SPARKS ALWAYS fly when Lior Eliyahu (right) and Hapoel Jerusalem duel with Eliyahu's former team, Maccabi Tel Aviv. The two most preeminent Israeli clubs will face each other on Saturday night in Basketball Super Leahue action..
(photo credit: DOV HALICKMAN/COURTESY)
Hoops games between Hapoel Jerusalem and Maccabi Tel Aviv always evoke great emotions from both sets of fans and teams alike as the Israeli Basketball classico is once again set to take place at Yad Eliyahu in Tel Aviv on Saturday night at 20:20. I remember going to my first classico of many between the yellow-and-blue and the Reds back in January 2005, just a few months after making aliya. I had season tickets at the old Malha Arena and my seats couldn’t be better, two rows behind the visitors’ bench.
Maccabi came into the game as the reining Euroleague Champion ,with future NBA players Anthony Parker, Sarunas Jasikevicius and Maceo Baston along with Derrick Sharp, while Jerusalem with Doron Sheffer, Matan Naor and former Duke University standout William Avery was the ULEB Cup Holder, the continent’s second best competition. A terrific game was sure to unfold, and unfold it did as the yellow-and-blue slipped by with a 95-92 victory in arguably one of the best games I have ever seen live. And that’s coming from someone who was at many of the mid-nineties New York Knicks playoff games. The atmosphere and emotions, the songs and the colors, were second to none.
I can also recall the first game between the two at the new Pais Arena, when Jerusalem put the smackdown on Maccabi, absolutely demolishing them in the final quarter 30-7 to take a 93-63 win that was led by former yellow-and-blue stars Lior Eliyahu and Yotam Halperin. Supporters from both teams couldn’t believe what had unfolded before their eyes.
The rivals played for the league title in 2007 and Jerusalem held a slim lead as time wound down. Reds guard Meir Tapiro was whistled for his fifth foul with four minutes remaining and left the court in tears as the shock of losing their star stunned the Jerusalem faithful. But the Reds still maintained the lead until there were just 2.2 seconds left, when Jamie Arnold put back an offensive rebound and free throw to win the championship 80-78.
However, the following season Jerusalem finally slayed the dragon as it took home the State Cup over its arch enemy with a 93-89 win. Down 69-47 in the third quarter, Timmy Bowers helped lead a comeback for the ages and finished the game off with 19 points as the Reds raised the trophy to the delight of their fans.
Bowers had the privilege to play in both of those games and he reminisced to The Jerusalem Post about the rivalry he was a part of for three seasons, between 2006-2009.
“There was always a sense of excitement from everyone in the organization. Concentration was key because it was an opportunity to prove and compete ourselves against one of the best teams in all of Europe.”
I had to bring up the 2007 final and ask about his emotions when Maccabi shocked Hapoel at the last second.
“Wow. It’s crazy because that moment crosses my mind a lot still to this day. I think it was heartache for all of Jerusalem. To lead for pretty much the entire game and to lose on an offensive rebound put-back is something that will never be forgotten,” said Bowers.
But of course, he was also thrilled to exact sweet revenge the following campaign.
“Yes that was a great feeling. Everyone knows how tough it is to beat Maccabi at Yad Eliyahu. So for us to do it in a game of that magnitude after being down about 20 points shows how resilient our team was. I also think it was the first time Jerusalem had won a title of any description at Maccabi’s home arena.”
Playing against Maccabi was also an opportunity to test his mettle versus some of the best and toughest players in the continent, as Bowers recalled some of his toughest foes.
“I’d have to start of course with Anthony Parker, Will Solomon, Nikola Vujcic, Will Bynum and Derrick Sharpe. The list goes on and on. Maccabi has always had great players and coaches.”
Bowers also played with some terrific players on his own team as well.
“All of my teammates were great. Mario Austin of course. Horace Jenkins, Ramel Curry, Dror Hagag, Erez Markovich, Yuval Naimi and Omar Sneed to name a few. It was a great time.”
Coaches are also part of the rivalry and Bowers had a number of them over his career with Jerusalem, each offering something of their own.
“The coaches all gave something different. I thought Dan Shamir was a good young coach at the time, but I had to convince him to believe in me which took some time. When he left Ziv Erez took over, which was a difficult situation because it was midseason, but he believed in me because he saw the work I put in everyday. However, Guy Goodes was the coach that allowed me to play my game to the fullest. So I’d say that all brought something different with their styles. I love them all.”
So make sure you take time out of your Saturday night schedule to enjoy one of the best games Israel can offer, because you never know what history will be written in the next chapter between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Jerusalem. Tune in, you won’t be sorry.Joshua Halickman, the Sports Rabbi, covers Israeli sports and organizes Israel Sports Adventures for tourists and residents. Follow the Sports Rabbi on Twitter @thesportsrabbi or visit www.sportsrabbi.com. Contact the Sports Rabbi via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
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