There are plenty of hidden gems in the Israeli sports world and hoopster Ben Eisenhardt definitely belongs in that category.
The Hapoel Beersheba center has been gracing the basketball courts around the Holy Land since the 2014/15 season, when he made aliyah from Seattle, Washington, and landed at Elitzur Yavne.
The following year the 6-foot-10 big man moved to Maccabi Ashdod and then to Beersheba, where he has been ever since as he helped the Southern Reds move up to the top league a couple of seasons ago.
As the coronavirus began to affect life in Israel and around the western world, the 29-year-old Eisenhardt could have returned to the United States like most American born players, but he opted to stay put in the desert capital where he met his Israeli-born girlfriend, Sophie.
Although it hasn’t been fun to be off of the basketball hardwood, the Whitman College product knows that this is what needs to be done during these trying times and perhaps he can learn a lesson or two from his parents.
“Staying inside is pretty miserable, but it would have been a lot worse 30 years ago,” Eisenhardt told The Jerusalem Post. “My parents are in the Seattle area and they are spending a lot of time inside. They like sitting inside anyways as they like hanging out together and reading books together and they are prepared for this. The first couple of hours in the morning, the supermarket is open to the higher-age group when it’s empty and cleaned from the night before, so they are taking pretty strong measures.”
As the league was in flux right, before the decision to suspend the league was made, practices were still going on as usual despite some reservations.
“It was definitely a different vibe at practice even up until the last day, which was a Friday practice, and we were supposed to play Holon the next day which ended up getting canceled.
“Our coach, Rami Hadar, was teaching a clinic for the youth coaches right before our practice and our general manager got a text saying the game was off just as we were about to begin our session. That day was just bizarre as some of the players knew that they would be flying home soon with everything going on.”
At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, some in Israel didn’t think it would really impact their lives.
“A few weeks before, we had seen some videos from China of guys tapping their feet instead of shaking hands and we began copying that for fun as we saw this whole coronavirus as a joke, something that was happening over there.
“But that’s an example as to how sports is really a microcosm of the world, where people were saying that this will never get to us and it won’t affect us like it is in China. Now we see where we are now and that’s clearly not the case.”
With the situation changing by the second, players needed to make a decision as to what they were going to do and if they were going to go back home to be with their families or stay put.
“There was certainly a bit of uneasiness among the players and I am not sure it’s ‘better’ to be in the States than here right now. I totally sympathize with those who want to be with their family and a place that they are comfortable with. There was a concern about trying to get back and when would the airports be shutting down. I think our guys handled it fairly well and there may have been a bit of uneasiness, but not full-on crisis mode over it.
“As for myself, I’m not sure when I am going to go back to the United States; the plan is to go at some point over the summer if I can, but we will have to see.”
Just like any youngster growing up in the Seattle area during the 1990s, Eisenhardt was a huge sports fan, and if you liked baseball or basketball you were witness to some of the greatest moments of the Emerald City’s history.
“I was a big Ken Griffey Jr. guy, growing up he was the first guy I can remember from the 90s. I was a big fan of Shawn Kemp, Gary Payton and Detlef Schrempf, whose family is still in the Seattle area. I actually played AAU ball with his son. That mid-90s [Seattle] Supersonics era was a fun time to be a basketball fan in Seattle. But if I had to pick one favorite Sonics player it would have to be Brent Barry, who won the dunk contest in 1996.”
Of course, once a sports fan always a sports fan.
“I’m still a huge sports fans putting aside that I am also a player. You can ask my girlfriend, when she comes home from work there is usually some kind of sport on TV. So it’s been pretty brutal lately with no live sports so I’ve watching a lot of those classic games. But there is nothing like watching live sports.”
Last season, Beersheba surprised many by featuring in the Winner League playoffs, however, this season, Hadar’s club is in 11th place, though there is still hope should the campaign continue at a later date.
“The separation between sixth and 11th place is a big mishmash. Even though we finished for now in 11th place, we are still just two games from a playoff spot and anything can happen. This year we have a very special group of guys and I’ve been with Beersheba for many years.
“The most impressive thing that management has done is that it always has been able to bring in a great group of guys. Every coach preaches about high character, but we have really been able to prove that here and that’s the hardest part of everyone going home so fast; we didn’t get the closure we needed after being together day-in and day-out from September. We all felt that things were beginning to come together just as the pause button was hit, so it’s certainly frustrating and doubly so for us.”
Will the league come back to finish the season at some point in the future? Eisenhardt is optimistic that it will.
“Yes, I believe the league will restart, but it would be late, June at the earliest. I don’t imagine the league playing out the entire third round of games, but I do feel that we will get back to playing some games and getting creative. It’s hard for me to imagine the league ending the season now.”Joshua Halickman, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel sports adventures for tourists and residents (www.sportsrabbi.com). Follow the Sports Rabbi on Twitter @thesportsrabbi or feel free to contact the Sports Rabbi at firstname.lastname@example.org.