Last-minute inspiration from the coach

July 16, 2013 16:19
David Blatt

David Blatt 311. (photo credit: Asaf Kliger)

Without a doubt the Maccabiah was a life-changing experience. It really got me in touch and in tune with the importance of being part of the Jewish community.

Not only on an individual basis, but it really gave me a sense of community and that was life changing for me. It helped me to understand how un-isolated I was as a Jewish man. I grew up in a very mixed community, which was good, but in terms of understanding my relationship as a Jewish person and understanding the value and the benefit of close ties with other Jewish people I think the Maccabiah really solidified that in my mind.

I fell in love with Israel to a great extent through my Maccabiah experience. It helped convince me to give it a try and see what would happen. In the Maccabiah Games I began to feel very attached and comfortable with my decision to spend a period of time in Israel and of course afterwards I really fell in love with the country and the people and found myself desiring to stay. I remember that I came to Israel in 1979 to spend the summer in Kibbutz Gan Shmuel and I met people who had taken part in the Maccabiah and other people who were talking about the Maccabiah and that excited me. I realized that it was an opportunity for me. And I began to take an interest in it and ultimately also because I was a Division I player at Princeton I was found by the Maccabiah people who let me know that they wanted me to try out for the team. But I had already been aware and really wanted to do it.

I had signed a three-year contract to play for Maccabi Haifa while I was at training camp for the Maccabiah so I came to Israel a signed player. But of course there were doubts in my mind and hesitations and the Maccabiah experience really gave me the confidence and the felling that I needed that I was making the right decision. I went to two different tryouts. An area tryout and then a national tryout. I had to make the team. I remember until this day the excitement and nervousness of going to these tryouts and I also remember having performed very well because I was ready.

It was something that I badly wanted and I was not going to be denied. I was working for it.

It was a dream come true. I worked very hard in my senior season not only playing for Princeton but also to prepare myself for the Maccabiah Games. It was something that was very dominant in my mind. I wanted to make the team and I wanted to perform well. I was excited about it. It’s the Jewish Olympics and it was something that I really wanted. I also wanted to come back to Israel because I really enjoyed my experience when I visited and this was another way to get back.

The thing that stands out in my mind about my Maccabiah is that we had a really good team.

I played with Danny Schayes, who had an NBA career, and Willie Sims, who became a very famous player in Israel, and with Hal Cohen from Syracuse and many others and we had a strong team. I still remember traveling to all the games, whether it was in Kfar Tavor or in Haifa or southern Israel or Jerusalem and of course Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv. I remember the excitement I felt before each and every game and how hard we played and how wonderful it was to be competing against Jewish players from all over the world. I had not run into a lot of Jewish players in college or growing up for that matter, so for me it was a big, big thing competitively and also socially.

From a basketball experience we won the gold medal and it was a great source of pride.

From a social experience it was one of the best times of my life meeting Jewish people from all over the world, competing with them and cooperating with them and feeling part of something bigger than just the games themselves.

One of the things that I find about this Maccabiah is that it’s going to be held with a new spirit and with a great sense of excitement and involvement on the part of the Israeli community together with of course 9,000 athletes, as well as coaches and staff and family members that are coming to visit. For me, this time around it is a whole different feeling and I’m really excited about it.

More than anything else what I see as being important is the recognition of the Maccabiah Games on the part of the Israeli people as being as important to them as it is to people like me who came here through the Maccabiah experience, and recognizing that one of the best ways that we can make Jewish people closer all over the world, and even convince them of making Aliya, is by being supportive and active in the Maccabiah.

I really see that as one of our best-selling tools and one that everyone can feel good about because it’s a real thing not an artificial thing.

I will be going to a lot of events. I’m going to the US this summer because I haven’t been there for quite some time due to my year-round coaching schedule because of my involvement with the Russian national team in recent years. I’m finally going to get to go back this year and visit a little bit but I’m cutting my trip short so that I can attend the entire Maccabiah.

And to those of you participating in this Maccabiah I say: You are in for an experience of a lifetime and I bless you for it.

David Blatt represented the US basketball team in the 1981 Maccabiah, helping it to the gold medal. He played professional hoops in Israel between 1981-1993 before becoming a successful coach. He has guided Maccabi Tel Aviv in the past three seasons while also leading the Russia national team to the European Championship title in 2007 and to an Olympic bronze medal in London 2012.

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