It has been exactly one year since Guma Aguiar mysteriously disappeared after
launching his boat off the coast of Florida. As I reflect on the anniversary of
that sad occasion, it brings to mind that day in March of 2012, when I met Guma
for a milkshake in Jerusalem.
We chatted amiably about a range of topics,
but focused in the main on his trials and tribulations in Israel, and especially
his involvement with the financially embattled Beitar Jerusalem soccer and
Hapoel Jerusalem basketball clubs.
It was the first time I ever met Guma,
although I had seen him on television a number of times and was aware of his
efforts to rescue the programs of both sports franchises.
As expected, he
was tall, well toned and sported a baseball cap along with a scruffy three-day
beard. He cut a very imposing figure, akin to an explorer set out on an
expedition to conquer the wild. We shook hands and I quickly felt comfortable in
I was flattered that Guma was as candid and forthright with
me as he was. He first addressed the subject of Beitar and his initial
disappointment that he could not wrest the club away from the clutches of Arkadi
Rather than deserting a sinking ship, however, he poured in $4
million as a loan to keep Beitar afloat for another day. While it was clear that
he would likely never recover his investment, he observed that since his status
was that of a preferred creditor, it would give him a great deal of control over
the club’s future, including a veto power over its sale to another
His hope was that a bold and creative purchaser with sufficient
resources would take the club to the very top, including the Champions League
group stage. Only then would he ask that his loan be repaid, without interest,
no matter how long it took.
Guma gradually sensed relief over his failure
to acquire Beitar. He expressed scorn and anger over the presence of hooliganism
and racism which are often associated with soccer and also linked to Beitar’s
fans. Although he added that these traits were only imputed to a small faction,
it was enough to subject it to disciplinary measures by the league which
included fines and lockouts of fans, which resulted in a steady loss of
It would take a huge effort by some daring new owner who will
take the right steps to clean up the situation, but that mission would be left
to another, he sadly quipped.
His entry into Hapoel Jerusalem hoops was
quite fortuitous. Following his discussions with Gaydamak on Beitar, it became
clear that Arkadi’s financial decline caused him to withhold the type of support
which he pledged to club chairman Danny Klein.
Inevitably, Klein and
other club leaders turned to Guma with hat in hand and implored him to come to
their rescue. At first he was hesitant, since he felt that it would take a
sizeable investment to raise the club to a level where it could compete
effectively with Maccabi Tel Aviv.
In order to break Maccabi’s domination
of the country’s basketball landscape, however, he concluded that the team must
generate far more revenues than it has in the past. The key to the realization
of this goal, he declared, lay in revamping Hapoel Jerusalem’s narrow fan
The name Hapoel itself presented a serious obstacle to this goal,
in that many thousands of Beitar’s soccer fans felt disenfranchised, and left
many hoops followers among them without a local club to adopt, so that they
turned to Maccabi or the NBA in order to quench their thirst for the
Guma stated flatly that Jerusalem does not have the fan base to
support two basketball teams. The ideal solution, he stressed, lay in
depoliticizing the sports spectrum by renaming Hapoel as Jerusalem United. This
club would then welcome with open arms the existing core of Hapoel fans as well
as the vast majority of Beitar fans.
He chided Hapoel’s management for
its misguided idea that the name “Hapoel Jerusalem” carried some intrinsic
value, citing its lackluster history and Maccabi Tel Aviv’s virtual monopoly on
every trophy for half a century.
When you take politics out of sport,
then good things will surely follow, he summed up.
Finally, he asked me
to scope out the option of engaging a management group based on the American
model which could navigate the Jerusalem United club in the furtherance of his
In the weeks and months which followed, we kept in touch by
phone and email. I noted that he seemed weary of the gridlock on Hapoel’s Board
of Directors between the slate which he appointed and Klein’s
At one point, he indicated that he had family and
financial issues which he needed to address in the US, and that he was now
disinclined to become a proactive team owner. I suggested to him that he engage
Jim Harrick, a veteran college coach who guided UCLA to the NCAA title in 1995
and an ardent supporter of the Euroleague as Director of Basketball Operations.
Guma indicated he would welcome a meeting with Harrick, but it was not meant to
A few weeks before his disappearance, I received an email from Guma
asking me whether the Harrick group would be interested in acquiring his
majority shares in Hapoel for “zero” consideration.
I told him that I saw
this as a “slam dunk” and that I would arrange with Jim to meet with him in
Miami. Before the meeting could ever take place, I was stunned by the media
bulletin that Guma had mysteriously vanished somewhere in the Atlantic. He has
not been seen or heard from again.
My initial reaction to the news was
one of shock, which quickly turned to sadness over the likely loss of a modern
day hero. To this day, Guma remains an enigma.
While I wished I had
gotten to know him better, I realized that he was a perplexed individual who
preferred to keep his innermost thoughts to himself.
I respected his
right of privacy and did not pose profound questions which challenged that
right. Thus, I feel that I drew as close to Guma as he would allow others to be.
Still, at the end I have been left with a positive feeling that someday soon
Guma’s vision for Jerusalem will be fulfilled.
Don Barnett is an IFA
player agent who currently resides in Munich. A native of Jerusalem, he grew up
in the US where he practiced law and mediation. He also coached soccer and
basketball in various youth leagues and wrote a sports column for several Jewish
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