(photo credit: sinai)
On the one hand, Hapoel Holon’s story this season has been quite
Against all odds, Holon has managed to succeed in the
Despite facing a financial meltdown, the team is winning with a
seven-player rotation versus what are supposedly superior sides.
was left with no choice but to release star players in recent weeks, as it could
no longer afford to pay their salaries. But coach Danny Franco has got his team
playing far better than the sum of its parts – and its current threegame winning
streak ensured it finished the second round of BSL action in a respectable sixth
position in the standings.
On the other hand, Holon’s story is actually
If one of the oldest clubs in the league – with one of
the strongest fan bases in the country – cannot survive, what does the future of
Israeli basketball hold? Less than a month after winning an historic league
championship in May 2008, Miki Dorsman, who had owned the club since 2002 – and
had also coached it to the title – announced that he was leaving, as he could
not garner any financial support.
With Holon mayor Moti Sasson reluctant
to spend city funds on the basketball team – and guarantees of donations from
the likes of Arkadi Gaydamak turning out to be no more than empty promises – it
seemed that Holon may have played its last game.
However, not for the
first time, the club would rise from ruin.
Franco was brought in to coach
the team, and he guided it to a dramatic State Cup triumph and a place in the
BSL’s quarterfinal playoffs.
Nevertheless, financial insecurity meant
that Holon could not meet Franco’s reasonable requests to stay on board for the
2009/2010 campaign, and the team just barely maintained its BSL status for
another season – winning a fifth and decisive game against Ironi Nahariya in the
Franco was brought back ahead of this season, and
built a balanced roster with a meager budget.
However, it quickly became
apparent that the club was in deep trouble, paying the price for risks taken in
the off-season by its new management, which inherited the side from
“It is no secret that we began the season with an unbalanced
budget,” Holon chairman Hagay Shabtai said last Thursday, in a hastily organized
“I was not in charge at the time, but now we are doing
all we can to ensure that Holon doesn’t collapse and that its many fans will
continue to enjoy it in the future.”
Shabtai promised that the club would
be around for years to come, and revealed that following the release of
Americans Robert Hite and Eric Campbell, Holon is now negotiating with its
Israeli players regarding a salary cut.
Shabtai is also hoping to raise
money from supporters.
“We will approach our fans asking them to add NIS
500 to the price they paid for their season tickets to help balance out our
budget,” he said.
“We will not be getting any money from the likes of
Dorsman or Guma Aguiar. The team is in our hands and we all have to make an
effort to make sure it finishes the season properly and begins next season as
Holon has proven over the last few weeks that a team can succeed
in the BSL with only two reliable Americans – in the shape of Rich Melzer and
Kasib Powell – and inspirational Israeli leadership, from such players as Moran
Rot, Amit Ben-David and Nir Cohen.
The victories over Hapoel Jerusalem at
Malha Arena last week – and against the in-form Maccabi Rishon Lezion on
Saturday – were a triumph of will over adversity, but Franco knows that the
current situation is unsustainable.
“It is very difficult for us to play
in this state,” Franco said after the victory over Rishon. “I cannot walk in the
street without being stopped and congratulated, but people need to understand
that there are no miracles here, just hard work. We are squeezing all we can out
of this team, and even though everyone is in a euphoric mood at the moment, we
know that it will be difficult to continue like this.
eventually have to step up to help this club exist.”
of the underdogs from Holon in recent weeks are a reminder of what we love about
sports. However, the fact that such a club faces extinction because it can’t
manage to raise NIS 700,000 to cover its expenses until the end of the season is
an example of all that is rotten in the Israeli sporting world.
of Hapoel Holon this season is certainly both inspiring and depressing.
Unfortunately, as seems to happen all too often, the latter sadly prevails.