The moment Hapoel Jerusalem fans have been waiting for is almost here.
With a 15-point gap over Hapoel Eilat heading into the second leg of the home-and-away aggregate final, it appears that there is nothing that will deny Hapoel a first and historic Israeli championship at the Jerusalem Arena on Thursday night.
There is little doubt that Jerusalem has been the best team in the country over recent months, and barring an unexpected collapse, Danny Franco’s men will be rewarded with the BSL shield on Thursday.
It took just two minutes for the additional 2,000 tickets put on the market to sell out on Tuesday and the arena will be packed with long-suffering Hapoel fans starved for success after years of frustration.
Ori Allon is one of those supporters, but for the head of the club’s ownership group this is only the beginning. He acknowledges that winning a first championship is a landmark achievement, but he has much bigger plans for the club.
“I think to win one championship will be great and an important milestone, but we want to create a club that understands how to grow its fan base and how to fill the arena and in 5-10 years from now won’t depend on me or anyone else providing the funding,” Allon told The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
“Obviously we will keep supporting the club in the near future for sure, but hopefully the club can reach a place where it is very consistent on-court winning titles, not just once in 70 years but winning consistently and getting to finals and being a real contender. I think one championship is great, but only if you see it as a stepping stone to becoming a great club which brings great results.”
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The 34-year-old Allon has already sold start-ups to Google and Twitter and is currently achieving even greater success with his third company, Urban Compass.
He breathed new life into what was a depressed basketball club, and is hoping to see his players claim the championship in just his second season as boss.
“When we bought the team I knew what I was getting in to,” he said. “I said we aim to play in the Euroleague which pretty much implied that we have to win the championship in Israel.
To achieve this in two years, if we actually do it, will be very satisfying because it didn’t just happen. We invested a lot of time, energy and resources and no matter what happens this year I think this has been a successful year.”
It was just six months ago that Allon took to Facebook to threaten his players.
“It doesn’t matter what your name is, if I don’t see 100% commitment from you, I’ll send you packing. Now shut up and show some heart,” was what he wrote a day after his team dropped to a humbling BSL loss to Ironi Nahariya.
The defeat to Nahariya came four days after Jerusalem was officially knocked out of Europe, and a season which began with so much promise seemed to be unraveling at the seams.
However, that looks like a long time ago now, with Hapoel on the verge of claiming its first major title since lifting the State Cup in 2008.
Jerusalem added Deon Thompson and Tywain McKee to its roster and has won 22 of 24 regular season and playoff games over the past five months.
“We didn’t give up,” noted Allon. “We went out there and looked for the right pieces to complete the puzzle and I’m happy that it seems to be heading in the right direction. I just hope we come out on Thursday and play like champions.
“I’m excited but it’s not over yet,” added Allon. “It’s only a 15-point gap and Eilat showed that they can come back from being behind 2-0. I think Maccabi Tel Aviv had a similar lead in Game 3 and Eilat came back to win that game and then won the other two games so I wouldn’t count them out just yet.
“I think we need to come and win the game on Thursday and forget about the margins and show we deserve the title. I’m excited, but we are not celebrating yet and there is still a long way to go.”
Allon believes that winning the championship is vital for the club to reach its next goal. The Euroleague will hand out four wild-card berths for the 2015/16 regular season and Allon is optimistic Jerusalem could be one of the beneficiaries.
“I think we deserve to play in the Euroleague in every aspect if we win the championship,” he said. “We have a Euroleague-level arena, we have more season ticket holders than the average Euroleague team and we have the budget of a Euroleague team. And if we win the championship we will have the credentials as well.”
Allon understands the Euroleague have their own considerations and said he will respect any decision, which is set to be announced next month.
“They see us as a strong candidate but they rightfully expect to see us also bring results and deliver on the court and I think we have done that this year in the Israeli league,” he said. “Hopefully they will acknowledge it.”
As someone who remembers what it was like to cheer the team from the stands as a teenager, Allon wants to win the championship first and foremost for the fans.
“We decided to buy the team in order to make Hapoel Jerusalem a winning club. I think that is going to be a great step in that direction,” said Allon. “I will be happy especially for the fans. I was a fan and I know exactly how they feel and how much they want it.
“I think this is going to change things for us. I think that if we break through this glass ceiling we will take a huge leap forward in the way the club is viewed in Israel and Europe.
From here we can expect good things going forward.”
The wait is almost over for Hapoel fans. However, Allon is only getting started. If he can realize his plans, there is so much more still to email@example.com
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