Meir Tapiro is far from the quickest player in the BSL.
In fact, he is
probably one of the slowest.
As hard as you may look, you are unlikely to
find a less athletic player in the league.
The slightly overweight,
balding 37- year-old with a chronic cough doesn’t even look like a retired
player, let alone an active one.
But while Tapiro may not look the part,
he plays it as well as anyone else in the BSL.
His chance to join Maccabi
Tel Aviv has gone, never to return, but he continues to enhance his Hall-of-Fame
status with every season.
Tapiro’s signing for Maccabi Ashdod at the
start of last season seemed to many like no more than an PR stunt by an
attention seeking club appearing in the top flight for the first time in its
However, he recorded arguably his greatest achievement earlier
this week when he helped Ashdod progress to the Final Four in the 19th season of
a career that may not have included much silverware, but the likes of which few
Tapiro burst onto the scene as a 19- year-old when he scored
a buzzer-beating basket for Hapoel Tel Aviv in a hotly contested derby against
Maccabi Tel Aviv at Ussishkin Arena.
The 1.92-meter guard quickly
established his place as a key player for Hapoel and solidified his standing as
one of the league’s best Israeli players in his two seasons at Hapoel Eilat
He moved on to Maccabi Haifa in the summer of 1998 and he
received a call up to the Israel national team after averaging 14.7 points, 5.5
rebounds and 5.4 assists per game in 1998/99.
Tapiro retired from the
national team three years ago after representing the blue-and-white in five
European Championships (1999, 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007), making 121 appearances
and reaching ninth alltime in scoring for the team.
After two years in
Haifa, Tapiro joined Hapoel Jerusalem, playing four of the next five seasons for
the club with which he would forever be associated.
He recorded his best
statistical season in 2002/03, averaging 17.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4
assists, but missed Jerusalem’s crowning moment, spending the following year at
Bnei Hasharon when Hapoel lifted the ULEB Cup.
After a relatively
successful season with France’s Nancy, Tapiro returned to Jerusalem for two more
years, finally winning his first title in Israel in 2006/07, helping Hapoel to
the State Cup.
Poignantly, one of the most memorable moments of his
career arrived a few months later when TV cameras captured him begging referee
Sami Bachar not to foul him out late in the fourth quarter of Jerusalem’s
meeting with Maccabi Tel Aviv in the Final Four title game.
you, I’ve been waiting for this my entire career,” pleaded Tapiro, who ended the
game in tears after Maccabi snatched the championship at the buzzer.
would prove to be his last game in a Jerusalem jersey, with two seasons at Bnei
Hasharon and one with Maccabi Rishon Lezion to follow before he decided to join
Ashdod in the summer of 2010.
Tapiro didn’t really have any interest in
joining the club, but agreed to meet Ashdod’s management and was soon hooked on
the idea of helping a new team establish its place in the BSL and build a
following in a soccer-dominated city.
Ashdod was the surprise package of
last season, reaching the quarterfinal playoffs, and one of the reasons behind
this year’s success was its decision to retain the services of excellent
Americans Josh Carter and Josh Duncan as well as coach Ofer
But Tapiro has played as big a role as any in Ashdod’s recent
triumphs, averaging 30.8 minutes, 9.0 points, 4.6 boards and a careerbest 7.4
assists per game during the regular season.
Unsurprisingly, he has taken
his game to another level in the playoffs, recording 12.8 points, 7.8 assists
and 7.4 rebounds per game in Ashdod’s 3-1 quarterfinal win over the No. 2 seed
and last year’s runner-up Hapoel Gilboa/Galil.
“There is something
special about this team that goes beyond basketball,” Tapiro said after Ashdod
advanced to the Final Four for the first time with an 82-80 win over Gilboa on
“We are trying to build a sporting culture and we hope that all
of Ashdod will come to Nokia Arena for the Final Four.
“When I joined
Ashdod one of my goals was that people would hear about this team and we have
now managed to do that. I’ve enjoyed every moment here and when you enjoy
yourself good things will happen.”
Ashdod will next face the winner of
the series between Rishon Lezion and Ironi Ashkelon, which will be decided on
Regardless of the identity of its next opponent, a place
in the final, probably against Maccabi Tel Aviv, now seems well within Ashdod’s
Five years after his one and only appearance in the final ended in
heartbreaking fashion, Tapiro is on the verge of the championship game once
Now that would be redemption.
on Twitter: @AllonSinai