Sinai says: Passion and hard work keep the good times rolling for ageless Tapiro

Tapiro is currently averaging 11.0 points, 5.7 rebounds and a league-best 6.7 assists for Ness Ziona.

By
December 3, 2013 22:37
Meir Tapiro

Meir Tapiro 370. (photo credit: bsl)

As hard as you may search, you are unlikely to find a less athletic-looking player in top-tier Israeli basketball than Meir Tapiro.

The slightly overweight, balding 38-yearold looks more like a player who should have retired long ago.

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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.

However, his 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 standards.

There seemed to be no way back for Ness Ziona after Ashdod opened a massive 29- point margin (65-36) early in the third quarter.

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 players.

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.

When 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 (1997-98).

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 appearances.

After two years in Haifa, Tapiro joined Hapoel Jerusalem, playing four of the next five seasons for the club with which he would forever be associated.

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 Jerusalem.

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.”

Tapiro 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 future.

“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 hard work.”

“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.”

Tapiro is 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 season.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

allon@jpost.com


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