As the minutes wound down to the finish of the closely fought final game of the NBA championship series this week between the Cleveland Cavaliers and Golden State Warriors, I found myself torn over whom to root for.
Part of me wanted to witness an unprecedented Finals comeback by Cleveland from a three-game deficit, and see that oft-derided city finally win its first major-league championship in over 50 years.
But like many Israelis, another part hoped to see the Cavaliers, and especially prima donna star LeBron James, humbled for the shabby way they fired former coach David Blatt in the middle of this season despite his winning record.
When the Cavaliers chose Blatt – an American Jew who moved to Israel and won several championships directing Maccabi Tel Aviv and European teams – as its coach prior to last season, I became one of what he jokingly called the team’s “seven million” Israeli fans. It didn’t even bother me when Haaretz
writer Rogel Alpher charged, in a column too silly to recap or refute, that “when seven million Israelis wake up in the middle of the night to watch a basketball game because the head coach is a Jewish Israeli, that’s fascism, not fanaticism.”
Blatt has handled his ouster from Cleveland with class, avoiding criticism of his treatment by the high-handed James that led to the dismissal, and congratulating the team this week on a victory he should have been given the chance to take part in. It’s no surprise then that several US sportswriters have suggested the Cavaliers should gift him with one of their NBA championship rings, which league rules make optional for a player or coach who leaves a team during the season.
Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai even chimed in with a letter to Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert, asking him to grant Blatt “the respect and credit he deserves” symbolized by giving him this token.
Another coach deserving a little sympathy this week is Golden State skipper Steve Kerr, who led his team to an unprecedented regular- season record of 73-9, only to lose the championship that would have helped seal the Warriors’ claim to being the greatest NBA team ever.
Kerr, who triumphed over Blatt in last year’s NBA Finals, has some interesting personal connections with the Israeli coach; the two men are friends and mutual admirers, and Kerr had offered him a job as an assistant coach just before he got and accepted the Cleveland offer.
Beyond that, the two coaches are linked in a darker way; they are no strangers to the hatred and violence of Israel’s enemies, and strangely enough it is Kerr who has more personally suffered as a direct result of this enmity.
THE GOLDEN STATE coach was born in Lebanon as the son of Malcolm Kerr, a renowned Middle East scholar primarily associated with the American University of Beirut.
In 1984, Malcolm was gunned down in Beirut as part of the wave of attacks and kidnappings directed against Westerners in Lebanon by Iran-sponsored terrorist groups Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad.
The Kerr family later filed a wrongful death suit in US federal court against the government of Iran for Malcolm’s murder. It was one of several cases spurred by the 1996 US court ruling that found Iran liable for the death of American citizen Alisa Flatow in a 1996 terrorist attack perpetrated by Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip.
In 2003, a Washington, DC, court ruled that Malcolm Kerr was killed by agents of Hezbollah and Islamic Jihad “with the logistical and financial support of the Islamic Republic of Iran,” which had “financed their operations, provided their weapons and other logistical support, and gave them sanctuary as needed to enable its agents to evade capture” (the full court ruling is online at http://www.concernedhistorians.org/content_files/file/LE/254.pdf).
Although the court ordered Iran to pay the Kerrs $33 million in compensation, the family decided to waive punitive damages, saying their intent had been only to expose those behind Malcolm’s murder.
They would not have collected anyway; while the US government has frozen billions of dollars in Iran’s overseas assets, it has not made that money available to compensate victims of Tehran-sponsored terrorism.
To make matters worse, the Obama administration is now unfreezing a big chunk of that money as part of the nuclear deal it negotiated with the Islamic Republic. The White House is also threatening to veto a bill passed by Congress last autumn called the Justice for Victims of Iranian Terrorism Act, which prohibits the lifting of sanctions against Iran until it pays the $43.5 billion in unpaid damages owed to families such as the Kerrs who have won similar judgments against the Islamic Republic in US courts.
Steve Kerr commented on his father’s murder to The New Yorker
magazine this week, relating it to another act of radical Islamic terrorism, the Orlando massacre. “You understand how much they are suffering, just like how our family went through that suffering,” he said about the victims of the Florida attack.
His mother, Ann, added, in a reference to her son’s coaching career, that “people wake up in the middle of the night in Beirut to tune into his games,’’ because “they are proud because he was born there.”
Gee, just like David Blatt – although somehow I doubt Haaretz
will be running any columns claiming that makes them “fascists,” as they did regarding Blatt’s Israeli supporters.
Still, some serious perspective is needed to properly weigh this tale of two coaches. As an Israeli basketball fan, I do hope the NBA does right by David Blatt in awarding him the championship ring he earned by guiding the Cavaliers through much of their season. But far more important is that the world does justice by Steve Kerr, in seeing that the killers of his father, still smugly ensconced in Lebanon and Iran, one day get the punishment they so richly deserve.Calev Ben-David is the political/diplomatic correspondent of Israel Television’s English News broadcast.