Winds of change blow through the basketball courts of TA

Despite the end of Ussishkin Arena, Hapoel fans are determined to turn the page on a new chapter in the city's basketball heritage.

By DANIEL CHARLES
October 8, 2007 11:39
3 minute read.

July 25 marked the end of a bitter-sweet chapter in Tel Aviv's basketball history as Ussishkin Arena, named after famous Histadrut leader Menachem Ussishkin and home to Hapoel Tel Aviv for over 25 years, was torn down. However, disappointed fans are determined to turn the page on a new chapter in the city's basketball heritage. As the Red and White's famous walls crumbled under the path of the bulldozers, the name synonymous with basketball success rose from the dust to live once more, as Tel Aviv was introduced to a new basketball team - Hapoel Ussishkin Tel Aviv. The foundations for the new enterprise were laid last year, following another disheartening season from the traditionally dominant Hapoel Tel Aviv. The team, which was among the elite of Israeli basketball from the 1950s to '90s, has been relegated three times in the past ten years. Last season, owner Shaul Eizenberg decided to close the club down just weeks into the regular season, claiming he had no money to pay players or staff. He later changed his mind and announced that Hapoel would continue to play, but the situation only further deteriorated when the club recorded only one win in its first nine games. Hapoel supporters began planning the launch of a new club, following in the footsteps of fans of English soccer club Manchester United, who started a new club when a majority of Man Utd's shares were sold to American businessman Malcolm Glazer. Maozya Segal, who served as Chairman for Hapoel Tel Aviv during the disastrous 2005/2006 season, sympathizes with the frustration that existed among the team's fans. "There is no system, no plan, no vision and no target," he told The Jerusalem Post "Hapoel Tel Aviv has nothing." When Ussishkin Arena was slated for demolition and the city council deciding to build a park in its place, fans decided enough was enough. Fearing a generation would grow up without knowing the pride of supporting a winning team, they formed a new club and used the name Ussishkin as a rallying cry for dissinchanted supporters, who wished to see the club return to the old arena's glory days. Hapoel Ussishkin is a non-profit organization which allows all fans to be involved in decisions surrounding the team, including votes on management and players. Uri Shelef - player, coach and future CEO of the team - is excited to be involved in the embryonic project. "This is going to be a team managed by the fans," Shelef said. "Every fan can be a member of the organization." Shelef is steeped in Tel Aviv's basketball heritage. His brother, Gurr, and father, Ami, both played for Hapoel, and he himself spent two years at the club. Asked how he felt about the current situation at his former club, he said. "It is sad, you don't hear them speak about the future of the team." Yoav Behr, a diminutive forward for the new Hapoel Ussishkin club, spent five years with Hapoel Tel Aviv. "Every sports fan misses Ussishkin," he reminisced with a sigh. "When I go there now and see nothing, my heart breaks." In his opinion, the difference between his old and new club lies in the management. "Our managers' incentives are different," he explains. "Everybody involved in Hapoel Ussishkin is doing it from the heart, out of a love of the game." Hapoel Ussishkin has been holding practices on a weekly basis. Although the location of its games is still uncertain, its season is scheduled to begin on October 10. Unlike Hapoel Tel Aviv, which will begin the season in the third division, Hapoel Ussishkin will begin in the fifth division, although those involved don't think they will be there for long. "Our main goal right now is to gather as many Hapoel Tel Aviv fans as possible behind the new team," said Shelef. "Once we do that, we will undoubtedly have possibilities to rise from the current division." With Hapoel Tel Aviv fans slowly throwing their weight behind Hapoel Ussishkin Tel Aviv, Yoav Behr sees a bright future for the new club. "What makes a team is the fan base," he explained. "I know all the fans; it is like a big family." Hapoel Ussishkin hopes to usher in a new chapter for basketball in Tel Aviv, yet only time will tell if all the members of the new family will be able to stay on the same ball park.


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