The final score of the Oct. 17 game between the Portland Trail Blazers and Maccabi Haifa — 121-74 — was not pretty. In fact, it was a complete blow out. The Trail Blazers made it into the second round of last year’s NBA playoffs before being defeated by the eventual NBA champions, the San Antonio Spurs. The Maccabi Haifa team was retooled from last year’s squad, which took second place in the Israeli Basketball League.
But hope sprang eternal, as Maccabi Haifa had lost by only six points to the Washington Wizards days earlier. The Wizards also made the NBA playoffs the previous year.
But the disparity in size and pedigree of Portland’s players were too much to overcome. Portland had three seven-footers and four other players six-foot-ten or taller, with five weighing over 255 pounds. Maccabi Haifa had one seven footer and no other players over six-foot-nine or weighing more than 253 pounds. And the team was a conglomerate of Israelis, olim from Russia, Mexicans, Canadians, and African-Americans all representing the Jewish state.
This was manifested by the team standing in rapt attention as the Israeli flag was raised, and the singing of “Hatikva” by a local Jewish woman, Tiffany Schneiderman. There was an exchange of gifts between the American and Israeli teams after the signing of our national anthem.
There were rumors preceding the game that there would be BDS protestors against Israel as there had been in Washington. They weren’t protesting West Bank settlements, but Israel itself, as Haifa is the capital of the Galilee. But thankfully, there were no protests. Instead, the public address announcers and the scoreboard displayed information about Haifa and Israel. There was also a solicitation for the Haifa Hoops for Kids Program, a partnership with the team and the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest, to use sports to help build the esteem of disadvantaged youth in the Greater Haifa area. This year over 25,000 youths will be served by this program.
Among the attendees of more than 14,000 were many who sought to learn more about Israel, including those who asked me about where Haifa was and what made it special. I replied that it was the main Mediterranean port for our U.S. fleet and that Israel was America’s best friend in that part of the world.
It takes great expense to fly, house, and feed this team in over four cities this year and close to a dozen cumulatively since the series began in 2010 at Prudential Center with the former NJ Nets. But the American owner of the team, Jeff Rosen, knows that this exposure to NBA teams is a great experience for his young and out-manned team. As a Zionist and Jewish philanthropist, Rosen; his marketing director, Andrew Wilson; other staff members; and the team are great goodwill ambassadors for the Jewish state, which needs all the help it can muster in our “Orwellian world” in the aftermath of the Gaza War.
Viewed from that vantage point, it wasn’t just a basketball game. It was a victory for Israel.