I might do that in the future, but I felt more compelled to speak on the political-sports situation in Israel amid the war with Hamas. Since a horrific massacre took place in my country on October 7th, there’s been no basketball activities. In fact, sports of all kinds have been canceled.
I’ll break the blog down into III groups: (i) the attack (ii) the consequences (iii) the future.
1. THE ATTACK
Friday was a pretty normal day in Israel. Friday evening wasn’t any different. We enjoyed a normal Sabbath dinner with family and friends. It was about 1 AM, I was in bed. It was getting late as I wrapped up conversations in advance of Ironi Ramat Gan’s debut in Winner League the following night. I have three players on the team, two Israeli and US forward Isaiah Miles. I posted a photo on Facebook with the club’s owner, congratulating him on his incredible journey from 3rd Division all the way to Winner League in four years.
Nothing could’ve prepared us for what came next. At 06.30 AM on the Holiday of the celebration of the Torah, sirens went off across the Southern and Central part of Israel. Shockingly, my kids slept through it, but my wife and I jumped out of bed, confused and puzzled. I looked out my window. I didn’t see anything. The sky was ocean blue. Calm and collective. Rockets fired? Missiles fired? At 06.30 AM? In the Tel Aviv area? It didn’t make sense. I checked my phone real quick … NOTHING. We looked at each other alarmed, but returned to sleep. Sadly, we had no clue and couldn’t have imagined in our wildest nightmares, that while we cuddled back up in bed, 1,400 Israelis were being slaughtered in their homes by Hamas.
I woke up again at around 09.00 AM, glanced at my phone, and saw live updates on social media. 50 dead. 80 dead. 100 dead. The numbers kept rising, but no one understood the magnitude of what went down. Then we heard of terrorists invading a “peace party”. We saw videos of civilians running, hiding, screaming for their lives. Reports kept getting worse.
Families trapped inside safe rooms called in TV channels, broadcasting the attacks from within their homes, begging for police and military aid. No one was able to come. Hamas terrorists closed off most of the roads, killing the IDF Golani Unit, the 1st responders. Any vehicle driving by was blasted and gunned down. Families were trapped inside for hours. People hid under their cars to avoid being seen. Hamas set cars on fire, burning them alive.
HOURS went by. Endless HOURS. Entire villages were wiped out. I won’t get it to the gruesome details of the massacre; that’s a story for another day.
Winner League officials canceled the game and put the entire league on hold. Meanwhile, the tragedies of lost loved one’s didn’t escape anyone. Every person knew someone who was involved one way or another in the attack. Ariel, a 27-year-old, a friend I knew since he was in middle school, who I coached and later played with – was murdered. The father of my client, Dani, a 53-year-old dad of three, was also killed. Everywhere you looked, wherever you turned your head, any social media app you opened, you discovered more heartbreaking, unimaginable information.
More killed. More bodies. More women raped. More babies tied together with electricity wires, burned alive. Parents were executed, like dominos, one after the other, in front of their kids, and vice-versa.
My step-brother has been called as a reserve up north to the border of Lebanon. Both my brothers in law, in elite combat units, have been summoned to the Gaza Strip. Neither of them have been home since October 7th. Families are at the edge of their seats, daily.
2. THE CONSEQUENCES
It wasn’t long before Winner League officials organized planes and housing for imports to leave Israel to Athens until the situation calmed down. Maccabi Tel Aviv sent their players to Cyprus. The country was in a state of shock. As reality began to sink in, National League clubs too, agreed to send their Americans home to the US with the understanding that the situation might escalate and there won’t be any basketball here for a long period of time. As time went on, players in the Winner League and the National League issued requests to terminate their contracts. For some it worked out for the better – Kiryat Ata wanted to cut Greg Whittington. Holon looked to unload Ahmad Caver. Rehovot wanted to save money on Demetrius Treadwell’s contract. Julien Ducree requested to move to Turkey. Many teams obliged and allowed their imports to move on, due to the level of uncertainties around the leagues. Others weren’t so understanding. Kendale McCullum signed with Polish club Slask without receiving his LOC from Ramat Gan (the case is now being examined by FIBA).
The Top-4 clubs that have private owners and financial moguls, relocated their entire teams to Europe. Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem will host their EuroLeague and FIBA BCL games in Belgrade. Hapoel Holon will play their FIBA BCL games in Athens. Hapoel Tel Aviv will host its EuroCup games abroad. For the other Winner League and National League teams funded by the government, municipalities and sponsors, it’s chaos. There’s no money. Sponsors closed shop. Municipality paused funds for various sports, and the Ministry of Sports Department will relocate its money elsewhere. Salaries aren’t being paid to players, who are sent to demand unemployment and social security.
For some time, the country went back to COVID-19 protocols. No schools. No sports. No social gathering of any sort. No shopping malls. Stores closed. Life has since calmed down a bit but it’s still not the same. Malls are now open till 18PM. Schools are teaching shorter days, till 13 PM. Sports activities are now allowed only in gyms with bomb shelters for the safety of everyone attending. The problem with that is, due to the ongoing war, Americans don’t want to return to Israel. Furthermore, the league has no timetable for return. The Israeli Federation issued a memo for return to basketball activities on December 3rd, 2023, but that’s unlikely to come to fruition. For now, clubs in the Winner League are practicing only with their Israelis, with the addition of top talents from the U18 teams. National League teams have combined practices with other clubs to reach a 10-man roster. Artzit clubs (3rd Division) are mostly inactive because kids ages 18-21 are in the military and most vets have been called to the IDF as reserves.
The FIBA Europe Cup wasn’t very accommodating to its Israeli participants. “They forced our hand. They pushed us out. It’s embarrassing”, said a source of one of the teams that forfeited their participation. FIBA first issued a notice that Galil Elion, Bnei Herzliya and Ness Ziona will host their games in Cyprus, but the truth was short to follow. The teams must arrive a day before the game, and leave the following day. Security for each game will cost roughly 35,000 Euros. Israeli clubs were basically shown the door, and forced to pull out of the competition because they have no possible way of funding such events.
3. THE FUTURE
NO ONE KNOWS.
The Israeli Basketball Federation along with the Winner League have joined forces to bring basketball back ASAP, but there’s no format in sight. Whispers bouncing around indicate there will be 1. No relegations from the top leagues. 2. The National League won’t crown a Champion. 3. The National League will have no IMPORTS. 4. The Winner League will be played ONLY with Israelis. 5. The Winner League will be played with three IMPORTS. 6. Teams from the South e.g. Ashdod, Ashkelon, will relocate to the Tel Aviv area. 7. NO fans allowed.
Honestly, no one knows what will happen, and everything is up in the air. Similar to tragically losing a loved one, or suffering a broken heart, the best cure in life is “time”. There’s nothing we can really do in this horrific situation, and scary times in Israel – other than seeing what happens over time and letting things play out. Hoping for the best, hoping for Israel to defeat Hamas, hoping for everyone’s loved one’s in captivity to return safe and sound. Hoping for that beautiful orange ball to continue to bounce in the Holy Land.