(photo credit: ADI AVISHAI)
Donta Smith was fined $25,000 but will remain a Hapoel Jerusalem player for the time being despite treating the club’s fans to an obscene gesture with his middle finger as he walked off the floor to their boos following Monday night’s BSL defeat to Maccabi Haifa.
Hapoel suffered its fifth straight defeat over all competitions and third in a row in local league action, losing 90-88 to Haifa at the Jerusalem Arena.
Smith had a chance to put his team in the lead with 1.8 seconds to play, but he missed all three of his free-throw attempts, a miserable ending to an otherwise superb showing. Smith finished the game with 30 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, but the only thing anyone will remember from Monday was what happened shortly after the final buzzer.
Smith was fined a month’s salary by the club on Tuesday, with half of the amount ($25,000) to be deducted from his upcoming paycheck and the other half a suspended punishment.
The 31-year-old forward, who joined Jerusalem from Haifa last summer after being crowned as the BSL’s MVP last season, was called back to the arena on Monday for a talk with club CEO Guy Harel. Shortly afterwards, Smith posted an apology on Twitter.
“After the game tonight I made an inappropriate gesture towards the fans. As a player you shouldn’t lose your cool and my emotions got the best of me,” he wrote. “I would like to say to the fans I love Hapoel Jerusalem and I’m here to win titles with and for them, and I am truly sorry. I will do whatever it takes to make us a winning team. I know that’s what you signed for. I’m here for you.”
A club press release defended Smith, saying that “there is little doubt how much he wanted to win the game,” before stating that “the player responded inappropriately and needlessly to the calls and the whistles directed at him by the fans. He apologized for his reaction and understands that he acted foolishly.”
While Smith will continue at the club, center Pops Mensah-Bonsu is on his way out just a month after coming aboard.
The Brit was brought in to help the team progress in the Eurocup, but Hapoel was knocked out last week after ending the regular season with a 2-8 record.
Coach Danny Franco also suggested on Tuesday that the team’s chemistry has suffered since the addition of Mensah- Bonsu and Hapoel has activated a clause in his contract allowing it to release him after a single month.
Jerusalem hasn’t got long to regroup and find its way, with a crucial round of 16 State Cup game against Ramat Hasharon of the National League coming up on Thursday.
Even with all its current problems, which include injuries to point guards Derwin Kitchen and Bar Timor, Jerusalem isn’t expected to encounter too much trouble against Ramat Hasharon, which has a 3-7 record in the second division.
However, assuming it triumphs, Hapoel will already face a far tougher challenge on Sunday when it visits the winner of the game between Maccabi Rishon Lezion and Bnei Herzliya in the quarterfinals.
The round of 16 will begin on Wednesday night when Maccabi Tel Aviv visits Hapoel Afula of the National League and Hapoel Tel Aviv hosts Ironi Ness Ziona in an all-BSL showdown.
The winners will face each other in the last eight on Saturday night.
Afula currently leads the National League with an 8-2 record, but isn’t expecting to record an upset against the reigning Euroleague champion.
“We are treating this as an experience,” said Afula coach Hod Ben-Hertzeli.
“Maccabi is playing really well recently. The gap between the teams is clear but we will do our best.”
Also Thursday: Maccabi Haifa vs Hapoel Holon; Elitzur Netanya vs Ironi Nahariya; Maccabi Hod Hasharon vs Hapoel Gilboa/Galil; Maccabi Kiryat Gat vs Hapoel Eilat.