Maccabi Tel Aviv's David Blatt 370 (R).
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In a way, it’s quite sad that the only Israeli still with a realistic hope of
returning home with a medal from the London Olympics isn’t even part of the
The shortcomings, and in certain instances the
abject failure, of the athletes on the delegation, mean Israel will end an
Olympics without a medal for the first time since the Seoul Games in
But there is one Israeli on the verge of the pinnacle of his career
in London, one victory away from a place on the podium.
rarely had any sort of affinity for the national basketball team of Russia, but
that all changed when David Blatt was named as its coach in 2006.
Boston-born Israeli, who made aliya 30 years ago and is also the coach of
Maccabi Tel Aviv, has accomplished remarkable success with a previously
Russia hadn’t finished any higher than fifth in its
four European Championship appearances before Blatt took charge, failing to even
qualify for the 2004 Athens Olympics.
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However, Blatt led Russia to the
European title in his first major tournament with the team in 2007, also taking
a bronze medal in EuroBasket 2011 as well as finishing ninth at the 2008 Beijing
He is poised for a triumph of a completely different echelon this
weekend after guiding Russia to the semifinals in London.
just once in five group games, and then to only at the buzzer, Russia advanced
to the last four on Wednesday with an 83-74 win over Lithuania.
will face Beijing 2008 silvermedalists Spain, which edged France 66-59, in
A win for Russia will guarantee it a gold or a silver
medal (probably a silver with the US the likely opponent in the final), with a
defeat to leave the Russians to fight for a bronze medal against the loser of
the semi between the US and Argentina.
What has made Blatt’s feat all the
more impressive is the fact that he has accomplished it with a roster which is
on paper no where near as good as many of its opponents.
achievement of my career is my body of work with Russia,” Blatt said after the
win over Lithuania.
“We won two medals in four years at the European
Championships and it is a great honor for me to be leading this program. We may
still end up without a medal in London but we certainly did all we could to
While his American accent means that the Israeli chapter of
his biography often goes ignored, Blatt does his country a great service both on
and off the court.
I don’t remember ever being genuinely thanked for
attending a basketball game the way I was by Blatt on Wednesday.
as if I was doing him a favor by coming to see his side play in the
quarterfinals of the Olympics when in fact it was my privilege to observe his
acumen during the game and conduct after it.
And Blatt’s courteousness is
not reserved just for the journalists.
On the rare occasion that Blatt
was also asked questions regarding Israel in the hour-and-a-half he patiently
spent after the game speaking to the world’s press, he replied like a perfect
“I wish I could have walked with the Israeli delegation at
the opening ceremony,” Blatt told the Israeli media.
“Even as the coach
of Russia I represent Israel in all I do. I’ve always said that and will always
be committed to that.
Some people don’t see it that way, but I believe
that with my whole heart.”
There has been precious little to cheer about
for Israeli sports fans in the 2012 Games.
But in Blatt, Israel has an
additional reason for pride in London, one which could even have a medal hanging
round his neck on Sunday.
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