Amar’e debuts for Maccabi Tel Aviv, but win overshadowed by Bryant tragedy

Yellow-and-blue tops Hapoel in somber Tel Aviv derby Maccabi Haifa shocks Hapoel Jerusalem

KOBE BRYANT (left) and Amar'e Stoudemire had many battles against each other in the NBA, and Stoudemire - currently on Maccabi Tel Aviv - was extremely shaken by Bryant's death this week. (photo credit: REUTERS)
KOBE BRYANT (left) and Amar'e Stoudemire had many battles against each other in the NBA, and Stoudemire - currently on Maccabi Tel Aviv - was extremely shaken by Bryant's death this week.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Maccabi Tel Aviv bested Hapoel Tel Aviv as Amar’e Stoudemire made his yellow-and-blue debut in the victory on Sunday night. However, the tragic death of Kobe Bryant and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna,  in a helicopter crash overshadowed the derby proceedings as a hush fell over the arena when the news of his passing circulated throughout the crowd of over 10,000 at Yad Eliyahu.
An impromptu memorial, the first that took place at a basketball game anywhere in the world for Bryant, took place during the second half of play and brought many players and fans alike to tears as the spectators gave the NBA great a standing ovation.
Following the game, Stoudemire, who played against Bryant for many years in the NBA, spoke to The Jerusalem Post about the superstar’s untimely death.
“Kobe was a role model to so many, he was a big enough light from a basketball player just from a humanity standpoint. The father that he was to his children, the husband he was to his wife, the excellence he showed on the court, the intelligence he showed as a human being. Those areas you don’t find very often, I’m sure his father and mother are also grieving, my family is calling me on the phone and crying like you wouldn’t believe. A very touchy topic, a difficult moment.”
Stoudemire also reflected upon the game being his first for Maccabi Tel Aviv.
“I didn’t think I was going be able to play the game tonight. I felt like I was still on the airplane, floating on the court and to hear the news… it was like I wasn’t here. I know how important the game was and I tried to stay focused, but it wasn’t easy.”
“This is a very sad day for sports fans around the world,” tweeted Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest basketball players ever, was killed in a helicopter crash in California. He is survived by his wife, three of his children and millions of basketball enthusiasts throughout the world. He will not be forgotten and may he Rest In Peace.”
Maccabi Tel Aviv coach Ioannis Sfairopoulos also made a statement about Bryant’s passing at the post-game press conference.
“We are all in shock, all the basketball people due to the bad news about Kobe Bryant. Unfortunately, life is very priceless and we are thankful for each one of us in the world. It was very difficult during the game and at halftime on the bench. We have a lot of players who played with him and against him, but these really tough moments it was good we continued to play and did not lose our concentration, each one of us will pray for Kobe Bryant. To end I will quote Kobe Bryant, “Heroes come and go, but legends are forever.”
“This is a tragedy,” stated Omri Casspi, the first Israeli to play the NBA. “I have no words to describe how I feel right now. Kobe was one of the greatest sportsmen of all time and was the perfect example of what is great about sports with the hard work he put in and his desire that showed no boundaries. There was no bigger winner and I am thinking about his wife and family at this time.”
Maccabi dominated Hapoel 84-74 in a Tel Aviv derby that was never as close as the final score indicated. NBA lottery prospect Deni Avdija got the yellow-and-blue rolling with the club’s first seven points and it coasted from there.
Quincy Acy, Elijah Bryant and Othello Hunter all finished the clash with 12 points apiece while Avdija, Scottie Wilbekin and Tyler Dorsey each scored 11 points in the victory, as Stoudemire chipped in with seven points for the yellow-and-blue. Latavious Williams led Hapoel with 23 points and 14 rebounds in the loss.
Elsewhere, Maccabi Haifa stunned Hapoel Jerusalem 95-87 at the Carmel Mountain. The Greens featured seven players in double figures as Gregory Vargas scored 15 points and added 14 assists while James Young notched 18 points in the win. Suleiman Braimoh scored 27 points to lead the Reds, who have a crucial Champions League contest against San Pablo Burgos on Wednesday. 
Also, Hapoel Holon visited Ness Ziona and came away with a 87-78 victory. Veteran marksman Guy Pnini led the way for Stefanos Dedas’s squad with 18 points while hitting four three-pointers. Marcus Foster added 15 points while T.J. Cline scored 14 points in the victory.
Tal Dunne led the way for Ness Ziona with 18 points and nine rebounds as Corey Fisher and Daequan Cook each scored 15 points in the loss.