything. Israeli basketball is only as good as its second best team: it is walking on thin ice and could fall through at any second. Meanwhile, somehow, it continues to spin its wheels.