maccabi arroyo 248.88 asaf kliger.
(photo credit: Asaf Kliger [file])
Puerto Rican basketball legend Carlos Arroyo had a massive smile on his face.
It was around 11.30 p.m. on Thursday and he was sitting in the media room at Nokia Arena wearing a soaking wet Maccabi Tel Aviv T-shirt with the word "Champions" proudly emblazoned across the middle, waiting for the post-game press conference to begin.
After a grueling eight-month season, the 29-year-old point guard, who last summer transferred from the NBA's Orlando Magic to play in Israel's Basketball Super League, had finally let his professional guard down and celebrated winning the championship by ecstatically jumping round the locker room as his teammates poured drinks all over each other.
Throughout the turbulent season, which saw some 15 foreign players walk through the revolving doors of Maccabi Tel Aviv and only a handful see the term out, Arroyo has remained the consummate professional.
He confused the Israeli media by arriving and leaving each game wearing a full suit and tie as is the custom in the NBA, and always applied himself in those games.
On Thursday he finished the season with the MVP award in Tel Aviv's BSL 85-72 championship game win over Maccabi Haifa where he scored 22 points and passed six assists in 37 minutes on court.
But when all was said and done on Thursday Arroyo was visibly excited to win the league title with Maccabi.
At one point while speaking to The Jerusalem Post in the locker room after the game he started shouting instead of answering a question about his plans for next season.
"This is a celebration for basketball and each other. I can't talk about next year. You don't get a lot of chances to be in this position. It's amazing," Arroyo said before breaking into a dance with fellow American teammate Dee Brown.
A few minutes later, as he sat in the press conference, Arroyo reflected on his year in Israel.
Despite the disappointing Euroleague campaign - which began with Effi Birenboim as coach and ended with Pini Gershon in charge but Maccabi still failing to even reach the quarterfinals after losing in the 2008 final - Arroyo seemed satisfied with his first season in the holy land.
"I've got to give a lot credit to my teammates," he said. "We went through so much this year - the player changing, the coach changing. Andâ€¦ the guys who stayed as a group here, we stayed focused. We understood what it meant to be in this position to be able to celebrate today.
"That's a lot of credit to my teammates. That shows character and that's why were celebrating right now like we're celebrating in the locker room. We have a great amount of respect for each other. We love each other so much. We knew what we needed to do. We held ourselves accountable all year and that's what championship teams do."
When Arroyo arrived in Tel Aviv last year he became the highest paid player ever in the Israeli league, with a $2.5 million contract, one of the most prominent names to ever play in Israel.
The pressure was immense and sometimes it showed, with the guard unable to inspire his team every week in Europe.
Even on Thursday things did not start as planned and at the midpoint of the second quarter Haifa was leading 32-20.
"It's the final game so you have to understand things are going to happen that aren't going to go your way, so whoever stays focused and fights more are going to win the championship," Arroyo said, looking back at the evening's events.
The man credited with inspiring the team in yellow and blue to fight back and win in a commanding fashion was actually not Arroyo, but 37-year-old veteran team captain Derrick Sharp, who entered the game in the second quarter and scored a quick six points, including the three-pointer which gave Tel Aviv a 38-37 lead.
Asked if his performance in the final proved that he is the leader of Maccabi, Arroyo was quick to answer with another indication of his modesty and professionalism.
"I would say I'm another player. The leader of this team is Derrick Sharp and he showed it tonight... I want to be like Derrick Sharp when I grow up," he added with a smile.