This week, I went to a professional basketball game in Jerusalem. Given my family’s (and, in particular, my father’s), love for basketball, I’ve been fortunate to go to quite a few NBA games in the states, but I’ve never been to a professional sporting event in another country.
The game I went to this week was between Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Eilat. Both are professional basketball club teams that are members of the Israel Premier League – the Jerusalem team is also part of the Eurocup. In fact, it’s been rumored that Amare Stoudemire might join Hapoel Jerusalem after his contract with the Knicks expires in 2015.
The game took place at the brand-spanking-new Jerusalem Pais Arena. The arena can seat close to 12,000 people, and it only opened this past September. I went with a group to the game, and we arrived to the game early and got a good look at the arena before there were any other spectators around:
The arena was really nice – very similar to a professional sports arena in the U.S.!
The group I went with was lucky to have a special session with Tamir Goodman, an American-Jewish former basketball player who now works for Hapoel Jerusalem. Tamir has a pretty incredible story. He was raised (and remains) an Orthodox Jew, and his dream was always to play Division I college basketball. As a high schooler, he had success as a player, ranking as the 25th best high-school player in the U.S. during his 11th grade year. While he was in high school, Sports Illustrated wrote an article about him, calling him the ‘Jewish Jordan.’
In spite of his success as a high school athlete, it was difficult for Tamir to find somewhere to play in college because he could not play or practice on Shabbat. He made a verbal commitment to the University of Maryland after an agreement that they would accommodate his religious needs. The agreement, however, didn’t work out and he ended up going to Towson University. At Towson, he was the first freshman to earn a starting spot on the team in 11 years, and he had a successful season during that year. After his freshman year, the coaching staff changed and the new coach was less willing to accept Tamir’s religious needs. Tamir left the team in the middle of his sophomore year after being allegedly assaulted by the coach. Although his college career had a disappointing ending, he later moved to Israel where he had a brief career in the Israel league before retiring due to injury.
Tamir talked to our group for about 30 minutes:
His story was fascinating, and it was amazing to hear all of the challenges he had to navigate in order to become a Division I athlete while still observing all of the traditional religious laws. He is definitely a role model for holding onto one’s values and working hard to achieve goals.
After talking with Tamir, we went out to the arena’s main lobby (which had really cool decorations!) to check our the swag shop:
While the arena itself was similar to an American sports venue, the food offerings were severely lacking. Like many European sports venues, there is no alcohol sold in Israeli arenas. Also, there was basically only one stand that sold hot dogs, pretzels, nachos, popcorn, drinks, and a couple bagged snacks. I think I’ve gotten way too used to American arenas that have everything from freshly shaved roast beef sandwiches to chocolate-dipped cheesecake…I guess this probably says something about the American entertainment/food industry!
Eventually, we made our way into the arena which was crowded although not entirely full. The warm up was underway and there was A TON of energy from the fans. There were a lot more young people at the game than what I generally see at NBA games. I suspect this is in large part a reflection of the ticket prices. At the Hapoel game there were lots of teenagers who looked to be in high school, and there seemed to be a school band and student section that cheered like crazy the entire game.
The game ended up being quite the nail-biter. Jerusalem was down by three with only 14 seconds to go…
They had possession and hit a three-pointer right away to make it a tied game with only 10 seconds left. The Eilat team lost the ball on the other end and Jerusalem quickly called a time-out. With four seconds left, Jerusalem inbounded the ball from the side court on their offensive side – BUT THE PERSON WHO THE BALL WAS BEING PASSED TO TURNED AWAY AND STARTED RUNNING THE OTHER DIRECTION SO THE BALL HIT HIM IN THE BACK! An Eilat player scooped it up right away, fast-breaked down the court, and scored a lay-up as the buzzer sounded to win by 2. Ridiculous ending to an exciting game – I sure felt bad for the Jerusalem player who got hit in the back though. He must have felt rull bad.
Nonetheless, this was a SUPER DUPER fun evening. I would definitely like to go to another game while I’m here…maybe even check out some soccer. I hear soccer fans get pretty wild. :)