Israel basketball 224.88.
(photo credit: AP)
Something strange happened to me this Sunday, something I can't remember ever happening before.
While sitting at Bloomfield Stadium covering a surprisingly good Tel Aviv derby I couldn't help but wondering what was happening across town at the Nokia Arena.
Maccabi and Hapoel were fighting for their Premier League life on the field, but I still had one eye on the computer screen and the happenings in the basketball game between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Hapoel Holon at Yad Eliyahu.
Watching a Maccabi home game in the BSL (Basketball Super League) was for many years a tedious experience at best. This season, however, the local basketball league has all of the sudden become the most interesting sporting competition in Israel and has done so to such an extent that even a Tel Aviv home game has proven time and again to be a thrilling experience.
For years, foreigners were mocked for their naivete after promising they would lead their teams to the championship a minute after walking off the plane at Ben-Gurion Airport.
The reality these days, however, is that at least three teams truly believe that they can dethrone the perennial champion for just the second time in the last 39 years.
Maccabi continues to be the clear favorite to claim the league title, but Hapoel Jerusalem, Bnei Hasharon and Hapoel Holon all feel that they have a real chance of beating Maccabi in the Final Four and winning the title.
The Final Four format has come under a lot of criticism since it was introduced two seasons ago and many times rightly so. The one game win it all system was seen to be unsportsmanlike, especially compared to the previous playoff format which was far more likely to guarantee that the champion would indeed be the best team in the country.
It did, however, also mean that Maccabi's complete dominance off the court was translated into total control on the court and rendered the BSL utterly boring.
The Final Four format may not always assure that the best team wins the championship, but far more importantly it has breathed new life into a previously dying league.
Even with the new system Tel Aviv has taken the last two titles, but the route to the triumph was so much better than in the past due to the mere possibility that another team might win.
The knowledge that a single victory over Maccabi is all that is needed has given other clubs a reason to try and compete for what was previously seen as a lost cause.
Clear proof of this is that Jerusalem, Bnei Hasharon and Holon all added a player to their roster in the last couple of weeks, believing that they have a real chance to win the title. The fact of the matter is that competition may be a painful thing for Maccabi, but its result for the BSL and Israeli sport as a whole is far more important.
The BSL has exceeded all expectations so far this season and with 11 games to go until the Final Four there's no reason to believe why it won't even get better.
The battle for a Final Four berth is far from over, with Ironi Nahariya and Ironi Ramat Gan also hoping to sneak in to the season ending tournament.
The last four clubs in the league are all fighting against relegation in a tight race that might not be decided until the final seconds of the season. And, of course above all the Final Four, itself promises to be the best yet, with all four teams in the event considering themselves serious title contenders.
I, for one, can't wait for May 27 and the start of the three day event which will decide the championship and showcase Israeli basketball at its competitive best.