Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Holyland Hardwood outlives Holyland Hardball

There will be no professional baseball in Israel this year. The missteps, secrecy, debts and monumental task of starting from scratch has turned the great sports dream into a dream once again. And as thousands of sports fan kick at the dirt, sports goes on.

The world-traveling blogger Ms. Babble (“U.S. Army veteran, writer, musician, jack of all trades…”) posts this morning on the American Babble site about one imported sport that's thriving in Israel— Basketball, man.

Some highlights:
Macabbi Elite: Israeli Basketball

In Israel, basketball is king.

It isn’t the only sport here. They have baseball but the Israel Baseball League didn’t form until last year and doesn’t seem to be all that popular yet.

…Soccer is actually considered the number one sport in Israel in front of basketball but I wouldn’t know the difference.

They don’t have a professional American football team at all. (gasp!)

But what they do have is basketball.

Right now it’s an exciting time for Maccabi Elite which is the national basketball team based out of Tel Aviv. They’ve found a spot in the Euroleagues Final Four and are close to a championship. It’s kinda like getting to the NBA Finals only the competition is between countries instead of cities.

E’s cousin S just returned to Israel from traveling the United States for the last six months. He made it back just in time to see Maccabi play Barcelona last week. Being the sports fan I am, I jumped at the opportunity to watch it with him.

We went to the store prior to the game to pick up some beer. I was ecstatic to find Miller Genuine Draft sitting in the cooler for me! These small American finds are what make my day. Little reminders of home to make me smile. I made a mental note of the Miller and then grabbed the local beer instead which is also called “Maccabee”.

…With beer in hand, S advised me that they usually eat pistachio nuts during the game. It’s just like how we eat sun flower seeds at a baseball game. This time, though, we bought a couple bags of pastries called burekas. They’re filled with everything from cheese to mushroom to pizza sauce to potatoes.

After half time, he heated up the pastries and we ate them with coffee. Needless to say, it was a little different from watching American sports at home. Especially American football, which usually consists of far too much beer, junk food, a river of bad mouthing, and the occasional breaking of something (body parts or otherwise)… It was much more civilized.

…To be quite honest, half of the Israeli players looked and played acutely American. The style. The attitude. Their movements on the court. Was I watching Maccabi or the L.A. Lakers?

I pointed this out to S who advised me that just like in the NBA, they could recruit players from different cities and states. But here it’s on an international scale! There is no rule saying that every player on a national team has to be from that nation. It just so happens that all the best basketball players are from the United States.

A lot of Israelis find this recruitment of non-Israelis to be insulting to their national pride… But just like in America, we have to throw away national pride in order to win. And in a sporting competition, that’s the ultimate goal.

So when we saw the black American point guard fly over a Barcelona forward for a “Jordan-esque” slam dunk we joked by saying, “Macabbi sure does have some fantastic Ethiopian Jews on their team this year!”

Israel Macabbi is playing in the Euroleague Final Four in Madrid beginning May 2nd.

Read Ms. Babble’s complete post here.

And click here for our Baseball in Israel archive site.

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