As hard as you may search, you are unlikely to find a less athletic-looking
player in top-tier Israeli basketball than Meir Tapiro.
overweight, balding 38-yearold looks more like a player who should have retired
But while Tapiro may not look the part of superstar, he plays
it as well as anyone else in the BSL.
His chance to join Maccabi Tel Aviv
has gone, never to return, but he continues to enhance his Hall-of-Fame status
with every season.
Tapiro has hit many game-winning shots over the course
of his career.
After all, he burst onto the scene as a 20- year-old when
he scored a buzzer-beating basket for Hapoel Tel Aviv in a hotly contested derby
against Maccabi Tel Aviv at Ussishkin Arena 18 years ago.
on-court heroics in Ironi Ness Ziona’s enthralling 103-101 overtime victory at
Maccabi Ashdod on Sunday night were unprecedented even by Tapiro’s
There seemed to be no way back for Ness Ziona after Ashdod
opened a massive 29- point margin (65-36) early in the third
However, Ness Ziona, which has taken the BSL by storm in its
first ever top-flight campaign, fought all the way back to force overtime thanks
to Tapiro’s three-pointer with 12 seconds to play.
The game continued to
go back-and-forth in the extra period, but almost inevitably it would ultimately
be decided by Tapiro, who hit a long fade-away jumper with Ashdod’s Xavier Silas
in his face as time expired to lead Ness Ziona to a league-best 6-3 record, tied
with Maccabi Haifa and Hapoel Jerusalem.
Tapiro finished the game with 19
points and eight assists.
What makes Tapiro’s story all the more
remarkable, however, is not just his age but the fact that he is currently
playing a leaguehigh 36.8 minutes per game and is one of his team’s best
Ness Ziona was expected to struggle in its first-ever BSL
season, but it has exceeded all expectations so far, already claiming memorable
wins over Maccabi Tel Aviv, Hapoel Jerusalem and Hapoel Tel Aviv.
speaking to Tapiro earlier this week there seemed to be one theme that kept
resurfacing. There may be very few players still active at his age, but Tapiro
is simply having too much fun to retire.
“I have learned that when you
are enjoying yourself and people are having fun together that leads to success,”
he said. “Everyone wants to have fun at their workplace and I’m happy that the
pieces have fallen into place at Ness Ziona and I hope that we will continue to
enjoy ourselves until the end of the season.”
After making a name for
himself at Hapoel Tel Aviv, the 1.92-meter guard solidified his standing as one
of the league’s best Israeli players in two seasons at Hapoel Eilat
He moved on to Maccabi Haifa in the summer of 1998 and
received a call-up to the Israel national team after averaging 14.7 points, 5.5
rebounds and 5.4 assists per game in 1998/99.
Tapiro retired from the
national team four years ago after representing the blue-andwhite in five
European Championships (1999, 2001, 2003, 2005 and 2007), making 121
After two years in Haifa, Tapiro joined Hapoel Jerusalem,
playing four of the next five seasons for the club with which he would forever
He recorded his best statistical season in 2002/03,
averaging 17.1 points, 4.7 rebounds and 4.4 assists, but missed Jerusalem’s
crowning moment, spending the following year at Bnei Hasharon when Hapoel lifted
the ULEB Cup.
After a relatively successful season with France’s Nancy,
Tapiro returned to Jerusalem for two more years, finally winning his first title
in Israel in 2006/07, helping Hapoel to the State Cup.
He played for Bnei
Hasharon once more between 2007 and 2009 followed by a season at Maccabi Rishon
Lezion before leaving for Maccabi Ashdod.
In his second season with
Ashdod, Tapiro helped the team to a surprise appearance in the BSL final where
it lost to Maccabi Tel Aviv before once more returning to
However, his career looked to be ending on a sour note after
he experienced a frustrating season in the capital, registering career lows in
minutes (20.2 mpg) and points (6.2 ppg).
“Retirement is something that is
always in the back of your head,” he said. “It has been there for the past few
years. I hope I can maintain my passion for the game and that my body will allow
me to play on, but the thought of retirement is always there.”
refused to quit after his disappointing year in Jerusalem and once more decided
to ignore the skeptics by joining a fledgling club with an uncertain
“It was a challenging season in Jerusalem with many ups and downs
and the decision to come to Ness Ziona was based on the fact that I wanted to
enjoy myself,” he said.
“As soon as general manager Ofer Berkowitz, with
whom I experienced two fun years in Ashdod, approached me and I met the chairman
and the coach, I understood that they wanted to create something which will be a
lot of fun and I decided that I wanted to be there.”
Tapiro says there is
no secret behind his longevity as a player and it all comes down to a “lot of
“It’s not a cliché. It really is work, work and work,” he
stressed. “To strengthen the body and take care of the body and prepare the body
and to rest a lot when you need to. All of that, combined with a passion for the
game, is what allows me to continue and play so many minutes.”
currently averaging 11.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and a league-best 6.7 assists for
Ness Ziona, but it is his leadership both on and off the court that makes the
real difference and he is optimistic of achieving great things this
“At Ashdod we never thought we would go so far and we just wanted
to enjoy ourselves and knew that if we stayed together good things will happen,”
“I hope that in Ness Ziona we will also continue to have fun and
stick together when the going gets tough and hopefully that will lead to many
more wins and enjoyment.”