Moni Fanan 88.
Moni Fanan was no friend of mine.
In fact, if you were to ask me about Moni Fanan back in the days when I regularly covered Maccabi Tel Aviv, I would no doubt have told you that he simply made my job more difficult.
What I didn't realize then is that without Moni Fanan, there may not have been an interest or a need to cover Maccabi at all.
Because without Moni Fanan, Maccabi could never have reached the heights it did, or have generated the country-wide interest it did and continues to do.
In the many tributes being written by his former players, coaches, fellow management and colleagues, the phrase "he was the soul of Maccabi" is thrown around quite a bit. And for good reason.
Moni Fanan truly was the soul of Maccabi Tel Aviv.
His role as a father, friend and caretaker - in addition to his official role as team manager - at Maccabi for the better part of two decades was as important in building the great Maccabi dynasty as was Pini Gershon's coaching, Anthony Parker's scoring, Nikola Vujcic's passing, Sarunas Jasikevicus's leadership and Maceo Baston's defense.
Because without Fanan, there is a very real chance that none of those players would have been at Maccabi in the first place.
When you came to play for Maccabi during Fanan's time at the club, you were greeted with unconditional love.
Fanan made sure that any new player, particularly the foreign players, had everything they could possibly need. Their refrigerators were full. The cable and internet hooked up.
Someone to help them get to and from home and practice while still learning the Tel Aviv roads? Done.
And if something, anything, else came up, one phone call to Moni and it was taken care of.
Perhaps in the modern era of professional basketball in Europe and Israel, with bigger budgets and larger staffs at professional clubs, such care is becoming commonplace. The difference with Fanan was that he did it first and he did it out of love.
Fanan's dealings with his players became the stuff of legends. So much so that some players would consider his presence as an added value in signing for Maccabi.
It's common knowledge that at no time during Maccabi's three European titles or seven Euroleague Final Four appearances in the last decade did the club have the largest budget in Europe. But with Fanan aboard, the players could focus on basketball alone, knowing they had a true friend to help out with anything else they should need.
If there were ever problems within the team, whether between players themselves, coaches or management, Fanan stepped in to either protect his players, or scold them and whip them into shape. Whatever was needed. His job as manager may have been to make sure the team ran smoothly and that he did. But he went several steps further. Steps that may have made life difficult at time for media members, but that also showed his devotion to his players and proved to be a great bonus to Maccabi.
On one occasion, I witnessed Fanan storm into the press box to scold a fellow reporter for something printed in that day's newspaper.
Fanan's charge was not that the story was incorrect - that was irrelevant to him. Rather Fanan's outrage was over the simple fact that the publication could report anything negative about one of his players. The reaction was one of love that only a father could feel for his child.
The love that the Fanan family gave to Maccabi - including son Regev, a former player and fitness coach of the team, and daughter Liran, a member of its front office staff dealing with community relations - helped Maccabi become a family. It helped the team focus on its goals on and off the court.
Moni Fanan helped the club stay connected with its fans, stay committed to one another and committed to winning.
Maccabi became great not while Moni Fanan was there, but because Moni Fanan was there.
Because Moni Fanan truly was the soul of Maccabi Tel Aviv.
The writer is a former Jerusalem Post Sports Editor currently living in Kansas City.
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